A bottle of grain alcohol in a background of assorted grains

Grain Alcohol: The Drink With A Dangerously High ABV

A bottle of grain alcohol in a background of assorted grains

What makes alcohol different from other drinks is its potency, which can vary on different levels., A bottle of liquor typically has 40% Alcohol By Volume (ABV). Some people dilute it by adding mixers to make the drink more tolerable, while others prefer to drink it straight but slowly. 

Some liquors, like cask-strength whiskey, can go up to 60%, which is considered very high. If you think that this level can’t get any higher, you are mistaken. Grain alcohol has a whopping 95% ABV, making it one of the strongest alcohols in the world

We’re pretty sure that this ridiculously high ABV is enough to pique the interest of alcohol drinkers and enthusiasts. So, if you want to know more about its composition, usage, and more, read on!

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What Is Grain Alcohol?

A glass filled with grain alcohol

“Grain alcohol is an extremely pure form of alcohol that is extremely dangerous to consume on its own. It is typically diluted or mixed if drunk. An example of grain alcohol is Everclear,” says Tom Drake, owner, and bartender, of Crafty Bartending.

Moreover, grain alcohol is also referred to as grain neutral spirit (GSN), rectified spirit, ethyl alcohol, or ethanol.

Because it has extremely high ethanol concentrations, it is hailed as the second most alcoholic beverage in the world, next to Polmos Spirytus Rektyfikowany Vodka, with a 96% ABV or 192 proof.

Because grain alcohol is pure alcohol, it doesn’t have any color, odor, or flavor. You probably think it’s just like water, but the thing is, water doesn’t hurt you. When you taste grain alcohol, your tongue or whole mouth will feel dry and burning.

Still, drinkers, especially young individuals, are drawn to grain alcohol because it’s inexpensive and high-proof. 

How Is Grain Alcohol Produced?

Making grain alcohol is similar to other alcohols but with a few modifications to reach nearly 100% ABV. The following are the stages: 

1. Selection of the Ingredients

Varieties of grains in sacks

    Neutral grain spirit is mostly produced from grains like corn and rye. In fact, corn is used to produce Everclear. However, there are other neutral grain spirits produced from different ingredients like wheat, tubers, molasses, sugarcane, beets, and grapes in various countries.

    2. Fermentation

    Filling a fermentation tank with corn mash

    Grain alcohols are derived from fermenting grain. But before this, raw materials that are rich in starch must go through saccharification, wherein enzymes are added to the starch to convert it into fermentable sugars. Ingredients that are already high in sugar don’t need this process.

    Then, the sugar is ready to be combined with yeast to create ethanol. Depending on the amount of sugars and the kind of yeast strain used, alcohol created from the fermented grains will only be about 5%-21%.

    3. Distillation

    Distillation factory interior

      To increase the alcohol percentage, the fermented grain must be concentrated through distillation, wherein it is heated to collect water vapor, which then condenses.

      Water and ethanol have different boiling points. Heat will cause the alcohol in the fermented liquid to turn into gas or water vapor first. When this is cooled through condensation, it goes back to liquid form, only now it has a higher alcohol percentage.

      For the initial distillation, the liquid will contain about 24%-45% of alcohol. Furthermore, Molly Troupe, Master Distiller of Freeland Spirits, says, “Grain alcohol is usually made rather industrially. Column stills are used continuously to produce large quantities of 190P GNS.”

      “At 190P, or 95% alcohol, almost all water has been removed from this spirit, making it potent, neutral, and highly flammable,” she adds.

      4. Rectification

      Distillation equipment

        Distillation does not immediately yield 95% alcohol because some water is still retained. Rectification is the process of distilling the solution or mixture multiple times to reach a higher concentration of alcohol.

        But no matter how many times you distill, alcohol levels will not go beyond 95.6% since this is the maximum level of alcohol that can be produced through distillation alone.

        Normally, distillation can separate ethanol and water from each other because they have different volatile compounds. The ethanol that becomes a vapor has a different composition than the liquid that’s left in the mixture. Also, the more volatile compounds in the vapor will be more concentrated.

        When the mixture is at 95.6% ethanol and 4.4% water, it becomes an azeotrope, a mixture with a constant boiling point. This means that both the vapor and the liquid have the same concentration levels and composition, so separation is no longer possible.

