Alcoholic beverages are widely consumed in most North American and European restaurants, bars and homes.
Sales of alcoholic beverages in industrialized countries are constantly increasing in quantity, quality and value.
The production, marketing, and all the support industries including the manufacture of bottles, screw caps, and cooperage, bottling machines, and printing of labels create significant employment.
Millions enjoy a relatively high standard of living because of alcohol. At the same time millions encounter misery due to addiction and other related medical conditions.
Governments derive considerable amounts of funds for treasuries by direct, and indirect taxation or through distribution monopolies. In some cases, funds derived from alcohol sales are partially used to rehabilitate alcoholics for treatment of alcohol related diseases and social welfare.
Monopolies strive to maximize profitability by charging arbitrarily high prices and suppress competition by every means.
There are advantages as well as disadvantages to monopolies, free enterprise and hybrid systems, which employ a mixture of private and regulated distribution.
Government monopolies tend to become huge, unwieldy, generally poorly managed beset by inertia, inefficiency, complacency, and rigid. Over time they hamper orderly distribution and overprice products and restrict choice.
Several studies concluded that high prices for alcoholic beverages fail to deter excessive consumption. High cost is not a deterrent. Instead it encourages illegal production and distribution, as is the case in several jurisdictions all over the world.
Large, progressive, well-managed monopolies do offer a few advantages. Prices within the jurisdiction are uniform, regardless of location and resulting distribution costs. One segment of the population helps defray extra distribution costs. The second and more important fact is that all alcoholic beverages are analyzed to determine their wholesomeness.
Private sector distribution systems rely on the honesty and integrity of importers, wholesalers, and retailers, and offer greater choice.
Hybrid systems allow private sector distribution of beer and certain categories of wine. Liquor and other spirits are sold in government owned stores.
Alcohols can be found in nature in many forms and is produced relatively inexpensively. Alcohols are organic substances consisting of oxygen, carbon and hydrogen atoms.
Alcohol is a colourless liquid with many characteristics including an ethereal odour, is volatile has a low boiling – (78.3 C = at sea level), and low freezing point (-11 C = at sea level). It burns with a blue flame between 10.4 F (-12 C) and 51.8 F (11 C) at 95% concentration.
Alcohol creates a burning sensation when swallowed, inebriates if consumed in large quantities, is slightly acid, breaks down fats, and has a specific gravity less than that of water (0.79).
Alcohol is addictive. Consumed in small doses, it stimulates and excites mentally, but excessive amounts intoxicate and may become lethal. Alcohols can be very simple in their structure or very complex. Increased complexity changes their characteristics.
There are two alcohol nomenclatures – the conventional and the Geneva.
The simplest alcohol is methanol or methylalcohol (CH3 0H) and can be obtained by burning wood, hence the name ‘wood’ alcohol.
Methanol contains fusel oils and higher alcohols detrimental to the human body and must not be imbibed. Methanol is generally sold in stores as ”fondue fuel” or ”rubbing alcohol” and may be coloured blue.
Alcohol can be produced at home with relative ease using crude mechanisms. The resulting product is potent and contains, fusel oils, higher – and lower alcohols.
Governments try to control the production of distilled products in an attempt to minimize damage to health caused by prolonged excessive drinking and which leads to blindness, cirrhosis of the liver, dementia and other diseases.
At high concentration (40 percent ABV) alcohol disinfects and sterilizes. Contrary to common belief alcohols are cooling. Heat is generated by combusting alcohol in the liver as well as by exertion of muscles during physical work.
The blood (there is approximately 5 – 6 litres of blood in an average adult) carries the heat from the inside of the body to the skin, where it dissipates through evaporation from the pores of the skin leading to a drop in body temperature. Alcohol does not provide immunity against contagious diseases, nor does it prevent colds, it hampers digestion when in excess of four per cent of the contents of the stomach.
Alcohol is diuretic and dehydrates. At 60 – 80 per cent ABV concentration alcohol splits protein and is hygroscopic. (Absorbs moisture from air or water containing tissue). It dilates blood vessels and may be prescribed to lower blood pressure.
