| Our secret stash of|
|Highs and lows|
“”Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing. ...The tongue must be untied.
|—Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir|
Alcohol[note 1] is a substance found in many of the drinks that many editors of RationalWiki imbibe in order to stimulate their creativity.[citation NOT needed] It must, however, be used with care as overindulgence may well result in overstimulation (or alcohol poisoning...). Such intemperance may also create unpleasant consequences.
A chemistry lesson
“”Technically, alcohol is a solution.
"Alcohol" is just a generic term for any organic compound featuring the functional group -OH. Only ethanol (CH3CH2OH or C2H5OH, same thing) is drunk by (sane) people. Methanol (also known as wood alcohol or CH3OH) can cause death in small-ish quantities but will make you blind first and can be found in cheap, and very, very illegal booze, and in legal booze that's not supposed to be drunk (damn you!). Unlike ethanol, methanol can be absorbed through the skin and is just plain dangerous. Other alcohols can create the effects of drunkenness, often even more so than ethanol: ingesting propanol, isopropanol (rubbing alcohol) and butanol will intoxicate someone very readily. These compounds, however, are several times more lethal, so they are not recommended as intoxicants. A related compound, ethanediol (HO-CH2CH2-OH) is found in antifreeze, and is also delightfully poisonous. Ethanol is relatively safe, and is only dangerous in very large amounts (see below).
Ethanol is made either by the hydrolysis of ethane in large chemical plants, slowly fermented by adding yeast (this is the stuff you drink), other biomass processes (fuel ethanol is produced from corn, for example), or it can be homologated from methanol in an interesting reaction that means you can produce it entirely from syngas (carbon monoxide and hydrogen).false positive breathalyzer readings.
Ethanol goes by several other names, including "ethyl alcohol", "drinking alcohol", "grain alcohol", or simply "alcohol".
Ethanol can be used as an alternative or supplement to gasoline as a fuel in vehicles. In these cases, it is typically made in the same way alcoholic beverages are made: fermentation. Small amounts of wood alcohol or gasoline are then added (called "denaturing") to make it toxic, thus escaping liquor laws (if they didn't put it in, people could drink it safely without paying tax on it, and we can't have that). There is some controversy surrounding ethanol as fuel as (A) it would mean land and crops would have to be used to make fuel when they could be used to grow food, and (B) in the case of corn, current technology requires burning over 1 gallon's ethanol-equivalent in fuel for every gallon of ethanol you produce. However, technologies are being researched which would allow for ethanol to be made from indigestible cellulose and other organic waste, and in the meantime deriving ethanol from sugar cane is more efficient than deriving ethanol from corn.
Inside the body, ethanol is oxidized and decays into ethanal (also known as acetaldehyde to reduce confusion), which causes a hangover, and eventually to acetic acid, which is found in vinegar (and is why old wine tastes like vinegar).
Because the chemistry of ethanol is probably boring to most people, the rest of this article will concentrate on the stuff you drink.
The science of booze
In a nutshell
Types of drinking alcohol
There are three major methods of producing alcoholic beverages: straight fermentation, brewing, and distillation. Fermented beverages tend to be made from fruit juices or things with high sugar contents, and are typically known as wines. Brewed beverages are also fermented, but because they are typically derived from grains, the starches need to be broken down into simpler sugars to allow the yeast a chance to go to work. These beverages are typically called beers, and also includes east Asian 'rice wines' such as sake and ang jiu. Finally, there is distillation, which can be any number of processes that remove alcohol from stuff that is mainly water. This is based on the principle that alcohol and water have different boiling (and for some processes freezing) points. It should be noted that distilled beverages intended for human consumption generally have enough water in them to make them safe, with a few notable exceptions such as overproof rum and Everclear. Of the above, fermentation and brewing are legal to perform at home (in the US at least). Distillation requires that you pay special taxes or the revenuers will come and take your stills, and potentially everything you own. Distillation is the reason NASCAR exists.
There is naturally some debate about where the best beer in the world comes from.
