Alcoholic beverage

Alcoholic beverage
A row of alcoholic beverages – in this case, spirits – in a bar.

An alcoholic beverage is a drink containing ethanol, commonly known as alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are divided into three general classes: beers, wines, and spirits. They are legally consumed in most countries, and over 100 countries have laws regulating their production, sale, and consumption.[1] In particular, such laws specify the minimum age at which a person may legally buy or drink them. This minimum age varies between 16 and 25 years, depending upon the country and the type of drink. Most nations set it at 18 years of age.[1]

The production and consumption of alcohol occurs in most cultures of the world, from hunter-gatherer peoples to nation-states.[2][3] Alcoholic beverages are often an important part of social events in these cultures. In many cultures, drinking plays a significant role in social interaction — mainly because of alcohol’s neurological effects.[citation needed]

Alcohol is a psychoactive drug that has a depressant effect. A high blood alcohol content is usually considered to be legal drunkenness because it reduces attention and slows reaction speed. Alcohol can be addictive, and the state of addiction to alcohol is known as alcoholism.



The interior of a store in the United States that sells alcoholic beverages.

Alcoholic beverages that have a lower alcohol content (beer and wine) are produced by fermentation of sugar- or starch-containing plant material. Beverages of higher alcohol content (spirits) are produced by fermentation followed by distillation.


Beer is the world's oldest[2][4] and most widely consumed[3] alcoholic beverage and the third most popular drink overall after water and tea.[5] It is produced by the brewing and fermentation of starches which are mainly derived from cereal grains — most commonly malted barley although wheat, maize (corn), and rice are also used.

Alcoholic beverages that are distilled after fermentation, are fermented from noncereal sources such as grapes or honey, or are fermented from unmalted cereal grain are not classified as beer.

The two main types of beer are lager and ale. Ale is further classified into varieties such as pale ale, stout, and brown ale.

Most beer is flavored with hops, which add bitterness and act as a natural preservative. Other flavorings, such as fruits or herbs, may also be used. The alcoholic strength of beer is usually 4% to 6% alcohol by volume (ABV), but it may be less than 2% or as much as 12%.

Beer is part of the drinking culture of various nations and has acquired social traditions such as beer festivals, pub games, and pub crawling.

The basics of brewing beer are shared across national and cultural boundaries. The beer-brewing industry is global in scope, consisting of several dominant multinational companies and thousands of smaller producers, which range from regional breweries to microbreweries.


Wine is produced from grapes, and fruit wine is produced from fruits such as plums, cherries, or apples. Wine involves a longer fermentation process than beer and also a long aging process (months or years), resulting in an alcohol content of 9%–16% ABV. Sparkling wine can be made by means of a secondary fermentation.

Fortified wine is wine (such as port or sherry), to which a distilled beverage (usually brandy) has been added.


Unsweetened, distilled, alcoholic beverages that have an alcohol content of at least 20% ABV are called spirits.[6] Spirits are produced by the distillation of a fermented base product. Distilling concentrates the alcohol and eliminates some of the congeners.

Spirits can be added to wines to create fortified wines, such as port and sherry.

Alcohol content of beverages

The concentration of alcohol in a beverage is usually stated as the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV) or as proof.

In the United States, proof is twice the percentage of alcohol by volume at 60 degrees Fahrenheit (e.g. 80 proof = 40% ABV). Degrees proof were formerly used in the United Kingdom, where 100 degrees proof was equivalent to 57.1% ABV. Historically, this was the most dilute spirit that would sustain the combustion of gunpowder.

Ordinary distillation cannot produce alcohol of more than 95.6% ABV (191.2 proof) because at that point alcohol is an azeotrope with water. A spirit which contains a very high level of alcohol and does not contain any added flavoring is commonly called a neutral spirit. Generally, any distilled alcoholic beverage of 170 proof or higher is considered to be a neutral spirit.[7]

Most yeasts cannot reproduce when the concentration of alcohol is higher than about 18%, so that is the practical limit for the strength of fermented beverages such as wine, beer, and sake. Strains of yeast have been developed that can reproduce in solutions of up to 25% ABV.

Standard drinks

A standard drink is a notional drink that contains a specified amount of pure alcohol. The standard drink is used in many countries to quantify alcohol intake. It is usually expressed as a measure of beer, wine, or spirits. One standard drink always contains the same amount of alcohol regardless of serving size or the type of alcoholic beverage.

The standard drink varies significantly from country to country. For example, it is 7.62 ml (6 grams) of alcohol in Austria, but in Japan it is 25 ml (19.75 grams).

In the United Kingdom, there is a system of units of alcohol which serves as a guideline for alcohol consumption. A single unit of alcohol is defined as 10 ml. The number of units present in a typical drink is printed on bottles. The system is intended as an aid to people who are regulating the amount of alcohol they drink; it is not used to determine serving sizes.

In the United States, the standard drink contains 0.6 US fluid ounces (18 ml) of alcohol. This is approximately the amount of alcohol in a 12-US-fluid-ounce (350 ml) glass of beer, a 5-US-fluid-ounce (150 ml) glass of wine, or a 1.5-US-fluid-ounce (44 ml) glass of a 40% ABV (80 proof) spirit.

Serving sizes

In the United Kingdom, serving size in licensed premises is regulated under the Weights and Measures Act (1985). Spirits (gin, whisky, rum, and vodka) are sold in 25 ml or 35 ml quantities or multiples thereof.[8] Beer is typically served in pints (568 ml), but is also served in half-pints or third-pints.

In the Republic of Ireland, the serving size of spirits is 35.5 ml or 71 ml. Beer is usually served in pints or half-pints ("glasses").

In the Netherlands and Belgium, standard servings are 250 and 500 ml for pilsner; 300 and 330 ml for ales.


