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 Vol. 3, No. 3 

Page 11

March, 2001

Beverage Alcoholdrunkard

Versus Distillation

By Louis Rushmore

  1. Fermentation is a natural process through which alcohol is generated. Fermentation of grape juice into an alcoholic beverage requires the right conditions, which if not present, the liquid will prove unsuitable as a beverage. "The process of fermentation occurs only in the presence of certain conditions such as a moderate temperature, moisture and air in the grape juice." (Samuele Bacchiocchi, “The Preservation of Grape Juice,” Wine in the Bible: A Biblical Study on the Use of Alcoholic Beverages, http://www2. [21 Sep 1998]) Distillation is an artificial manufacturing process whereby a greater concentration of alcohol than possible through fermentation is produced. Fermentation occurs when:

The grapes are lightly pressed to release their juice, which is then transferred to the fermentation vats. As the juice converts to a solution of alcohol and water, carbon dioxide is released and, in the case of red wine, tannin and color are absorbed from the grape skins by the fermenting juice. Fermentation continues until all sugar in the juice has been converted to alcohol. (Anonymous, "Wine," Encarta Concise Encyclopedia, Microsoft Corporation, 1998, concise/ 0VOL33/0634d000.asp. [15 Sep 1998])

Alcohol is produced during a natural process called fermentation, which occurs when yeast, a microscopic plant that floats freely in the air, reacts with the sugar in fruit or vegetable juice, creating alcohol and releasing carbon dioxide. The process stops naturally when about 11% to 14% of the juice is alcohol; the product of this fermentation is wine. A similar process is used to make beer. Distillation is the process used to make beverages with a higher alcohol content. In this process the fermented liquid is heated until it vaporizes, and then the vapor is cooled until it condenses into a liquid again. Distilled alcoholic beverages (e.g., whiskey, gin, vodka, and rum) contain 40% to 50% alcohol. They are sometimes referred to as "spirits" or "hard liquor." (Gail Gleason Milgram, Ed.D., “Facts On: The Effects of Alcohol,” Center of Alcohol Studies, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey 1997, [14 Sep 1998]) 

The distillation of liquor increases alcohol content. . . . Whiskey, rum, brandy, and gin are so made, and usually carry an alcohol content of 47 to 54 percent. . . . According to a noted English chemist, John George Noel Gaskin, "Rums may contain from 43 percent to 79 percent by volume of ethyl alcohol . . ." (W.D. Jeffcoat, The Bible and “Social” Drinking, c. 1987, pp. 10-11.)

Brandy may be up to 70% alcohol or 140 proof. (Paul Harrington, "Cocktail - The Alchemist," Wired Digital, Inc., 1997, http:// alchemist.html. [15 Sep 1998])


Irrespective of whether alcohol is under consideration, as it is in this series, distillation is the ". . . process of heating a liquid until some of its ingredients pass into the vapor phase, and then cooling the vapor to recover it in liquid form by condensation." (Anonymous, "Distillation," Encarta Concise Encyclopedia, Microsoft Corporation, 1998, http://encarta. 0VOL29/ 05006000.asp. [15 Sep 1998])

Although Mother Nature can be credited as the inspiration for distillation, adventurous alchemists developed the process. Interested in understanding the composition of matter (and in finding out how to turn it into gold), they boiled it to see what would happen. Once they learned how to capture steam, they had discovered distillation. (Harrington)

The theory of distillation was verbalized by a French chemist in the 1800's.

In the simplest mixture of two mutually soluble liquids with similar chemical structures, the readiness to vaporize of each is undisturbed by the presence of the other. The boiling point of a 50-50 mixture, for example, would be halfway between the boiling points of the pure substances, and the degree of separation produced by a single distillation would depend only on each substance's readiness to vaporize at this temperature. This simple law was first stated by 19th-century French chemist François Marie Raoult. ("Distillation," Encarta Concise Encyclopedia, Microsoft Corporation 1998, obtained on the internet at

Distilled alcoholic beverages are possible due to the different boiling points of the two primary ingredients in the original mixture i.e. water and ethyl alcohol. Water boils at a temperature of 100 C (212 F), while ethyl alcohol will boil at only 78.3 C (173 F). This differential makes it possible to boil out the alcohol from a beverage such as wine, mead, or beer while leaving the water and other substances behind. This is done by heating the liquid to a temperature above 78.3 C, but below 100 C. The alcohol, on boiling, is captured and recondensed into a liquid of considerably higher alcoholic concentrations. (Anonymous, "Brandy and Whiskey," The Meadery, http://www. Paris/1265/ cspirits.html. [15 Sep 1998])