A British perspective: Unsurprisingly, and like their claims about forms of government, legal systems, welfare systems, health systems, weapons, armies, accents, footballers (not), cars (not), motorbikes (not), the British claim their beer is the best in the world. British drinkers would maintain that the only true beer is made in the United Kingdom where it is known as real ale. It has both body and flavour and it is not necessary to kill the flavour by excessive chilling. Despite persistent belief that British beer is served at room temperature, real ale is best served chilled, ideally between 10-14°C.
In the rest of Europe and the US a chemical substitute for beer called Lager is often drunk. (Like some of the people.) This chemical substitute is so lacking in flavour (or has such a bad flavor) that the only way to make it drinkable is to supercharge it with carbon dioxide and then chill it in order to kill whatever taste it has — it being utterly undrinkable at room temperature.--Which of course explains why American Budweiser is one of the top beers imported into England.
An Irish perspective
The Irish, of course, do not appreciate the typical arrogance of the British about their beer and calmly reiterate that Guinness is best. Sadly for them, as it has caused nothing but trouble, the Irish are unfortunately correct, as Guinness is incontrovertibly the greatest beer the world has ever
seen drunk. Rich, dark, mysterious, intelligent, poetic, brooding, inestimable, indefatigable, in my belly, hallowed, spiritual, mighty, creamy, brilliant, feck, arse and bollocks are all words used in the eulogy of Guinness. Unfortunately for the Irish, Guinness is now owned by the Brits—which is oddly appropriate, considering that the brewery sided with them during the 1916 uprising. Also unfortunately (for the world), Guinness exported to other countries tastes nothing like the black gold served at home, due to Irish export laws (curse them!).
A Continental perspective: Others would claim that the best beer in the world is brewed in Belgium, which is famous for its long tradition and immense diversity, with more than 1000 different brands. Many Belgian beers are designated "real ale" by CAMRA, being brewed from natural ingredients and served from the vessel in which they are conditioned. A number of "Trappist" beers are brewed in Belgium by, or under the supervision, of Trappist monks. These monks dedicate their lives to the service of the Lord and the brewing of beer, which is near enough the same thing (though it's worth noting that the existence of beer is very seldom called into question). Meanwhile, ironically, alcohol use in Belgium is slowly but steadily decreasing  and mineral water is becoming one of the most popular beverages within the country.
Czech beer comes in at a very close second.
Meanwhile, most continentals find the British practice of serving their beer at room temperature positively barbaric, and point out that good beer has always required chilling, with some breweries in pre-electricity times going so far as to store ice year-round for the purpose.
Another clear point of demerit for British beer is its general lack of carbon dioxide. "Why the British choose not to carbonize their beer" is a mystery to most Continentals. It is likely to remain a mystery until they realise that British beer is carbonated as much any fizzy lager. Carbonation is a natural effect of the conditioning (secondary fermentation) process. The lack of resemblance to fizzy soft drinks is not due to a refusal to put carbon dioxide in but the cellarman's skill and dedication in removing it before sale. Why they would go to such trouble only to practically ruin perfectly good beer is unfathomable... as is the case with so many other things the British do.
A Canadian perspective: Beer from pretty much anywhere but the US is a good bet, eh, although La Fin Du Monde from Quebec is probably the best high-alcohol beer out there, bordering on barley wine. In recent years, smaller breweries and microbrews have become very popular in smaller cities and the home craft brewing industry has done very well, eh.
An American perspective: As long as you avoid the big companies that make insipid beer for mass consumption by people intent on getting drunk quickly, American beer is JUST FINE, THANK YOU. Yes, we mass produce swill, but with the exorbitant taxes on all forms of alcohol, most of our people have to make do with what they can. The rest of us can then drink either one of our (multitudinous!) microbrews or one of your fancy (admittedly very good, but with less flavor than our micros tend to have) Euro/Canadian beers. But of course the final verdict comes from the ultimate authority on almost everything: American (macro) beer is like making love in a canoe — fucking close to water.
A Russian perspective: What is beer doing on this page? Beer doesn't have any alcohol in it.
A Chinese perspective: Chinese beers are fairly light, but
An Australian perspective: In Australia beer is called XXXX because it's easier to spell, and Foster's is a creature of legend passed down from parent to child to keep them in line. Australians drink only beer chilled to a sufficiently low temperature to induce migraine, sinus pain and mild frostbite.