Alcohol contains calories (one gram of alcohol provides seven calories) that is devoid of essential amino acids, fatty acids, and minerals. (1)
A sedentary person requires approximately 1500 -2000 calories per day and if these were taken in the form of alcohol it could be sufficient for sustenance but deficient of vital vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids. It cannot replace a nutritious diet.
Alcohol is a CNS (Central Nervous System) depressant and muffles the mind. People under the influence of alcohol cannot make rational decisions.
Barbiturates and alcohol must not be taken simultaneously or concomitantly; their effects are synergistic and potentiate their individual actions. Taken together they may become lethal.
Alcohol is obtained through fermentation from sugar or starch containing liquids.
The formula for the fermentation is:
C6Hl2O6 —— 2C2H50H+ 2 C02
(Hexose Sugar)(Ethanol)(Carbon dioxide)
Yeasts are necessary to ferment liquids containing sugar. Yeasts in the presence of oxygen convert sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. There are many strains of yeasts of which saccharomyces cerevisea (brewer’s yeast) is the most popular. Yeasts are light sensitive unicellular organisms and perform best between temperatures of 7 – 38 C (45 – 85 F).
When alcohol concentration reaches 14 – 15 per cent ABV, yeasts start to die due to the antiseptic properties of alcohol. Some yeasts have a low alcohol “tolerance”, and die at low alcohol levels (5 – 6 per cent ABV), others continue to function up to 16-16.5%. Some yeast strains perform at as low as 7 C (45 F) and others as high as 38 C. After completion of the fermentation dead yeasts sink to the bottom of the fermenting tank or vessel. Ale yeasts float to the top of the liquid.
In most wineries and distilleries specially selected and cultivated yeast strains are used to achieve uniformity of the process. Some of the following yeast strains are used in wineries.
Distillation concentrates alcohol. Pure (100 per cent) alcohol cannot be obtained through distillation. In order to produce pure alcohol water absorbing minerals must be employed after distillation to eliminate water. Liquors are initially very harsh and must be aged to mellow.
Aging occurs either in stainless steel tanks or glass lined cement containers or barrels. Distillation is carried out in alembic – (copper batch) or Coffey stills (columnar or continuous). Congeners (phenols) in alcoholic beverages are more prevalent up to 60 per cent ABV. At higher concentrations they disappear resulting in a tasteless, but potent distillate.
Copper batch stills are slower but impart more flavour whereas Coffey stills are very efficient and faster, but in the end produce neutral and harsh spirits.
In various countries the alcohol content is measured differently. The most frequently used method is alcohol by volume invented by the French chemist Gay-Lussac. This method of measurement is more or less standard throughout the world except in the United Kingdom and the USA. Even in these countries there is a tendency to express alcohol in percentages on labels for simplicity.
In the United Kingdom the Sykes method is used which measures alcohol concentration by weight. Alcohol weighs 12/13 of an equal amount of water at 51 F (10 C). At this temperature one litre of spirit contains 49.3 per cent water and 57.1 per cent alcohol.
The USA uses the “proof system” in which expresses one percent alcohol equals two proof degrees, hence a 150 over-proof distillate contains 75 percent ABV.
Distillates become more palatable and smooth after aging for a suitably long time in American white – or European – or chestnut oak barrels. Aging improves distillates up to 25 years; beyond this period there is no further improvement. Distilleries transfer such distillates into demi johns and use them for blending.
Cognacs are aged in Limousin – or Troncais oak barrels, Armagnacs in Gascony oak, port wines Romanian and for Italian red wines Slovenian.
In the USA whiskey is aged at 51.5 per cent ABV in charred American white oak barrels.
In the USA by law a barrel may be used once only for aging Bourbon whiskey. This is the reason for Bourbon whiskey’s relatively high price. Bourbon distillers sell their used barrels to Canadian and Scottish distillers at a substantial discount. In both countries the law permits the use of old barrels.
In Scotland, whisky is distilled out at 62 per cent ABV and run into barrels for aging.
