I recently read A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage which brilliantly recounts societal development through the discovery/advent of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and cola. While I like a good soy latte, cup of tea and organic ginger ale, I’m really much more into beer wine and spirits. This is probably due to tech cocktail evening meetups, Wine Wednesdays with girlfriends, beers and billiards Friday evening after work to unwind or even Saturday night UFC viewing parties. My social calendar is full of reasons to drink, and now thanks to the book I’m very aware and curious about what I’m drinking. This curiosity led me to get to the bottom of what each alcoholic beverage is comprised of.

Beer

Beer is a beverage fermented from a grain mash. Most commonly beers are fermented from barley or wheat, but they can also be fermented from corn, rice or rye.

Spirits

Spirits start as beverages fermented from grains, fruits or vegetables but are then distilled thereby making them more concentrated than beer and wine. The following is a list of common spirits including the base in which they are distilled from:

  • Bourbon — corn
  • Brandy — grapes
  • Gin — wheat flavored with juniper berries (sometimes other herbs)
  • Mezcal — agave
  • Rum — sugarcane
  • Scotch — barley
  • Tequila — agave
  • Vodka — wheat
  • Whiskey — rye or wheat

You may notice that gin, vodka and whiskey are all distilled from wheat yet do not look or taste alike at all. This is because gin and vodka are highly distilled so that less of the flavor of the base ingredient is maintained. The only difference between gin and vodka really is the juniper berries used to flavor the gin.

Wine

Wine is a beverage fermented from grapes. There are a number of sparkling, red, rose and white varietals.

There you have it! I just divulged a lot of drinking information to you in hopes that it be put to good use. Make a more informed decision at your next happy hour or holiday party. At the very least, you have a few good conversation starters or fun facts over libations with friends.

If you would like me to cover another alcohol-related topic or if you have a question, tweet me @ErinRolek.