A little bit about alcohol
Ethanol is produced by fermentation – the chemical reaction between bacteria and starch such as maize, barley, rice, potatoes, hops and grapes. Malt and barley make beer, and grapes make wine, but only a 10-15% level of alcohol is possible by this method. Spirits such as gin, brandy, vodka, whisky and liqueurs which have a higher alcoholic level require distillation as well as fermentation.This means that the water is evaporated, leaving the alcohol in greater concentration. Distilled alcohol is also added to fermented drinks to strengthen them, eg: sherry, port and other fortified wines.
Alcohol by volume (ABV)
The strength of alcohol is denoted by the term ABV (alcohol by volume) and this describes what percentage of total liquid is alcohol. Alcoholic drinks can be divided by strength into three categories:
- Beers: up to 7-8% ABV (alcohol by volume)
- Wines: up to 20% ABV
- Spirits: up to 40% ABV (in the UK)