After blending, it may be diluted to the desired strength by the addition of either distilled water, or local natural untreated soft water, which adds a unique taste to the product. Some whiskies are marketed at cask strength, which may be as low as 54 per cent ABV or a little higher pending on the length of aging.
In Charente (France), where Cognac originates, the distillate starts the aging process at 70 per cent ABV and after blending diluted to 40 per cent ABV or lower.
Spirits mature or oxidize (3) more quickly in new barrels. During ageing, alcohol evaporates at an average rate (the first few years) of two-and-a-half percent per annum, while volatile acids and alcohol combine increasing ester (4) content. At the same time, air penetrating through the pores of the wood forms aldehydes (5). Distillates extract tannins (6) and furfural (7) from the barrel; darken the colour. However, most aged distillates contain caramelized sugar and/or sherry wine up to two-and-a-half percent to ensure uniform colouring from batch to batch. Once a distillate is bottled no further chemical or taste changes occur regardless of the length of storage.
Cork enclosed, high-quality wines benefit from cellaring but not indefinitely. Vintage quality and winemaking are major contributors to the length of a wine’s aging ability and the cellar temperature. The lower the temperature the slower is the aging process.
Effects of alcohol
Alcohol is absorbed through the blood vessels of the stomach and quickly enters the blood stream. The blood reaches the liver via circulation, travels to the right side of the heart, goes to both lungs, comes back to the left side of the heart from where it travels first to the upper part of the body and soon reaches the higher nerve centres of the brain within minutes.
Carbon dioxide increases the stomach’s motility and hastens the effects of alcohol. This is especially true for sparkling wines, beers highly and spirits mixed with carbonated soft drinks.
Beverages between 10 – 30 per cent ABV are absorbed faster than those of lower concentration (1 – 71/2 per cent ABV) or higher concentration (40 per cent ABV or over).
Alcohol is broken down in the liver, a process that may take up to 18 hours. 168 grams of pure alcohol is the maximum that can be eliminated within 24 hours by an average person (68kg =150 lbs.). Generally seven grams (1/4 oz or 1 ½ teaspoon) of pure alcohol per hour can be broken down by a healthy liver of an average individual.
About 10 – 15 per cent of the alcohol ingested is eliminated through the breath, perspiration and urine; a three-stage process in the liver breaks down the remaining 85 – 90 per cent.
1. Combustion of the alcohol in the liver producing acetaldehyde
2. Acetaldehyde is broken down to acetic acid (the main congener of vinegar)
3. Acetic acid is broken down to carbon dioxide and water.
Tolerance of alcohol is hereditary and depends on personal susceptibility. Some races have higher alcohol tolerance than others, e.g. Far Eastern peoples normally not exposed to alcohol as much as Europeans and North Americans of European origin have a low alcohol tolerance. Amerindians are known to be less alcohol tolerant than Orientals.
The brain becomes less sensitive to alcohol as a result of previous exposure. Over Time, an individual will have to increase his/her alcoholic intake to experience the same brain reaction. Blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 – 0.1 per cent in the blood shows impairment of muscular concentration and 0.15 per cent alcohol concentration leads to intoxication. An alcohol blood level of 8 parts per thousand or 0.8 per cent is the legal limit accepted by law in many countries, as it reduces a person’s judgment, self-criticism, inhibitions, muscular control and induces sleep which could lead to unconsciousness.
Alcohol is a CNS (Central Nervous System) depressant.
Acute alcohol poisoning results in failure of pulmonary ventilation, failing heart rate and falling blood pressure, ultimately death.
Human blood contains 0.0003 per cent alcohol that is produced in the stomach through fermentation of carbohydrates.
Alcohol is a diuretic and dehydrates. It is advisable to drink large quantities of water (never sparkling or carbonated) after consuming alcohol and before retiring. This will help eliminate hangovers, a by-product of dehydration. The same is true for alcoholic beverages containing high levels of sugars, as they too, are diuretic.
Water surrounding the brain, the scalp, its blood vessels and muscles. The brain itself has no sensory nerves. The pain is produced by tension in or stretching of, these structures, i.e. dehydration, dilation of blood vessels, etc.