Alcohol is a moderately good solvent for many fatty substances and essential oils. This attribute facilitates the use of flavoring and coloring compounds in alcoholic beverages, especially distilled beverages. Flavors may be naturally present in the beverage’s base material. Beer and wine may be flavored before fermentation. Spirits may be flavored before, during, or after distillation.

Sometimes flavor is obtained by allowing the beverage to stand for months or years in oak barrels, usually American or French oak.

A few brands of spirits have fruit or herbs inserted into the bottle at the time of bottling.


These flaming cocktails illustrate that a distilled beverage will readily catch fire and burn.

Liquor that contains 40% ABV (80 US proof) will catch fire if heated to about 79 °F (26 °C) and if an ignition source is applied to it. (This is called its flash point.[9] The flash point of pure alcohol is 62.88 °F (17.16 °C), less than average room temperature.[10])

The flash points of alcohol concentrations from 10% ABV to 96% ABV are shown below:[11]

  • 10% — 120 °F (49 °C) — wine
  • 20% — 97 °F (36 °C)fortified wine
  • 30% — 84 °F (29 °C)
  • 40% — 79 °F (26 °C) — typical whisky
  • 50% — 75 °F (24 °C) — strong whisky
  • 60% — 72 °F (22 °C)
  • 70% — 70 °F (21 °C)absinthe
  • 80% — 68 °F (20 °C)
  • 90% — 63 °F (17 °C)neutral grain spirit
  • 96% — 63 °F (17 °C)

Beverages that have a low concentration of alcohol will burn if sufficiently heated and an ignition source (such as an electric spark or a match) is applied to them. For example, the flash point of ordinary wine containing 12.5% alcohol is about 125 °F (52 °C).[9][12]


In many countries, people drink alcoholic beverages at lunch and dinner. Studies have found that when food is eaten before drinking alcohol, alcohol absorption is reduced[13] and the rate at which alcohol is eliminated from the blood is increased. The mechanism for the faster alcohol elimination appears to be unrelated to the type of food. The likely mechanism is food-induced increases in alcohol-metabolizing enzymes and liver blood flow.[13]

At times and places of poor public sanitation (such as Medieval Europe), the consumption of alcoholic drinks was a way of avoiding water-borne diseases such as cholera. Small beer and faux wine, in particular, were used for this purpose. Although alcohol kills bacteria, its low concentration in these beverages would have had only a limited effect. More important was that the boiling of water (required for the brewing of beer) and the growth of yeast (required for fermentation of beer and wine) would tend to kill dangerous microorganisms. The alcohol content of these beverages allowed them to be stored for months or years in simple wood or clay containers without spoiling. For this reason, they were commonly kept aboard sailing vessels as an important (or even the sole) source of hydration for the crew, especially during the long voyages of the early modern period.

In cold climates, potent alcoholic beverages such as vodka are popularly seen as a way to “warm up” the body, possibly because alcohol is a quickly absorbed source of food energy and because it dilates peripheral blood vessels (peripherovascular dilation). This is a misconception because the “warmth” is actually caused by a transfer of heat from the body’s core to its extremities, where it is quickly lost to the environment. However, the perception alone may be welcomed when only comfort, rather than hypothermia, is a concern.

Alcohol consumption by country

Alcohol consumption per capita (age 15 or older), per year, by country, in liters of pure alcohol.[14]

Outright prohibition of alcohol

Some countries forbid alcoholic beverages, or have forbidden them in the past.


In some states of India alcoholic drinks are banned (as in the states of Gujarat and Mizoram). Prohibition has become controversial in Gujarat following a July 2009 episode in which widespread poisoning resulted from alcohol that had been sold illegally.[15]

The state of Andhra Pradesh had imposed prohibition under the Chief Ministership of N. T. Rama Rao, but this was subsequently lifted.

Certain national holidays such as Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti (birthdate of Mahatma Gandhi) are meant to be dry nationally. Dry days are also observed on voting days. All of the Indian states observe dry days on major religious festivals/occasions depending on the popularity of the festival in that region.

Nordic countries

Two Nordic countries (Finland,[16] and Norway[17]) had a period of alcohol Prohibition in the early 20th century. This was the result of social democratic campaigning. Prohibition did not have popular support, and it resulted in large-scale smuggling.

In Sweden, prohibition was heavily discussed, but never introduced, replaced by strict rationing and later by more lax regulation, which included allowing alcohol to be sold on Saturdays.

Following the end of prohibition, government alcohol monopolies were established with detailed restrictions and high taxes. Some of these restrictions have since been lifted. For example, supermarkets in Finland are allowed to sell only fermented beverages with an alcohol content up to 4.7% ABV, but Alko, the government monopoly, is allowed to sell wine and spirits. This is also the case with the Swedish Systembolaget and the Norwegian Vinmonopolet.

United States

Detroit police inspecting equipment found in a clandestine brewery during the Prohibition era.

In the United States, there was an attempt from 1920 to 1933 to eliminate the drinking of alcoholic beverages by means of a national prohibition of their manufacture and sale. This period became known as the Prohibition era. During this time, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States made the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages illegal throughout the United States.

Prohibition led to the unintended consequence of causing widespread disrespect for the law, as many people procured alcoholic beverages from illegal sources. In this way, a lucrative business was created for illegal producers and sellers of alcohol, which led to the development of organized crime. As a result, Prohibition became extremely unpopular, which ultimately led to the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933.

Prior to national Prohibition, beginning in the late 19th century, many states and localities had enacted Prohibition within their jurisdictions. After the repeal of the 18th Amendment, some localities (known as dry counties) continued to ban the sale of alcohol.

Other countries

Some Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Sudan, Pakistan, Iran, and Libya prohibit the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages because they are forbidden by Islam.

Prohibition of drinking alcohol in public places

A sign prohibiting the drinking of alcohol in a public place in Victoria, Australia.



Drinking alcohol in public is prohibited.