Distillation separates substances based on their volatility. Two substances, such as water and ethyl alcohol, can only be separated if their boiling points differ by at least 1 degree Celsius. If their boiling points are too similar then the vaporized molecules will remain attached as they rise. ("Cocktail - The Alchemist", Wired Digital, Inc., 1997, an internet article obtained at

"The simplest still is a pressurized system containing a heat source, a tank to hold liquids, a hood or gooseneck tube to collect vapors, and a condenser, or container, where the vapor is turned into liquid." (Ibid.) Distillation, though, appears hundreds of years earlier in the historical records of various geographical localities.

Distilled beverages may date as far back as 800 BC in China with a distillate of Sake. In Europe, distillation was known by at least the eleventh or twelfth century. The Norman English found distillation from grain firmly established in the form of a drink called uisge beatha when they invaded Ireland in the twelfth century. ("Brandy and Whiskey")

Referring to an article in Encyclopaedia Britannica in its article on "Alcoholic Beverages," one source chronicles the historical development of distillation. The year 800 B.C. is ascribed to the following substances to which the process of distillation was applied: rice and millet in China; rice, molasses and palm sap in Ceylon and India; mare's milk in Tatars and Caucasus; and rice in Japan. Honey was distilled in A.D. 500 in Britain. Not until A.D. 1000 is distillation noted regarding grapes, and that was in Italy. Grapes were later used in distillation in Spain in A.D. 1200 and in France in A.D. 1300. The distillation process was also applied to oats in Ireland in A.D. 1100 and to barley in Scotland in A.D. 1500. (Ibid.)


Before the advent of widespread distillation, alcoholic beverages were the product of fermentation. Even so, widespread distribution and commercialization of alcoholic wine did not occur until popularized by the Greek civilization. Likewise, the Roman Empire fostered the growth of that industry by planting vineyards in Europe and North Africa.

Wine production dates from at least the earliest known history. Perhaps the earliest vineyards were cultivated between 6000 and 4000 BC, and wine was known by 3000 BC in Mesopotamia. The ancient Egyptians produced wine, but the ancient Greeks first developed viticulture, or the cultivation of grapes, on a commercial scale. ("Wine," Encarta Concise Encyclopedia)

Distillation is one method to preserve the grape from souring. As addressed elsewhere in this series, grape juice also can be preserved in a number of ways from souring before it ferments. In Palestine, especially before the introduction of distillation there, it was common to take measures to preserve the grape juice before it fermented. Distillation, as cited below, is merely one way of preventing spoilage of grape juice.

Ethyl alcohol (the substance that makes you drunk) and carbon dioxide are produced during a chemical reaction called fermentation, which occurs when water, heat, sugar, and yeast are present. All fermentations - beer, cider, wine, and hard liquors - contain ethyl alcohol. The only difference is that hard liquor has been distilled to remove water, sugar, or other diluents. Hard liquor therefore has a higher percentage of alcohol per volume. In beer and wine, trace elements of yeast and other organisms can sour the liquid. In the case of distilled spirits, however, once the liquor is bottled, it will not change over time. As a result of distillation, all living things - such as yeast and bacteria - have been removed, so liquor will not sour. ("Cocktail - The Alchemist")


". . . [T]he much more potent fortified wines and distilled spirits of the twentieth century were unknown until relatively modern times." (Jeffcoat, p. 16.) Due to the late date of the development of the process of distillation, alcoholic drinks known in biblical times were apparently moderately composed of alcohol by contemporary standards. Alcoholic content of such drinks anciently was limited to the amount of alcohol produced through the natural process of fermentation. Even were one to grant that the Bible does not prohibit the pleasurable ingestion of alcohol and only condemns drinking to excess or drunkenness, appeal cannot be made to the Bible for permission to drink the more potent variety of alcoholic beverages commonly available today. To drink today's alcohol beverages, fortified with alcohol through distillation, clearly violates divine injunctions against alcohol, despite claims by some for divine tolerance toward alcohol.

[Editor's Note: A book entitled Beverage Alcohol, written by the Editor is available for sale. This title is published in paperback format. Please contact us via email to purchase it.]

Copyright © 2001 Louis Rushmore. All Rights Reserved.
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