        However, there are ways to reach the 100% level. One method is to add benzene to the mixture before it is distilled again. But since benzene is carcinogenic and toxic, it renders the mixture unsafe for human consumption.

        Another way is to use molecular sieves or to extract the residual water in the mixture using dehydrating salt. But if you’re going to produce alcohol with a high proof that can still be safely consumed, this additional step is unnecessary because it will only be diluted.

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        Uses of Grain Alcohol

        Grain alcohol is mainly used as a component in liquors and cocktails, but it can also be used for household tasks and others. Here are some of the methods you can put your neutral grain spirit to good use. 

        1. Ingredient for Alcoholic Products

        Different bottles of alcohol on a table

          The reason why manufacturers can use any source of starch or sugar for grain alcohol is they are not after their flavors. They just need the sugars to convert into as much pure alcohol as possible, which is essentially flavorless.

          Because of its neutrality and high alcohol content, grain alcohol makes a great base for liquors that involve botanicals and fruits as it extracts their flavor compounds. After the infusion, the mixture can be diluted with water to lower the alcohol content.

          Molly Troupe states, “GNS can be used to make vodka or gin by adding water to them. Alcohol is the perfect extractor of botanicals since soaking botanicals in GNS always causes the flavors to come out into a solution, where it can then be further distilled.”

          Aside from gin and vodka, neutral grain spirit can also be used to make bitters, liqueurs, vermouth, wine, and cheap whiskey.

          High-proof neutral grain spirits always come with a warning label because they are not meant to be consumed independently. In fact, the manufacturers at Everclear describe it as an “unfinished product,” so it must always be diluted to be safely consumed.

          Usually, grain alcohol is used to make big-batch punches like Jungle Juice, that’s often served at college parties. The assortment of fruit juices and other mixers dilute the alcohol and mask its burning aftertaste.

          While grain alcohol is similar to vodka, it is not recommended to use it as a substitute for making mixed drinks. When you make a cocktail, you usually create one to two glasses per batch. So, it might be difficult to control the amount of grain alcohol and make the drink safe.

          Nevertheless, you can still find a lot of Everclear cocktails online, and most of them only use a little bit of grain alcohol but a lot of cocktail mixers with strong flavors like citrus juices, syrups, and soda.

          Some even use other alcoholic drinks like gin, whiskey, and bitters to add more flavor to the drink. However, you have to exercise restraint when doing so because these are also high in alcohol, which can make the drink stronger. 

          2. Multipurpose Cleaner

          Cleaning spray bottle and towel on a table

          There's a solid reason why we all have our favorite cleaning products. Everybody loves a multitasker, and grain alcohol is one of them. 

          It's an excellent cleaning aid because it evaporates quickly and doesn't leave behind a residual scent or residue. There's also no greasy feel to your fingertips, leather gear or furniture, or even on your phone. 

          Because it is very strong, even a solution of 3 parts water and one part grain alcohol is effective at cleaning things and surfaces. 

          3. Wound Disinfectant

          Disinfecting wounds

          The risk posed by wounds is high because they can easily become infected due to neglect. Thankfully, grain alcohol has the advantage of being used for wound sterilization.

          It can be poured directly over cuts and scrapes or applied with a sterile cloth to kill bacteria and prevent infection. In terms of pain, it's on par with isopropyl alcohol. 

          Afterward, thoroughly wash the wound with water and consult a medical professional to ensure a speedy recovery.

          4. Air Freshener

          Air freshener in a spray bottle with essential oils

            You can produce your own air freshener by pouring some grain alcohol into a bottle and several drops of your preferred essential oils. 

            Ensure that you shake the bottle well so the essential oils will be thoroughly mixed in the alcohol.  Then, spray the room with this solution to provide an evenly distributed scent.

            5. Deodorant

            Woman spraying deodorant

            Ditch the sticky, smelly store-bought deodorant and say hello to a spray antiperspirant made of grain alcohol and a few drops of essential oil of your choice. You can also rub it on your feet if you struggle with feeling smelly.

            6. Bug Killer/ Repellent

            Spraying bug repellent on a surface

            If you've ever been a spider or a cockroach victim, you'll know just how terrifying it can be to find that grain web or creepy little guy lurking somewhere in your home. But fear not: grain alcohol will have them on the run. 