An Egyptian perspective: We invented the stuff (if you don't count the Mesopotamians). Sure it had a very low alcohol content, but that wasn't the point. Those slaves needed carbs to build our pyramids — and to be kept be drunk enough not to rebel. (Pay no attention to those non-slave workers whose tombs were unearthed near the pyramid sites.) Why did we give up beer, again? Oh, yeah. Also pay no attention to our piss-poor attempt to make German-style lager that we market as "Stella".
A Mexican Perspective: Contrary to popular belief among Americans and Canadians, we don’t think Corona is the best beer in Mexico. Most of us actually hate it. Like our Mojado brothers who reside north of our border, we prefer Bud Light, not because of its generic, bitter taste, but because it’s just more popular and easier to get. Pass me a Bud Light, ese! Mexico also has a long history of German style brewing, and makes some excellent beers (like Dos Equis and Negro Modelo), but gringos insist on Corona.
A German Perspective
Come drink with us at the Oktoberfest in Munich! Drunken sing-a-long and merrymaking until long after you have already passed out. [note 2]
Furthermore: Bier is a German word. Enough said.
Wine is drunk by effete southern Europeans and effete snobs. It comes in various varieties (white, red, rosé, sparkling, etc.) and is frequently served in a glass appropriate to the wine.
The antioxidants in red wine are claimed to do a body good. This, however, is mostly conjecture and utter bollocks which is rehashed by the media whenever it suits them, as Ben Goldacre likes to bring up whenever you're in the pub with him and order red wine "because it's good for you".
Plain old wine isn't strong enough for some, however, who like their drinks to have a higher alcohol content. For them, there is fortified wine; some of these are good (e.g. sherry, madeira, port), but for the most part fortified wine is also known as bum wine (American English) or tramp-juice (English English). For folks that like an even higher alcohol content, wine can be distilled, at which point it's called brandy.
(Not the spooky kind, the libatable kind!)
There are many kinds of spirits, such as whisky, whiskey, gin, rum, baijiu, vodka, tequila, arak, et cetera. Overconsumption is dangerous, and can cause RationalWiki editors to produce mildly abbreviated posts like the one below:..
“”Take a bottle of dry London Gin & a bowl of blackthorn berries (sloes); add the former to the latter and stir; pour into two bottles & cap; leave for two to four weeks; filter and decant liquor; (make trifle with berry mush?) drink liquor; sleep.
Overindulgence followed by editing binges can also result in the necessity of profuse apologies to other editors, whether one likes them or not, for the swill left on their talk pages and pet articles.
- Ardbeg Ten (Islay) single malt whisky is announced World Whisky of the Year on October 30 2007.
Cider is made from apples and is popular with teenagers. In pre-prohibition United States, cider was the most popular beverage. Once alcoholic beverages were banned, the term cider was re-purposed to refer to certain types of non-alcoholic apple juice, and only homebrewers know (or care) that properly speaking, cider is an alcoholic beverage. In order to convert modern American "cider" into what the rest of the world calls "cider", you need to follow these instructions.
Scrumpy is a stronger, rougher variant of cider.
Despite what advertising companies would have you believe, there is no such thing as "Pear Cider". Fermented pear juice is called Perry. Pear-flavored ciders do exist, however, but the base of the beverage is still apples.
Kumis (also spelled kumiss, kymyz, and other ways and known in Mongolia as airag) is made from fermented milk, traditionally from horses, but nowadays cows' milk is more commonly used. It is primarily drunk in Central Asia. Yes, many people in Central Asia are Muslims. Alcohol ban? What alcohol ban? What else are you supposed to do with mare's milk? The fermentation process has the additional benefit of converting most or all of the the lactose in milk into a small amount of alcohol, causing it to no longer aggravate those with lactose intolerance (a metabolic problem far more common in Central Asia than elsewhere) and making the milk's nutritive value accessible to far more people.