Japan allows open containers in some public areas, such as certain streets and trains, and allows alcoholic beverages to be sold from vending machines, which shut down at a specific time of night. Public drunkenness is not illegal in Japan.[citation needed]



It is generally legal to drink alcoholic beverages in the street.[citation needed] Additional restrictions are sometimes applied by local authorities in problem areas. On public transportation, it is generally allowed to drink alcohol, but not to act heavily intoxicated.


Consumption of alcohol is prohibited in outdoor public areas except those immediately outside the Bar/Pub. During Festivals or regattas open containers are permitted within a certain area of the festival/Regatta.


Drinking in public places is not banned by national law, but many cities and towns prohibit possession of an open container of an alcoholic beverage in a public place.


The legality of drinking alcoholic beverages in public places is determined by local regulations. Each municipality decides its own rules concerning drinking in public places. Different rules may apply for different places within a municipality.[18]

United Kingdom

Drinking in public places is not banned by national law, but some cities and towns have by-laws that prohibit possession of an open container of alcohol in a public place.

North America

United States

Drinking alcohol in public places, such as streets and parks, is against the law in most of the United States. Moreover, even when a state (such as Nevada, Louisiana, and Missouri) has no such ban, the vast majority of its cities and counties do have it. Some cities allow it in specified area such as on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada or during public festivals.

Legal drinking age

Most countries have prescribed a legal drinking age which prohibits the consumption of alcohol by minors. Most countries also prohibit the sale of alcohol to minors. Some countries have a tiered structure that limits the sale of stronger alcoholic drinks to older adults (typically based upon the percentage of ABV) Other restrictions that some countries impose is based on the place in which alcohol is consumed, such as in the home, in a restaurant, or in a bar. The age at which these restrictions come to an end varies significantly from country to country, as does the degree to which it is enforced, which can also vary within a country.



In India, the legal minimum age for buying and drinking alcohol is 18 to 25 years, depending on the state.[1]

Alcoholic beverages are prohibited in the states of Gujarat and Mizoram.

South Korea

In South Korea, the legal minimum age for buying and drinking alcohol is 18.


The legal drinking age and the legal age for buying alcoholic beverages vary from country to country in Europe, but 18 years is the most common age, with some exceptions depending on alcohol content.

Some countries have a tiered structure that limits the sale of stronger alcoholic drinks to older adults (typically based upon the percentage of ABV) . For example, in Austria, Belgium, Germany,[19] the Netherlands, and Switzerland, a purchaser of beer or wine must be 16 years of age, and 18 years of age for spirits.


The legal age for buying alcoholic beverages containing 1.2%-16.5% ABV is 16 years in shops and 18 years in bars and restaurants. Beverages containing more than 16.5% ABV may not to be sold to persons under the age of 18.[20][21]


In Finland, the purchase and possession of alcoholic beverages that have up to 22 % ABV is allowed from age 18, and for stronger drinks from age 20. Stronger than 22 % ABV may be ordered in a restaurant from age 18.


Several laws are in place to limit alcohol consumption and reduce alcohol abuse. These laws have been strengthened several times. There is, however, no legal drinking age. Consumption of alcohol at home is not restricted.

Since 2009, selling any type of alcoholic beverage to a minor (a person younger than 18 years of age) is forbidden; it is also forbidden for people under 16 to be in a bar or restaurant that sells alcohol without being in the company of a parent or other person over 18. Bar owners are explicitly authorized by law to require an ID from their patrons. A poster informing customers of these rules must be placed in any business that sells alcohol.

Advertisement of alcoholic beverages is restricted, and their sale requires a license. Petrol stations may not sell refrigerated alcoholic beverages and may not sell any form of alcohol after 6 p.m. Bars may not offer a “happy hour” without also offering a discount on non-alcoholic drinks.


German law is directed toward sellers of alcoholic beverages, not toward minors.

German law vests control of the consumption of alcoholic beverages in the hands of parents and guardians.[22]


In Iceland, purchasers and possessors of alcoholic beverages must be 20 years of age, although 18- and 19-year-olds are allowed to drink alcohol.


Although the minimum age in Italy for legally drinking alcohol in bars and restaurants is 16 years, this law is rarely enforced.[citation needed]

The minimum age for working in a public place where alcohol is sold is also 16 years.

Alcoholic beverages are commonly sold in grocery stores and supermarkets. A license to sell is required only for those establishments that serve them to the public, as in a bar.


In Norway, the purchase and possession of alcoholic beverages that have up to 22 % ABV is allowed from age 18, and for stronger drinks from age 20.


In Sweden, alcoholic beverages with less than 2.25 % ABV (low-alcohol beer and cider) are sold without any age limit in grocery stores, while alcoholic beverages with less than 3.5 % ABV (stronger low-alcohol beer and cider) may be bought in grocery stores from the age of 18. Alcoholic beverages with more than 3.5 % ABV (beer, cider, wine and spirits) may be bought at restaurants, bars and nightclubs from the age of 18 and in the state-run stores (Systembolaget) from the age of 20. A significant proportion of spirits consumed in Sweden is bought abroad during holidays or business trips in countries with lower alcohol taxes (e.g. Denmark, Estonia, Germany and Spain) or duty-free on the Baltic Sea ferries passing Åland, which due to its special status within the EU but outside the EU tax union enables duty free shopping.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the minimum age to purchase alcohol is 18 years in a bar or off-license establishment (e.g. a supermarket).[23]

In private, the minimum age to consume alcohol is 5 years.[citation needed]

In England and Wales, persons over 16 may drink beer, wine, cider, or perry with a table meal, if it is bought by an adult.[23] In Scotland, the same rules apply but there is no requirement that an adult purchase the beverage.[citation needed]

Shop workers under the age of 18 may not legally sell alcohol.[citation needed]

North America

United States

Exceptions to the minimum age of 21 for drinking alcohol in the United States, as of January 1, 2007.

The legal age for buying and possessing (but not necessarily for drinking) has been 21 years in every state since shortly after the passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, which tied federal highway funds to states' maintaining a minimum drinking age of 21.