Headaches may be result of hangover, irregularly taken meals, prolonged travel, poor posture, excitement, disrupted sleep, even certain foods, i.e. cheese, chocolate, red wine, food preservatives and/or additives including increased pressure within the skull.
Serious complications arise including death when alcohol is consumed in large quantities on an empty stomach.
Dry still white- or sparkling wines stimulate appetite and are served as aperitifs.
During lunch, alcoholic beverages of low concentration (5 – 12 per cent ABV) can be safely consumed as long as the volume remains under 5 – 6oz (140-168ml). Unfortunately, some individuals consume more. Drinking to excess results in impaired judgments.
Researchers claim excess drinking to result in huge financial losses and discontent in many work places.
Inebriated executives lose both authority and respect of their coworkers and subordinates. Some companies put in place strict no-alcohol-while-entertaining policies.
It is important to note that an empty stomach is slightly acid as is alcohol. Acidic dishes (e.g. tomatoes, sorrel, lemon juice, etc.) should be consumed in moderation, especially with highly acid alcoholic beverages. High fat foods (cheese, creamy foods, steaks, canned sardines) retard alcohol absorption into the blood stream and are highly recommended.
In order to be on the safe side and eliminate physical discomfort consume 3/4 of an ounce (20 ml.) spirit per hour, 1/2 of one bottle of 12 oz (345 ml.) beer at percent ABV or about 4 oz (114 ml) wine at 10. This will keep an average weight individual below the inebriation limit as defined by law in North America.
Avoid barbiturates (CNS depressants) before and/or while drinking.
Alcohol consumption on the job is dangerous as is excess consumption before work. Alcohol related absenteeism in some countries causes significant economic losses, as was the case in Chile and the former U.S.S.R.
Smokers smoke more while drinking as the body starts craving nicotine to contract dilated arteries. Non-smokers do not experience such cravings. Alcohol is as addictive as narcotics (cannabis, marijuana, cocaine, and barbiturates).
Alcohol is less expensive and more readily available to restaurant and hotel industry employees.
They are prone to becoming alcoholic. All individuals must fully understand the associated dangers of excess alcohol consumption to fully appreciate its repercussions.
Foodservice employees must be made aware of the addictive properties of alcohol and urged to drink only moderately. Drinking on the job or arriving for work inebriated are reasons for immediate dismissal in most restaurants, clubs, lounges, nightclubs and hotels.
In order to avoid costly litigation and insurance premium increases, all licensed foodservice employees must be trained to keep a close eye on patrons drinking to excess and rapidly. Third party liability law suits force restaurant and bar operators to pay extremely high amounts in punitive fines.
Refusing to serve a patron a drink (cutting off) requires diplomacy, persistence and firmness. Some inebriated individuals become physically weak and accept a firm request to leave or surrender their car keys. This of course does not always happen and individuals “cut off” may become vociferous, belligerent, and even violent. Fistfights may break out resulting in injuries and damage to furniture as well as fixtures.
In such cases, only the police can evict those involved and deal with them according to the law. A few cases have been recorded of “cut off” individuals returning to the bar and shooing the bartender and or the bouncer fatally.
Lone drinkers represent serious problems. Parties of two or more generally are less problematic, since at least one member of the party will take care of the inebriated individual(s). It is advisable to know the symptoms of a drunk person. These include:
• Slurred speech
• Perception disorder
• Uncoordinated, slow movements
• Difficulty of comprehension of the spoken word
• Rapidly changing moods (lability) and/or melancholy
In such cases individuals should be served honey, or beef broth and in severe cases an ambulance should be called. Coffee produces a wide-awake drunk, therefore it is not recommended.
Emergency doctors may find it necessary to pump the stomach, and inject the comatose with glucose.
Alcoholism is on the rise in most industrialized countries and most likely to continue to increase. Education may help curb wide spread alcoholism.
There are many definitions of an alcoholic. The Addiction Research Foundation of Toronto/Ontario defines an alcoholic as; “An alcoholic is a person who as a result of the abuse of alcohol, is experiencing serious and recurring personal and social problems or health damage, and who because of these problems, would benefit from treatment”.