It has an alcohol content low enough to be drinkable more or less continuously throughout the day without ever causing impairment. It has a slight fizz to it and has been fairly described as tasting like a mixture of yogurt and champagne. William of Rubruck, a Flemish missionary who visited Mongolia in the thirteenth century CE, described it as a drink that
“”...makes the inner man most joyful and also intoxicates weak heads, and greatly provokes urine.
Alcohol and health
“”Excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 – 2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years. Further, excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years.
|—The Center for Disease Control|
A couple of units of beer a day is good enough for you that it could medically be considered a vitamin. A doctor said this, so it's true. We were down the pub and several drinks down by this time, but that hardly refutes unimpeachable medical science.
The view of alcohol being particularly good for you is based on cohort studies of drinkers and non-drinkers and found that drinkers were, on average, in healthier condition. This has been attributed to things like red wine containing anti-oxidants, but that is mostly bullshit. Science writer and columnist Ben Goldacre argues that such studies between non-drinkers and drinkers don't constitute a properly controlled test as he describes teetotalers as, frankly, abnormal.[note 3] People who avoid drinking entirely are non-normative, and usually do so for particular reasons, particularly medical reasons, or by virtue of being recovering alcoholics. As a result, those in the cohort inclined to not drink tend to be plagued by underlying medical conditions — such as obesity due to years of alcoholism — and this would skew the results in favor of making it appear that drinking makes you healthier.
Two meta-analyses published in 2018 concluded that one or two drinks per day could be detrimental to health, but this was not conclusive because meta-analyses are not predictive, they only show associations. What the meta-analyses did show however that more than two drinks per day is detrimental to health and increases one's risk of death (from all causes) as the number of drinks increase.
Consuming large amounts of alcohol quickly in order to achieve intoxication is called binge drinking, which can harm your health, cause amnesia (a blackout), or make you sleep with people you ordinarily wouldn't find attractive (beer goggles). It can also make you cause traffic accidents, and otherwise makes you act like a real dickhead. Alcohol is physically addictive, and withdrawal from alcohol is one of only a very few forms of substance withdrawal that is potentially fatal. A person addicted to alcohol is known as an alcoholic or dipsomaniac, or, less formally, a drunk. Chronic heavy alcohol use is poisonous to pretty much every vital organ in the human body, and is a major cause of stomach, esophogeal, and liver cancer, as well as pancreatitis,[note 4] hepatitis, and fatty liver disease. This makes alcohol far more potentially dangerous than cannabis.
There are a few misconceptions regarding alcohol consumption and how it affects people. One of the major ones is that mixing types of drinks — or even just the type of drink — changes how drunk someone becomes. This applies to both mixing over time and mixing in cocktails, indeed this is often referred to as the "cocktail effect". However, none of this is true; with all other factors being equal (body mass, tolerance, food consumption) the only factor in drunkenness is the amount of alcohol consumed. Also of particular importance is the rate that it is consumed — as the body can only oxidise and break it down at a set rate. In addition to the obvious placebo effect of adding a sparkler or mini-umbrella to a glass, "mixing" drinks often means mixing shorter spirits with longer drinks like beer. Obviously short shots are consumed rapidly and often in addition to an otherwise steady stream of beer. In this case, it is not the mixing that has done anything, but the fact that the amount of alcohol in a particular time has increased dramatically. People will often underestimate their consumption when mixing like this, seeing the small quantity of a shot glass as unequal to their much larger pint glasses.
That said, like any drug, the way it's administered can have some different effects on the imbiber. It differs from person to person, but beer is generally a lighter buzz than liquor. Spirits tend to have a stronger sedative effect, but also can be more likely to bring out anger (the "mean drunk" is often a liquor drinker). Still, whether you're happy, sad, or mad, or whether you're dancing on the table or sipping quietly with friends, you're not any more or less drunk than if you had ingested the same amount of a different type of alcohol. And being wide awake doesn't mean you're safe to get behind the wheel.