Despite a rekindled national debate in 2008 on the established drinking age (initiated by several university presidents), a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll found in September 2008 that 76% of New Jerseyans supported leaving the legal drinking age at 21 years.[24] No significant differences emerged when considering gender, political affiliation, or region. However, parents of younger children were more likely to support keeping the age at 21 (83%) than parents of college-age students (67%).[24]

Seventeen states (Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Wyoming) and the District of Columbia have laws against possession of alcohol by minors, but they do not prohibit its consumption by minors.

Fourteen states (Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, and Virginia) specifically permit minors to drink alcohol given to them by their parents or by someone entrusted by their parents.[citation needed]

Many states also permit the drinking of alcohol under the age of 21 for religious or health reasons.

Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, has maintained a drinking age of 18.

United States customs laws stipulate that no person under the age of 21 may bring any type or quantity of alcohol into the country.[25]

Drunk driving laws

Most countries have drunk driving laws which limit how much alcohol a person can consume before driving a car on a road. The permitted blood alcohol content threshold ranges from 0.0% to 0.08%.

Punishments for violation include fines, temporary or permanent loss of driver's license, and imprisonment. Some jurisdictions have similar prohibitions for drunk sailing, drunk bicycling, and even drunk rollerblading. In many places in the United States, it is also illegal to have an open container of an alcoholic beverage in the passenger compartment of a vehicle.

Restrictions on production

In most countries, the commercial production of alcoholic beverages requires a license from the government, which then levies a tax upon these beverages. In many countries, alcoholic beverages may be produced in the home for personal use without a license or tax.


Home production of wine and beer is not regulated. Home distillation of spirits is legal but not common because it is subject to the same tax as spirits sold commercially. Danish alcohol taxes are significantly lower than in Sweden and Norway, but higher than those of most other European countries.

New Zealand

New Zealand is one of the few countries where it is legal to produce any form of alcohol for personal use, including spirits. The beverages produced are neither licensed nor taxed. This situation has made the use of home distillation equipment quite popular.[citation needed]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the Customs and Excise department issues distilling licenses, but people may produce beer and wine for personal consumption without a license.

United States

See also: Alcohol laws of Kansas, Alcohol laws of Missouri, Alcohol laws of New York, Alcohol laws of Oklahoma

The production of distilled beverages is regulated and taxed.[26] The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (formerly a single organization called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) enforce federal laws and regulations related to alcohol. All packaging of alcoholic products must contain a health warning from the Surgeon General.

In most of the American states, individuals may produce wine and beer for personal consumption (but not for sale) in amounts [usually] of up to 100 gallons per adult per year, but no more than 200 gallons per household per year.

The illegal (i.e., unlicensed) production of liquor in the United States is commonly referred to as “moonshining.” Illegally produced liquor (popularly called “white lightning”) is not aged and contains a high percentage of alcohol.

Restrictions on sale and possession


In most Canadian provinces, there is a government monopoly on the sale of alcohol. Two examples of this are the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, and the Liquor Distribution Branch of British Columbia. Government control and supervision of the sale of alcohol was a compromise devised in the 1920s between “drys” and “wets” for the purpose of ending Prohibition in Canada. Some provinces have moved away from government monopoly. In Alberta, privately owned liquor stores exist, and in Quebec a limited number of wines and liquors can be purchased at dépanneurs and grocery stores.

Canada has some of the highest excise taxes on alcohol in the world. These taxes are a source of income for governments and are also meant to discourage drinking. (See Taxation in Canada.)

Restrictions on the sale of alcohol vary from province to province. In Alberta, changes introduced in 2008 included a ban on “happy hour,” minimum prices, and a limit on the number of drinks a person can buy in a bar or pub at one time after 1 a.m.[27]

Nordic countries

In each of the Nordic countries, except Denmark, the government has a monopoly on the sale of liquor.

The state-run vendor is called Systembolaget in Sweden, Vinmonopolet in Norway, Alko in Finland, Vínbúð in Iceland, and Rúsdrekkasøla Landsins in the Faroe Islands. The first such monopoly was in Falun in the 19th century.

The governments of these countries claim that the purpose of these monopolies is to reduce the consumption of alcohol. In the Nordic countries, binge drinking is an ancient tradition. These monopolies have had success in the past, but since joining the European Union it has been difficult to curb the importation of liquor, legal or illegal, from other EU countries. That has made the monopolies less effective in reducing excessive drinking.

There is an ongoing debate over whether to retain these state-run monopolies.


In Norway, beers with an alcohol content of 4.74% by volume or less can be legally sold in grocery stores. Stronger beers, wines, and spirits can only be bought at government monopoly vendors. All alcoholic beverages can be bought at licensed bars and restaurants, but they must be consumed on the premises.

Norway levies some of the heaviest taxes in the world on alcoholic beverages, particularly on spirits. These taxes are levied on top of a 25% VAT on all goods and services. For example, 700 mL of Absolut Vodka currently retails at 299 NOK, which is about US $54.


In Sweden, beer with a low alcohol content (called folköl, 2.25% to 3.5% alcohol by weight) can be sold in regular stores to anyone aged 18 or over, but beverages with a high alcohol content can only be sold by government-run vendors to people aged 20 or older, or by licensed facilities such as restaurants and bars, where the age limit is 18. Alcoholic drinks bought at these licensed facilities must be consumed on the premises; it is not allowed to consume alcoholic drinks bought elsewhere.

United States

This convenience store in Michigan had its retail license suspended for two weeks because it sold alcoholic beverages to minors.
Map of open container laws in the United States by state, as of September 2007
See also: Alcoholic beverage control state, Alcohol laws of Kansas, Alcohol laws of Missouri, Alcohol laws of New York, Alcohol laws of Oklahoma

In the United States, the sale of alcoholic beverages is controlled by the individual states, by the counties or parishes within each state, and by local jurisdictions. In many States, alcohol can only be sold by staff qualified to serve responsibly through Alcohol Server Training. A county that prohibits the sale of alcohol is known as a dry county. In some states, liquor sales are prohibited on Sunday by a blue law.