There is a wide range of alcohol consumption – including occasional, moderate, regular or binge. There is no clear line of separation between “hazardous drinking” and “alcoholism”.
Alcoholics Anonymous defines an alcoholic as being “a person who cannot stop, once starting to drink”.
Other definitions are:
“A person who is dependent on alcohol and cannot function without the consumption of alcohol.”
“A person who drinks daily 3 oz or 78ml of spirits.”
”A person who regularly drinks indiscriminately and is totally oblivious of his/her surrounding.”
”A person who has an uncontrollable desire for alcohol.”
Alcoholism develops because alcohol reduces or temporarily eliminates anxiety, harsh realities and self-doubt.
The fact remains that alcohol does not solve any problems but aggravates them in the long run.
For addicted people alcohol becomes a physiological crutch as it changes cells that Slowing body functions. The absence of alcohol precipitates a need.
Psychotic (9) individuals can achieve satisfactory relations with others through alcohol, and are prone to become alcoholics.
Alcoholism is not genetic but children of alcoholics are more likely to become alcoholic because of their physical and emotional environment and social circumstances.
Alcoholics show the following symptoms: perception disorders, hallucinations, logic disorders, unrealistic fantasies, preoccupation with fantasy to the exclusion of reality, perplexity, uncertainty, disorientation, difficulty grasping simplest concepts, affection disorders, rapid change of moods (Labiality), marked differences in mental and physical activity (hyperactivity to diminished activity, including lethargy)
Alcoholism can be cured but only after an afflicted individual recognizes his/her affliction. Many institutions specialize in the treatment of alcoholics, one of the most successful of which is AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), with approximately 16,000 offices around the world. Alcoholics in treatment develop a craving for alcohol, and may experience weakness, tremors, increased anxiety, nausea, vomiting, perspiration, fever, a rapid heart rate, convulsion, hallucinations; even delirium tremens and other assorted withdrawal symptoms. Alcoholics suffering from cirrhosis of the liver are prone to diet deficiency partly due to impaired absorption and loss of appetite.
Prolonged and continuous alcohol consumption inflames the stomach lining and hampers the digestive process. Alcoholics complain of morning nausea. As the disease progresses, leg nerves weaken and walking becomes difficult.
Occasionally, alcoholics may suffer from severe headaches, dizziness and vomiting, the result of inflamed – stomach lining, and alcohols direct effect on the inner ear that regulates body equilibrium.
The liver, where most of the breaking down of alcohol occurs, suffers the most profound damage. It enlarges, hardens and its surface becomes covered with irregular spots. The skin of alcoholics darkens and appears jaundiced.
Along with physiological changes alcoholics are likely to lose their jobs, friends, memory (alcohol precipitates the death rate of neurons causing dementia (demans precosse) and deterioration of their ethical standards. They become careless in their grooming, in caring for family, violent, irritable, brutal, surly and shameless.
Their physical and social deterioration may become desperate and uncontrollable.
There is no 100 per cent effective treatment. Some respond to treatment better than others. Some individuals believe to have recovered fully and start to drinking again which inevitably leads to recurring alcoholism. A recovered alcoholic must not touch alcohol again.
Some methods of treatment are:
• Regular high-protein lean, vitamins A, B and C enriched diet
• The administration of citrated calcium carbonate is sometimes successful, as this increases the regular content of acetaldehyde in the body, creating a feeling of quasi-hangover
• Alcohol administered in conjunction with drugs, which cause nausea and vomiting
• Group conversations with cured alcoholics willing to share their experiences
Individuals involved with alcohol professionally and consumers must understand the nature of alcohol – its benefits, detriments, and how it can help the body remain healthy or ruin it.
Alcohol is addictive and never solves any emotional or physical problem. Alcohol consumption in the workplace, except for tasters, and while entertaining, must be, as matter of policy strictly forbidden, and employees reporting to work inebriated must be refused entry to the premises, particularly those responsible for the safety of others i.e. bartenders, cooks, pilots, train engineers, drivers, machine operators, doctors, nurses.