It's also not true that alcohol dehydrates the body. While alcohol is a diuretic, the additional water lost through the effect is compensated for by the water in the drink — in all but the strongest of spirits, at least. The same is true of caffeine containing drinks such as coffee and tea. There are other mechanisms of water loss: vomiting, sweating while dancing and so on, and these often contribute greatly to the dehydration effect, so consuming water in between drinks is still advisable. The only sure-fire way of becoming dangerously dehydrated is by drinking salt water. Adequate or abundant hydration does, however, prevent or alleviate hangover by increasing urinary output and thus the rate at which byproducts of alcohol metabolism — notably various aldehydes — are flushed from the body. Consuming significant amounts of water with alcohol does, therefore, have its benefits; the misconception lies in the mechanism attributed.
Alcohol does not warm the body up; the old image of St. Bernard rescue dogs with brandy barrels around their necks is a myth as strong alcohol is the last thing you'd want to consume if stranded in the snow. When cold, the body closes off numerous arteriole sphincters that shut off blood supply from the extremities: fingers, arms, legs, and so on, conserving body heat to the head and torso where it's needed most. While this generates the feeling of being cold, it is actually (potentially) saving your life. Alcohol prevents this mechanism from working, opening up the arteriole sphincters and allowing blood to flow to all parts of the body. This may generate a feeling of being warm, but is actually indicative of losing substantial amounts of body heat. Thus the "beer jacket" is actually quite a bad thing in a life-or-death situation.
Sexual performance is another thing associated with alcohol consumption but it is a complete myth that it improves performance. While alcohol loosens inhibitions dramatically, its effect on all measures of sexual performance is anything but positive; in fact it only creates an illusion of better performance. So while you may be thinking you were totally awesome, your more sober partner would likely disagree — unless, of course, you're so blitzed that "more sober" is not a particularly relevant term. In which case, kudos — not on your sexual prowess, mind you, but rather your tolerance. You still suck in bed while drunk, and not in the good way. As William Shakespeare put it in Macbeth, "Strong drink giveth the desire but taketh away the ability."
“”It's not a coincidence that Omar Khayyam, rebuking and ridiculing the stone-faced Iranian mullahs of his time, pointed to the value of the grape as a mockery of their joyless and sterile regime. Visiting today's Iran, I was delighted to find that citizens made a point of defying the clerical ban on booze, keeping it in their homes for visitors even if they didn't particularly take to it themselves, and bootlegging it with great brio and ingenuity. These small revolutions affirm the human.
|—Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir|
The alleged evils of alcohol led to its being prohibited in the United States from 1920 to 1933. This authoritarian law resulted in a substantial increase in crime and led to the creation of criminal gangs which may still be in existence today. Interestingly there are currently other drugs which are no more harmful than alcohol (or even less so) which you can still go to jail for possessing — but life's like that. Besides, not as bad as.
The substance remains prohibited in a number of authoritarian Islamic states for religious reasons, which is rather strange when you realize that the name "alcohol" originated in Arabic as "al-kohl". Contrary to popular belief, however, most Muslim countries do not place an outright ban on alcohol, and even in those that do, the stuff is rather like marijuana in the West: despite being illegal, somebody always seems to have some (to paraphrase Earth: The Book).
Alcohol, even if not forbidden, has also been prohibited to use in a number of sports disciplines, such as air sports and archery, if used to compete with other members and may not exceed the doping threshold of 10 g/l.  At least it's good to know that it is forbidden when other people might get hurt from one's lack of coordination.
That all said -- and while Prohibition was wrong on every level — alcohol and smoking may well have contributed to Christopher Hitchens' death from esophageal cancer at age 62. As he was struggling with the cancer, he told CNN's Anderson Cooper that his father (who also died of esophageal cancer) had been an alcoholic, and declared:
“”[T]o anyone watching, if you can hold it down on the smokes and the cocktails you may be well advised to do so. 
“”Alcohol, the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.
“”Alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, may produce all the effects of drunkenness.
|—Oscar Wilde |
“”I'm not as think as you drunk I am
|—a random drunk|
“”One evening in October, when I was one-third sober,
An' taking home a ‘load' with manly pride;
|—The Pig Got Up and Slowly Walked Away, 1933 song by Benjamin Hapgood Burt|
“”You can't seriously want to ban alcohol, it tastes great, makes women appear more attractive and makes a person virtually impervious to criticism.
|—Mayor Diamond Joe Quimby.|
“”Trillian did a little research in the ship's copy of THHGTTG. It had some advice to offer on drunkenness. "Go to it," it said, "and good luck."