The places where alcohol may be sold or possessed, like all other alcohol restrictions, vary from state to state. Some states, like Louisiana, Missouri, and Connecticut, have very permissive alcohol laws, whereas other states, like Kansas and Oklahoma, have very strict alcohol laws.

For example, in most of North Carolina, beer and wine may be purchased in retail stores, but distilled spirits are only available at state ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) stores. In Maryland, distilled spirits are available in liquor stores except in Montgomery County, where they are sold only by the county.

Many states require that liquor may be sold only in liquor stores. In nineteen alcoholic beverage control states, the state has a monopoly on the sale of liquor. In Nevada, Missouri, and Louisiana, state law does not specify the locations where alcohol may be sold.

Most states follow a three-tier system in which producers cannot sell directly to retailers, but must instead sell to distributors, who in turn sell to retailers. Exceptions often exist for brewpubs (pubs which brew their own beer) and wineries, which are allowed to sell their products directly to consumers.

Most states also do not allow open containers of alcohol inside moving vehicles. The federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century of 1999 mandates that, if a state does not prohibit open containers of alcohol inside moving vehicles, then a percentage of its federal highway funds will be transferred instead to alcohol education programs each year. As of November, 2007, only one state (Mississippi) allows drivers to consume alcohol while driving (below the 0.08% limit), and only six states (Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, and West Virginia) allow passengers to consume alcohol while the vehicle is in motion.

Five U.S. states limit alcohol sales in grocery stores and gas stations to beer at or below 3.2% alcohol: Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Utah. In these states, stronger beverages are restricted to liquor stores. In Oklahoma, liquor stores may not refrigerate any beverage containing more than 3.2% alcohol. Missouri also has provisions for 3.2% beer, but its permissive alcohol laws (when compared to other states) make this type of beer a rarity.

Pennsylvania is starting to allow grocery stores and gas stations to sell alcohol. Wines and spirits are still sold at locations called "state stores," but wine kiosks are starting to be put in at grocery stores. The kiosks are connected to a database in Harrisburg, and purchasers must present valid ID, signature, and look into a camera for facial identification to purchase wine. Only after all of these measures are passed is the individual allowed to obtain 1 bottle of wine from the "vending machine". The kiosks are only open during the same hours as the state run liquor stores, and are not open on Sundays.

Effects of alcohol on health

Data from The Lancet shows ethanol in comparison to other psychoactive drugs.[28]

Short-term effects of alcohol consumption include intoxication and dehydration. Long-term effects of alcohol include changes in the metabolism of the liver and brain and alcoholism (addiction to alcohol).

Alcohol intoxication affects the brain, causing slurred speech, clumsiness, and delayed reflexes. Alcohol stimulates insulin production, which speeds up glucose metabolism and can result in low blood sugar, causing irritability and (for diabetics) possible death. Severe alcohol poisoning can be fatal.

A blood alcohol content of .45% in test animals results in a median lethal dose of LD50. This means that .45% is the concentration of blood alcohol that is fatal in 50% of the test subjects. That is about six times the level of ordinary intoxication (0.08%), but vomiting or unconsciousness may occur much sooner in people who have a low tolerance for alcohol.[29] The high tolerance of chronic heavy drinkers may allow some of them to remain conscious at levels above .40%, although serious health dangers are incurred at this level.

Alcohol also limits the production of vasopressin (ADH) from the hypothalamus and the secretion of this hormone from the posterior pituitary gland. This is what causes severe dehydration when large amounts of alcohol are drunk. It also causes a high concentration of water in the urine and vomit and the intense thirst that goes along with a hangover.


Proclivity to alcoholism may be partially genetic. Persons who have this proclivity may have an atypical biochemical response to alcohol, although this is disputed.

Alcoholism can lead to malnutrition because it can alter digestion and the metabolism of most nutrients. Severe thiamine deficiency is common in alcoholism due to deficiency of folate, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and selenium ; this can lead to Korsakoff's syndrome. Alcoholism is also associated with a type of dementia called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is caused by a deficiency in thiamine (vitamin B1).[30]

Muscle cramps, nausea, loss of appetite, nerve disorders, and depression are common symptoms of alcoholism. Osteoporosis and bone fractures may occur due to deficiency of vitamin D.

Heart disease

One study found that men who drank moderate amounts of alcohol three or more times a week were up to 35% less likely to have a heart attack than non-drinkers, and men who increased their alcohol consumption by one drink per day over the 12 years of the study had a 22% lower risk of heart attack.[31]

Daily intake of one or two units of alcohol (a half or full standard glass of wine) is associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease in men over 40, and in women who have been through menopause.[32] However, getting drunk one or more times per month put women at a significantly increased risk of heart attack, negating alcohol's potential protective effect.[33]

Increased longevity due to alcohol consumption is almost entirely the result of a reduced rate of coronary heart disease.[34]


Excessive drinking has been linked to dementia; it is estimated that 10% to 24% of dementia cases are caused by alcohol consumption, with women being at greater risk than men.[35][36]

Alcoholism is associated with a type of dementia called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is caused by a deficiency in thiamine (vitamin B1).[30]

In people aged 55 or older, daily light-to-moderate drinking (one to three drinks) was associated with a 42% reduction in the probability of developing dementia and a 70% reduction in risk of vascular dementia.[37] The researchers suggest that alcohol may stimulate the release of acetylcholine in the hippocampus area of the brain.[37]


Alcohol consumption has been linked with seven types of cancer: mouth cancer, pharyngeal cancer, oesophageal cancer, laryngeal cancer, breast cancer, bowel cancer and liver cancer.[38] Heavy drinkers are more likely to develop liver cancer due to cirrhosis of the liver.[38]

The risk of developing cancer increases even with consumption of as little as three units of alcohol (one pint of lager or a large glass of wine) a day.[38]