Understanding the nature of alcohol helps those working with it, and makes them understand to treat it with care in an attempt to avoid health – and all other types of hazards.
1 One calorie is the amount of heat required to elevate the temperature of one gram of water from 14.5 -15.5 C. Sometimes calories are measured in kilocalories.
2 Taste particles in an alcoholic beverage.
3 Oxidation refers to the changes in the electrical charge of an element in the course of a chemical reaction. The element losing electrons and acquiring positive changes is said to be oxidized. In all the oxides the oxygen atom has a charge of two (or oxidation number 2) hence free for oxygen gas combines with another element to form an oxide, it gains electrons from that element. In the generalized concept and use of the term oxidization means too much oxygen present in an alcohol containing liquid.
4 Esters are the result of reaction of alcohols and acids in alcohols, which have a sweet and fruity smell. Esters are found most notably in wines.
5 Aldehydes are named after acids into which they are converted by oxidation. (e.g. formaldehyde, acet-aldehyde, benzaldelyde). Many aldelydes are known and some can be produced in laboratories. H-CHO is the simplest form of aldehydes that is a gas at 190 C and can be produced by passing the vapour of methanol and air over copper gauze. It is volatile at 21 C and mixes readily with water. Aldehydes cause hangover.
6 Tannins are acids that have an astringent taste, and water-soluble, turn dark blue or green when present in a liquid with iron salts. Tannins occur normally in roots, wood, barks, leaves and fruits of many plants. Tannins are more prevalent in red wines and lose their astringency during prolonged bottle aging, and provide longevity to the wine. White wines generally have lower tannin content. The astringency of tannin is more prevalent when the wine is consumed at 70-75F. It is best to serve red wines at 65 – 68 F; lighter and fruitier wines cooler at 55 – 60 F.
Some grape varieties contain more tannins than others i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon (A red grape variety of Bordeaux) has naturally more tannins than Merlot (another red grape variety of Bordeaux). Tannins are used in the production of leather and are hydrolysable especially from chestnut- or American white oak.
7 Furfurals are colourless, aromatic, have an etheral odour, and soluble in ethanol. The boiling point of furfurals is 161.7 C, its specific gravity 1.1598. Furfurals darken when exposed to air, dissolve in water at 20 C up to 8.3% concentration are miscible with water and ether (C4H20-CHO)
When vapours of furfural and hydrogen are passed -over a copper catalyst at high temperatures, alcohol is formed.
8 Liver is the largest of all the glands in the body. Weighs 1500-2000 g. and is the most important organ in the production of bile, glycogens, and eliminates alluminoide substances through the kidneys. The liver neutralizes and eliminates mineral and organic poisons; both cellular and red blood debris. The liver plays an important role in the body metabolism.
9 Psychosis is a mental illness, which causes the failure to discriminate between stimuli from within to stimuli from external sources. This is rare in younger people and increases with advanced age.
10 Delirium tremens is a mental disturbance marked by confused thinking, incorrectly comprehending the surrounding, sometimes accompanied with maniacal excitement. Alcoholic delirium tremens is the result of dehydration, physical deterioration, trembling, mental distress, [sweating, pain over the heart and stomach].
11 Acetaldelydes are important as intermediate products in the synthesis of acetic acid, in n-butyl alcohol, ethanol. They occur in ethanol obtained from fermentation and methanol by destructive distillation of wood. Acetaldelydes convert by reduction to ethanol and by oxidation to acetic acid (C2H40 – CH3CHO).
Gesundheit, Kleine Enziklopaedie, VEB Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig, 1970.
Information Review, Addiction Research Foundation, 33 Russell Street, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2Sl.
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1978.
Larousse Medical, Librairie Larousse, Paris, France, 1952.
Der Kleine Brockhaus, A.F. Brockhaus, Wiesbaden, Germany, 1972.
Home Medical Encyclopaedia, The Reader’s Digest Association (Canada) Ltd. , Montreal, 1990.