The Chemistry of Alcohol


The chemistry of alcohol is fairly simple. Alcohol’s are simply hydrocarbon molecules that have oxygen present in their structure. And hence, Alcohol is merely a classification of molecules.

This presence of oxygen turns a number of boring molecules (commonly used for fuels) into potentially intoxicating remedies for the human body.


What is an alcohol?

An alcohol is an organic molecule that comprises of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Bonded together with strong covalent bonds.

ethanol molecule
Ethanol molecule

Like most professions, chemists have concocted jargon to describe these alcohol molecules (and confuse the rest of us). Some of these you may have heard of…

Molecule nameChemical formula
MethanolCH3OH
EthanolCH3CH2OH
PropanolCH3(CH2)2OH
A table of basic alcohol molecules

Methanol

Methanol can not used as an active ingredient in alcoholic drinks. This is due to it’s high toxicity. In fact, commercial producers of alcoholic beverages have specialised methods of extracting any methanol that has formed as part their brewing process.

The presence of Methanol in home brewed drinks can be a cause of health concern. Although Methanol is far more intoxicating than Ethanol, the impact on the human body can cause severe illness, or even blindness.


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Ethanol

The alcohol in drinks is Ethanol and is therefore found in any fermented wine, beer, liquor or distilled drink. Ethanol is an intoxicating agent, often water down and mixed in someway to produce spirits.

A vodka can be achieved by watering down ethanol with distilled water to a certain ABV. Gins can be produced by mixing ethanol with botanicals and then distilling this mixture – in a similar process that is used in water treatment plants.

ethanol molecule
Ethanol molecule

It’s far to say that there are good spirit makers and, well, some cheaters. Simply mixing ethanol could be seen as a cheat. Certainly whilst other distilling companies take the time to produce their own ethanol’s derived from quality ingredients, using historic techniques.

Propanol

Propanol also can not be used as an active ingredient in alcoholic drinks. This is due to Propanol being four times stronger than Ethanol.

Whilst propanol is not found in drinks, it is used in laboratories. Propanol is therefore classed as a lab alcohol. Often found in hand sanitizers and disinfectants.

Similarly to Methanol, toxic ingestions of Propanol can be fatal if left untreated.

Alchomix, Ethanol IBC

Want to learn more about alcohol?

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