A global study found that 3.6% of all cancer cases worldwide are caused by drinking alcohol, resulting in 3.5% of all global cancer deaths.[39] A study in the United Kingdom found that alcohol causes about 6% of cancer deaths in the UK (9,000 deaths per year).[38] A study in China found that alcohol causes about 4.40% of all cancer deaths and 3.63% of all cancer incidences.[40] For both men and women, the consumption of two or more drinks daily increases the risk of pancreatic cancer by 22%.[41]

Women who regularly consume low to moderate amounts of alcohol have an increased risk of cancer of the upper digestive tract, rectum, liver, and breast.[42][43]

Red wine contains resveratrol, which has some anti-cancer effect. However, based on studies done so far, there is no strong evidence that red wine protects against cancer in humans.[44]


Daily consumption of a small amount of pure alcohol by older women may slow or prevent the onset of diabetes by lowering the level of blood glucose.[45] However, the researchers caution that the study used pure alcohol and that alcoholic beverages contain additives, including sugar, which would negate this effect.[45]

People with diabetes should avoid sugary drinks such as dessert wines and liqueurs.[46]


A study found that lifelong abstainers were 2.36 times more likely to suffer a stroke than those who regularly drank a moderate amount of alcohol beverages. Heavy drinkers were 2.88 times more likely to suffer a stroke than moderate drinkers.[47]


Alcohol consumption by the elderly results in increased longevity, which is almost entirely a result of lowered coronary heart disease.[34] A British study found that consumption of two units of alcohol (one regular glass of wine) daily by doctors aged 48+ years increased longevity by reducing the risk of death by ischaemic heart disease and respiratory disease.[48] Deaths for which alcohol consumption is known to increase risk accounted for only 5% of the total deaths, but this figure increased among those who drank more than two units of alcohol per day.[48]

In a 2010 long-term study of an older population, the beneficial effects of moderate drinking were confirmed, but abstainers and heavy drinkers showed an increase of about 50% in mortality (even after controlling for confounding factors).[49]

Mortality rate

A report of the United States Centers for Disease Control estimated that medium and high consumption of alcohol led to 75,754 deaths in the U.S. in 2001. Low consumption of alcohol had some beneficial effects, so a net 59,180 deaths were attributed to alcohol.[50]

In the United Kingdom, heavy drinking is blamed for about 33,000 deaths a year.[51]

A study in Sweden found that 29% to 44% of "unnatural" deaths (those not caused by illness) were related to alcohol. The causes of death included murder, suicide, falls, traffic accidents, asphyxia, and intoxication.[52]

A global study found that 3.6% of all cancer cases worldwide are caused by alcohol drinking, resulting in 3.5% of all global cancer deaths.[39] A study in the United Kingdom found that alcohol causes about 6% of cancer deaths in the UK (9,000 deaths per year).[38]

Alcohol expectations

Alcohol expectations are beliefs and attitudes that people have about the effects they will experience when drinking alcoholic beverages. They are largely beliefs about alcohol's effects on a person’s behaviors, abilities, and emotions. Some people believe that if alcohol expectations can be changed, then alcohol abuse might be reduced.[53]

The phenomenon of alcohol expectations recognizes that intoxication has real physiological consequences that alter a drinker's perception of space and time, reduce psychomotor skills, and disrupt equilibrium.[54] The manner and degree to which alcohol expectations interact with the physiological effects of intoxication, resulting in specific behaviors, is unclear.

A single study found, if a society believes that intoxication leads to sexual behavior, rowdy behavior, or aggression, then people tend to act that way when intoxicated. But if a society believes that intoxication leads to relaxation and tranquil behavior, then it usually leads to those outcomes. Alcohol expectations vary within a society, so these outcomes are not certain.[55]

People tend to conform to social expectations, and some societies expect that drinking alcohol will cause disinhibition. However, in societies in which the people do not expect that alcohol will disinhibit, intoxication seldom leads to disinhibition and bad behavior.[54]

Alcohol expectations can operate in the absence of actual consumption of alcohol. Research in the United States over a period of decades has shown that men tend to become more sexually aroused when they think they have been drinking alcohol, — even when they have not been drinking it. Women report feeling more sexually aroused when they falsely believe the beverages they have been drinking contained alcohol (although one measure of their physiological arousal shows that they became less aroused).[citation needed]

Men tend to become more aggressive in laboratory studies in which they are drinking only tonic water but believe that it contains alcohol. They also become less aggressive when they believe they are drinking only tonic water, but are actually drinking tonic water that contains alcohol.[53]

Alcohol and religion

Some alcoholic beverages have been invested with religious significance, as in the ancient Greco-Roman religion, such as in the ecstatic rituals of Dionysus (also called Bacchus). Some have postulated that pagan religions actively promoted alcohol and drunkenness as a means of fostering fertility. Alcohol was believed to increase sexual desire and to make it easier to approach another person for sex. For example, Norse paganism considered alcohol to be the sap of Yggdrasil. Drunkenness was an important fertility rite in this religion.

Some religions forbid, discourage, or restrict the drinking of alcoholic beverages for various reasons. These include Islam, Jainism, the Bahá'í Faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of Christ, Scientist, the United Pentecostal Church International, Theravada, most Mahayana schools of Buddhism, some Protestant denominations of Christianity, some sects of Taoism (Five Precepts (Taoism) and Ten Precepts (Taoism)), and some sects of Hinduism.

Many Christian denominations use wine in the Eucharist or Communion and permit alcohol in moderation. Other denominations use unfermented grape juice in Communion and either abstain from alcohol by choice or prohibit it outright.

Judaism uses wine on Shabbat for Kiddush as well as in the Passover ceremony, Purim, and other religious ceremonies. The drinking of alcohol is allowed. Some Jewish texts, e.g. the Talmud, encourage moderate drinking on holidays (such as Purim) in order to make the occasion more joyous.

