Alcoholic Beverages—What Do You Know About Them?
BEER, wine and whiskey are doubtless familiar to you as the names of common alcoholic beverages. But just what do these beverages have in common? How are they produced? And why is it that some persons are affected more adversely than others by the same quantity of alcoholic drinks?
From very remote times men have been making and drinking alcoholic beverages. Whether produced recently or centuries ago, all of these beverages have something in common. They can be termed alcoholic beverages because of containing ethyl alcohol, the product resulting from the fermentation of sugars and yeasts.
There are three basic types of alcoholic beverages: (1) malt beverages, (2) fermented fruit juices and (3) distilled liquors. Three different processes are involved in making them.
The Production of Alcoholic Beverages
Malt beverages, including beer and ale, are made by brewing cereal grains (often barley). The initial step in the brewing process is “malting.” After having been softened sufficiently by being soaked in water, the grain is piled in heaps and allowed to sprout. When the sprouted root shoots are approximately three fourths the length of the kernels, the grain is subjected to a drying process. Thereafter the sprouts are removed. The malt (the grain without the sprouts) is stored for a period of four to eight weeks. During this time an enzyme known as diastase is released and the characteristic malt flavor comes into being. The enzyme diastase changes starch into sugar during the subsequent “mashing” process.
After the malt is ground up, mashing begins. Water and cereals (such as corn or rice) are added to the malt. This mixture is then heated and stirred continually. Solid matter settles when the stirring is stopped. The next step involves adding hops, that is, the dried flowers from the hop vine, and boiling the mixture. Finally, yeast is added to start the fermentation process, the conversion of sugar into alcohol. The finishing process includes aging, carbonating and filtering.
Wines are commonly produced by fermenting crushed grapes or their juice under controlled conditions. The stronger wines generally have had brandy added to them. Aromatized wines such as vermouth are wines to which aromatic herbs and spices have been added.
Distilled liquors are produced from a variety of grains, fruits and vegetables. In the production of whiskey, grain is soaked in hot water to make a mash. By adding malt, the starch in the grain is changed into sugar. Yeast is added to cause the mixture to ferment, converting the sugar into alcohol. The mash is then distilled, that is, it is evaporated and then condensed. The condensed liquid, the whiskey, is usually aged in wooden barrels. The percentage of alcohol content is reduced by adding distilled water.
Other distilled liquors are brandy, gin, vodka and rum. Brandy is distilled from grape wine and allowed to age in wooden casks. Other fermented fruit juices may also be distilled to make brandy, or a fruit flavor may be added to grape brandy or to ethyl alcohol. Gin is distilled from grain, usually rye, and is flavored with juniper berries. Rum is distilled from sugarcane. Tasteless vodka is distilled from potatoes or grain. The various liqueurs and cordials are produced by adding sugar and certain flavorings to brandy or other spirits.
The distilled liquors have the greatest alcohol content. This is commonly measured in “proof.” In the United States the proof figure is approximately double the percentage of alcohol by volume. Thus a 100-proof whiskey contains approximately 50 percent alcohol. By contrast, some beers may contain as little as 2 percent alcohol, but usually the alcohol content of beer is about 4 to 6 percent. The alcohol content of dry table wines does not exceed 14 percent.
Effects on the User
In view of the great difference in the alcohol content of various drinks, the user of alcoholic beverages wisely checks the label to ascertain the strength of the alcoholic beverage involved.
Any unusual behavior on the part of a person after his drinking alcoholic beverages is generally due to the amount of alcohol that has been absorbed into his bloodstream. As a considerable amount of blood reaches the brain, the alcohol becomes concentrated there. For this reason even small amounts of alcohol act as a depressant on the central nervous system.
Besides the amount of the beverage consumed and its alcohol content, a number of other factors will materially affect the concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream at any one time. These include the rate at which the alcoholic beverage is consumed, the rate at which the alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and the size of the drinker. Investigation has shown that a man of normal health weighing about 220 pounds can eliminate one sixth of an ounce of pure alcohol more per hour than a man weighing 150 pounds, provided that all other conditions are the same. So the effect of alcoholic beverages will usually be greater on persons of slight build.
As the system can eliminate only a certain amount of alcohol per hour, a person must be careful that the percentage of alcohol in his bloodstream does not become great enough to cause detrimental effects. If he chooses to drink, he can cooperate with his system by doing so in moderation. He can also slow down the rate at which alcohol is absorbed and thereby give the system time to eliminate the alcohol before a high concentration builds up in the bloodstream. He can do so by prolonging the time that he takes in drinking a small amount. Also, food in the stomach or liquids such as milk, cream and tomato juice slow down the rate of absorption. On the other hand, the carbon dioxide in carbonated beverages like soda speeds up the rate of absorption. That is why the effects from champagne are felt sooner than those from ordinary wine.
It has been found that beverages with an alcohol content of from 10 to 35 percent are absorbed fastest. Thus it would appear that the person who drinks whiskey (with its high alcohol content) and immediately follows this up with beer (with its low alcohol content) produces a mixture in his stomach that will be absorbed faster into the bloodstream and have a more pronounced effect upon him than the whiskey alone.
While the abuse of alcoholic beverages has posed problems from the time that man began producing them, the twentieth century has brought additional hazards into the picture. One of these is the extensive use of chemical additives in the production of alcoholic beverages. About five years ago, for example, a chemical additive was implicated in the deaths of fifty persons who regularly consumed a considerable quantity of beer. The additive was a cobalt salt. The beer had been treated with this additive so that it would hold and keep its “head” of foam.
Giving rise to further hazards is the fact that many persons use pills or drugs extensively. In numerous cases it is not known just how certain drugs affect the bloodstream. This makes it even more difficult to determine what effect such drugs have in combination with alcohol. Nevertheless, there are hazards. The book Combined Effects of Alcohol and Other Drugs, by Robert B. Forney and Francis W. Hughes, notes:
“Since the short-acting barbiturates are most popular for the induction and extension of nighttime sleep, a combined effect with alcohol might induce a dangerous or increased depth of sleep. This is especially hazardous to the unwary. These drugs are also used in sub-hypnotic dosages to produce daytime sedation or are used in combination with analgesics to enhance the latter drugs. A patient who has been prescribed a short-acting barbiturate to induce sleep or daytime sedation should be warned against the concurrent use of alcohol. In such circumstances, the usual sedative dose plus alcohol might produce a critical addition which would result in hypnosis or near hypnosis and create a potential condition fraught with danger for the individual to himself and society.
“Inadvertent suicides may occur with drug combinations such as barbiturates and alcohol. People with a penchant for taking medication and drinking may forget the amount of drug consumed and incautiously repeat a dose. Prior to sleep, confusion and amnesia may occur and encourage a reckless repetition of the dosage. Fatal amounts may easily be consumed before unconsciousness intervenes and an unplanned death is accomplished.”
Aware of the danger of immoderate drinking, the Christian who uses alcoholic beverages appreciates the need for caution. He follows the wise counsel of the Bible: “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.” (1 Cor. 10:31) Yes, because their relationship to God is their primary concern, true Christians realize that they cannot really glorify God if their senses are confusingly dulled by immoderate use of alcohol.