“”I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy.
Other uses for alcohol
- Ethanol is also a pretty potent solvent, and can take the finish off of that baseball bat.
- Ethanol was used as fuel in some early liquid-fuel rockets, including the notorious Nazi V-2.
- Methanol is a potent fuel for internal combustion engines and has been used in racing cars, notably American open-wheelers (IndyCars). However, it was highly dangerous in accidents thanks to its colorless flame, and IndyCar has since replaced it with E85 fuel, composed of 85% corn-derived ethanol and 15% gasoline.
- Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol can be used for ... well ... rubbing.
- Ethanol is added in small quantities to gasoline to oxygenate it, during some months of the year.
- Ethanol is added in somewhat larger quantities to gasoline to turn it into gasohol. Don't use this if you have an old car, because as stated above, ethanol is a pretty potent solvent and can dissolve the glues holding your fuel lines together.
- Ethanol is used as a motor fuel all by itself (with some denaturing compounds added so's you won't drink it). Currently, it can only be made economically from sugarcane.
- Ethanol is used in some food additives like vanilla extract (typically 35%) or peppermint extract (typically 90%).
- During MKULTRA, the CIA spent a billion dollars to test LSD's value as a truth serum (and other experiments). The Russians just used ethanol.
- Ethanol can be used as a topical antiseptic. It also stings like hell if you use it on a cut or abrasion.
- Ethanol can alleviate the effects of poisoning with other alcohols, such as methanol and ethylene glycol (chief ingredient of antifreeze) because it competes with them for liver enzymes, lessening the amount of toxic by-products. Don't rely solely on it though: in such cases seek medical attention as soon as possible.
- Glycerol and fatty acids, when mixed together in particular conditions, form fat, which is still seen as a harmful product in large quantities, but better than alcohol by a long shot. (Why did you not know that again?)
- Technically speaking, the alcohol that causes drunkenness is ethanol
- You don't want to actually pass out, now do you? The beer at Oktoberfest is higher percentage than usual German beer, so beware.
- Teetotalers may have other lifestyle aspects that affect health such as diet (e.g., Mormons and Seventh-day Adventists).
- Pancreatitis may also develop after merely one night of binge drinking.
- EPA — Methanol data
- MSDS — Methanol
- See here for other ways to kill yourself with drink.
- At least one RationalWikian's PhD project is pretty much about making ethanol.
- WPI.com — Ice cream causes positive alcohol test
- British Beer Best
- Co Down ale named among 50 best beers in the world
- It is only in Italy, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates that people drink more mineral water. http://www.zeronaut.be/blog/belg-drinkt-water-liefst-uit-flessen
- Up until 2011, Russia officially categorized beer as a foodstuff, not as an alcoholic drink.
- CAMRA — Cider
- Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016 by Max G. Griswold et al. (2018) Lancet 392(10152):1015-1035. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31310-2.
- One alcohol "unit" is equal to 7.9 grams of alcohol in the UK, and 10 grams of alcohol in Australia. So be sure to do your drinking in Australia, where you'll get more.
- Drinking studies muddied the waters around the safety of alcohol use: Meta-analyses advocate consuming little to no alcohol by Rachel Ehrenberg (8:24am, December 17, 2018) Science News.
- Risk thresholds for alcohol consumption: combined analysis of individual-participant data for 599 912 current drinkers in 83 prospective studies by Angela M. Wood et al. (2018) Lancet 391(10129):11513-1523. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30134-X.
- Ethanol content of various foods and soft drinks and their potential for interference with a breath-alcohol test by B. K. Logan & S. Distefano J. Anal. Toxicol. 1998 May-Jun;22(3):181-3.
- Nijssen, L. M., et al., eds. Volatile Compounds in Foods. Qualitative and Quantitative Data. 7th ed. Zeist, The Netherlands: TNO-CIVO Food Analysis Institute, 1996.
- 18 Homer Simpson Beer Quotes That Will Never Stop Being Funny