The Pali Canon, the scripture of Theravada Buddhism, depicts refraining from alcohol as essential to moral conduct because alcohol causes a loss of mindfulness. The fifth of the Five Precepts states, "Surā-meraya-majja-pamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi." The English translation is, "I undertake to refrain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness." Technically this prohibition does not cover drugs other than alcohol. But its purport is not that alcohol is an evil but that the carelessness it produces creates bad karma. Therefore any substance (beyond tea or mild coffee) that affects one's mindfulness is considered to be covered by this prohibition.


Alcoholic beverages have been drunk by people around the world since ancient times. Reasons that have been proposed for drinking them include:

Early references

Chemical analysis of traces absorbed and preserved in pottery jars from the neolithic village of Jiahu in Henan province in northern China has revealed that a mixed fermented beverage made from rice, honey, and fruit was being produced as early as 9,000 years ago. This is approximately the time when barley beer and grape wine were beginning to be made in the Middle East.

Recipes have been found on clay tablets and art in Mesopotamia that show people using straws to drink beer from large vats and pots.

The Hindu ayurvedic texts describe both the beneficial effects of alcoholic beverages and the consequences of intoxication and alcoholic diseases.

The medicinal use of alcohol was mentioned in Sumerian and Egyptian texts dating from about 2100 BC. The Hebrew Bible recommends giving alcoholic drinks to those who are dying or depressed, so that they can forget their misery (Proverbs 31:6-7).

Wine was consumed in Classical Greece at breakfast or at symposia, and in the 1st century BC it was part of the diet of most Roman citizens. Both the Greeks and the Romans generally drank diluted wine (the strength varying from 1 part wine and 1 part water, to 1 part wine and 4 parts water).

In Europe during the Middle Ages, beer was drunk by the whole family. A triple fermentation process was used — the men drank the strongest beer, the women drank weaker, and children drank the weakest. A document from that time mentions nuns having an allowance of six pints of ale each day. Cider and pomace wine were also widely available; grape wine was the prerogative of the higher classes.

By the time the Europeans reached the Americas in the 15th century, several native civilizations had developed alcoholic beverages. According to a post-conquest Aztec document, consumption of the local "wine" (pulque) was generally restricted to religious ceremonies but was freely allowed to those who were older than 70 years.

The natives of South America produced a beer-like beverage from cassava or maize, which had to be chewed before fermentation in order to turn the starch into sugar. (Beverages of this kind are known today as cauim or chicha.) This chewing technique was also used in ancient Japan to make sake from rice and other starchy crops.

Distilled beverages

Distilled alcoholic beverages were first recorded in Europe in the mid-12th century. By the early 14th century, they had spread throughout the European continent.[56] They also spread eastward from Europe, mainly due to the Mongols, and began to be seen in China no later than the 14th century.[citation needed]

Paracelsus gave alcohol its modern name, which is derived from an Arabic word that means “finely divided” (a reference to distillation).

Alcohol in American history

In the early 19th century, Americans had inherited a hearty drinking tradition. Many types of alcohol were consumed. One reason for this heavy drinking was attributed to an overabundance of corn on the western frontier, which encouraged the widespread production of cheap whiskey. It was at this time that alcohol became an important part of the American diet. In the 1820s, Americans drank seven gallons of alcohol per person annually.[57][58]

During the 19th century, Americans drank alcohol in two distinctive ways. One way was to drink small amounts daily and regularly, usually at home or alone. The other way consisted of communal binges. Groups of people would gather in a public place for elections, court sessions, militia musters, holiday celebrations, or neighborly festivities. Participants would typically drink until they became intoxicated.


Alcohol is a general term for any organic compound in which a hydroxyl group (-OH) is bound to a carbon atom, which in turn may be bound to other carbon atoms and further hydrogens. Alcohols other than ethanol (such as propylene glycol and the sugar alcohols) appear in food and beverages. Methanol (one carbon), the propanols[disambiguation needed ] (three carbons giving two isomers), and the butanols (four carbons, four isomers) are all commonly found alcohols — these three toxic alcohols should never be consumed in any form.

Ethanol (CH3CH2OH) is the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages (although novelty inebriating drinks have been made from alternate alcohols such as 2-Methyl-2-butanol[citation needed]). When produced for use in a beverage, ethanol is always produced by means of fermentation, i.e., the metabolism of carbohydrates by certain species of yeast in the absence of oxygen.


In the liver, the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase oxidizes ethanol into acetaldehyde, which is then further oxidized into harmless acetic acid by acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. Acetic acid is esterified with coenzyme A to produce acetyl CoA. Acetyl CoA carries the acetyl moiety into the citric acid cycle, which produces energy by oxidizing the acetyl moiety into carbon dioxide. Acetyl CoA can also be used for biosynthesis. Acetyl CoA is an intermediate that is common in the metabolism of sugars and fats; it is the product of glycolysis, the breakdown of glucose.

When compared to other alcohols, ethanol is only slightly toxic, with a lowest known lethal dose in humans of 1400 mg/kg (about 20 shots for a 100 kg person), and an LD50 of 9000 mg/kg (oral, rat). Nevertheless, accidental overdosing of alcoholic drinks, especially those containing a high percentage of alcohol, is risky, especially for women, lightweight persons, and children. These people have a smaller quantity of water in their bodies, so that the alcohol is less diluted. A blood alcohol concentration of 50 to 100 mg/dL may be considered legal drunkenness (laws vary by jurisdiction). The threshold of effects is at 22 mg/dL.[59]

In the human body, ethanol affects the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors and produces a depressant (neurochemical inhibitory) effect. Ethanol is similar to other sedative-hypnotics such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines both in its effect on the GABAA receptor, although its pharmacological profile is not identical. It has anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, hypnotic, and sedative actions similar to many other sedative-hypnotic drugs. Ethanol is also cross-tolerant with benzodiazepines and barbiturates.[60]

