Alcoholic beverages are drinks which contain ethanol, which is commonly called alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are made from a fermentation of the starches and/or sugars of a base material such as fruits, grains, herbs and other botanicals. There are three general categories of alcoholic beverages--wine, beer and spirits. Wine and beer are made from the fermentation of fruits, grains and other botanicals and are not distilled, unlike spirits, which are distilled in order to increase their alcoholic strength. Distillation is the process of separating water or unfermented liquid from the fermented liquid, and multiple distillations are often used to remove impurities from spirits.
Beer is the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world, and in fact is consumed more than any other beverages with the exception of water and tea. Beer is made by the fermentation of grains (most commonly malted barley, but also wheat, rye, corn, and millet) using brewer's yeast. All beer is classified as either ale or lager, which differ in the type of yeast used to ferment the grain.
Wine is made from grapes and only grapes, unless it is classified as "fruit wine." Wine may be made from red or white grapes or a combination of the two, and includes sparkling wines such as Champagne and Cava. Wine is sometimes distilled and aged in order to make brandy, a spirit.
Spirits, also called "hard liquor," include "neutral spirits," which carry no real flavor or color characteristics of their own, and "finished spirits," which have distinctive tastes and sometimes colors. Some of the most commonly consumed spirits in the world are vodka, rum, tequila and whiskey. Liqueurs are spirits which have been bottled with added sugar; true spirits do not have added sugars. Liqueurs are available in a wide variety of flavors, and are often made by fermenting and distilling herbs and floral botanicals.
Alcoholic beverages are ubiquitous--they are a part of almost every culture in the world and the making and drinking of them dates back to the earliest days of mankind. Many alcoholic beverages are tied to the heritage and traditions of a certain location or time period, and are part of festivals and religious ritual.