Alcohols are toxicated into the corresponding aldehydes and then into the corresponding carboxylic acids. These metabolic products cause a poisoning and acidosis. In the case of alcohols other than ethanol, the aldehydes and carboxylic acids are poisonous, and the acidosis can be lethal. In contrast, fatalities from ethanol are mainly found in extreme doses associated with the induction of unconsciousness or chronic addiction (alcoholism).[citation needed]


Excessive consumption of ethanol may cause a delayed effect that is called hangover. Various factors contribute to it, including the toxication of ethanol to acetaldehyde, the direct toxic effects and toxication of impurities called congeners, and dehydration. The hangover starts after the euphoric effects of ethanol have subsided, typically in the night and morning after alcoholic drinks were consumed. However, the blood alcohol concentration may still be substantial and above the limit imposed for automobile drivers and operators of heavy equipment. The effects of a hangover subside over time. Various treatments to cure hangover have been suggested, many of them pseudoscientific.

The raw materials of alcoholic beverages

The names of some alcoholic beverages are determined by their base material. In general, a beverage fermented from a starch-heavy mash (e.g. grain or potatoes) will be called a beer. If the fermented mash is distilled, then the beverage is a spirit.

Wine and brandy are made only from grapes. If an alcoholic beverage is made from another kind of fruit, it is distinguished as fruit wine or fruit brandy. The kind of fruit must be specified, such as "cherry brandy" or "plum wine."

Beer is made from barley or a blend of several grains.

Whiskey (or whisky) is made from grain or a blend of several grains. The type of whiskey (scotch, rye, bourbon, or corn) is determined by the primary grain.

Vodka is distilled from fermented grain or from potatoes. It is highly distilled so that it will contain less of the flavor of its base material. Gin is a similar distillate but it is flavored by juniper berries and sometimes by other herbs as well.

In the United States and Canada, cider often means unfermented apple juice (sometimes called sweet cider), and fermented apple juice is called hard cider. In the United Kingdom, cider refers to the alcoholic beverage, and in Australia the term is ambiguous.

Applejack is sometimes made by means of freeze distillation.



Source Name of fermented beverage Name of distilled beverage
barley beer, ale, barley wine Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, shōchū (mugijōchū) (Japan)
rye rye beer, kvass rye whiskey, vodka (Poland), Korn (Germany)
corn chicha, corn beer, tesguino Bourbon whiskey; and vodka (rarely)
sorghum burukutu (Nigeria), pito (Ghana), merisa (southern Sudan), bilibili (Chad, Central African Republic, Cameroon) maotai, gaoliang, certain other types of baijiu (China).
wheat wheat beer horilka (Ukraine), vodka, wheat whisky, weizenkorn (Germany)
rice beer, brem (Bali), huangjiu and choujiu (China), Ruou gao (Vietnam), sake (Japan), sonti (India), makgeolli (Korea), tuak (Borneo Island), thwon (Nepal) aila[disambiguation needed ] (Nepal), rice baijiu (China), shōchū (komejōchū) and awamori (Japan), soju (Korea)
millet millet beer (Sub-Saharan Africa), tongba (Nepal, Tibet), boza (the Balkans, Turkey)
buckwheat shōchū (sobajōchū) (Japan)

Fruit juice

Source Name of fermented beverage Name of distilled beverage
juice of grapes, wine brandy, Cognac (France), Vermouth, Armagnac (France), Branntwein (Germany), pisco (Chile and Peru), Rakia (The Balkans, Turkey), singani (Bolivia), Arak (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan), törkölypálinka (Hungary)
juice of apples cider (U.S.: "hard cider"), apfelwein applejack (or apple brandy), calvados, cider
juice of pears perry, or pear cider; poiré (France) Poire Williams, pear brandy, Eau-de-vie (France), pálinka (Hungary)
juice of plums plum wine slivovitz, țuică, umeshu, pálinka
juice of pineapples tepache (Mexico)
bananas or plantains Chuoi hot (Vietnam), urgwagwa (Uganda, Rwanda), mbege (with millet malt; Tanzania), kasikisi (with sorghum malt; Democratic Republic of the Congo)
gouqi gouqi jiu (China) gouqi jiu (China)
coconut Toddy (Sri Lanka) arrack, lambanog (Sri Lanka, India, Philippines)
ginger with sugar, ginger with raisins ginger ale, ginger beer, ginger wine
Myrica rubra yangmei jiu (China) yangmei jiu (China)
pomace pomace wine Raki/Ouzo/Pastis/Sambuca (Turkey/Greece/France/Italy), tsipouro/tsikoudia (Greece), grappa (Italy), Trester (Germany), marc (France), zivania (Cyprus), aguardente (Portugal), tescovină (Romania), Arak (Iraq)


Source Name of fermented beverage Name of distilled beverage
juice of ginger root ginger beer (Botswana)
potato potato beer horilka (Ukraine), vodka (Poland and Germany), akvavit (Scandinavia), poitín (poteen) (Ireland)
sweet potato shōchū (imojōchū) (Japan), soju (Korea)
cassava/manioc/yuca nihamanchi (South America), kasiri (Sub-Saharan Africa), chicha (Ecuador)
juice of sugarcane, or molasses basi, betsa-betsa (regional) rum (Caribbean), pinga or cachaça (Brasil), aguardiente, guaro
juice of agave pulque tequila, mezcal, raicilla


Source Name of fermented beverage Name of distilled beverage
sap of palm coyol wine (Central America), tembo (Sub-Saharan Africa), toddy (Indian subcontinent)
sap of Arenga pinnata, Coconut, Borassus flabellifer Tuak (Indonesia) Arrack
honey mead, horilka (Ukraine), tej (Ethiopia) distilled mead (mead brandy or honey brandy)
milk kumis, kefir, blaand arkhi (Mongolia)
sugar kilju and mead or sima (Finland) shōchū (kokutō shōchū): made from brown sugar (Japan)

See also


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