            Just mix one part grain alcohol with nine parts water to make your household insect killer. Whenever you see a bug, spray the solution on it. But if you don’t want to wait around for bugs, you can make a bug repellent by adding lemon, eucalyptus, lavender, or lemongrass essential oils to the solution.

            7. Fire Starter

            Alcohol stove beside a kettle

            When using an alcohol stove, grain alcohol is an excellent fuel option. But even if you aren't using it on an alcohol stove, you may still generally use it as a fire starter. You just need to soak a cotton pad or some other kind of tinder well in this fuel and ignite.

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            What Will Happen If You Drink Grain Alcohol?

            Person handing another with a bottle of alcohol

            “Grain alcohol can be dangerous if consumed in large quantities. It is extremely potent and can cause rapid and significant intoxication, leading to loss of consciousness, coma, and even death,” notes Lisa Richards, nutritionist and author of the Candida Diet.

            “In addition to its intoxicating effects, consuming large amounts of grain alcohol can cause severe health problems, including liver and brain damage, dehydration, and impaired judgment and coordination,” she adds. 

            A single shot of the undiluted form of grain alcohol has a significantly higher alcohol percentage than a standard drink of liquor. This might cause your BAC to rise between 0.06% and 0.09%, compromising your judgment and self-control. 

            BACs often rise for more than 30 minutes after a person stops drinking. This can exacerbate symptoms, cause more severe damage, and be dangerous to an individual.

            Apart from the immediate implications of weakened inhibitions, drinking grain alcohol puts you at risk of alcohol poisoning with symptoms including vomiting, breathing problems, coldness or hypothermia, pale skin passing, or unresponsiveness. 

            This phenomenon may also cause death if not immediately attended to and handled. There are also risks of alcoholism, addiction, car accidents, unprotected sex, and an increased risk of some malignancies. 

            Brands Of Grain Alcohol

            Bottles of grain alcohol and a glass

            Get to know more about Everclear alcohol and other brands of grain alcohol below. 

            1. Everclear

            Everclear grain alcohol is considered to be the most popular brand of high-proof grain alcohol. It is created by the Luxco company in the United States of America and is available in 60%, 75.5%, 94.5%, and 95% ABV or 120, 151, 189, and 190 proof.

            It is mostly known for its formidable kick and dangerous composition. Nevertheless, many people still buy it because it is surprisingly cheap, and they consider drinking it a rite of passage. While available in several countries, it is banned - or heavily restricted - in multiple US states.

            It is believed that Everclear is available in different brandings called Golden Grain and Crystal Clear. These two have almost identical compositions as Everclear, are also illegal in many states, and are made by the Luxco company. 

            2. Alcohol-95

            Alcohol-95 is manufactured by the Canadian company Kittling Ridge Ltd. As the name states, it has 95% ABV and must be used cautiously. Like Everclear, it is also inexpensive, with half-liter bottles only costing about 20 Canadian dollars or about 15 US dollars.  

            3. Gem Clear

            Gem Clear grain alcohol is from Kentucky, USA, made by Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc., and bottled by Quality Control Distilling Co. It is available at 190 proof and has no discernable flavors or smells.

            4. Graves

            Another American brand of 190-proof grain alcohol is Graves, distilled in Lewiston, Maine, and bottled by M.S. Walker, Inc. in Somerville, Massachusettes.

            It is usually mixed with different kinds of juices, especially from citrus fruits, to make liqueurs and cocktails.

            Grain Alcohol FAQ

            Pouring grain alcohol into a glass

            1. What states is Everclear grain alcohol illegal in?

              Everclear has a notorious reputation because it is prohibited in numerous US states due to its potency and influence in fatal alcohol overdoses.

              These states include Maryland, California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Washington, North Carolina, and Minnesota. 

              However, lower alcohol levels or concentration variants are allowed for distribution and drinking in a few of these states.

              2. What can I use as an alternative to grain alcohol?

                There are several alcoholic beverages that can be used as an alternative to the powerful and high-proof pure grain alcohol. One of which is absinthe with around 130-140 proof. Often known as Green Fairy, it packs a powerful punch and is diluted with water or another mixer for consumption.

                Rum could also be used as an alternative to the rectified spirit as there are rums at around 160 proof available in the market. These rums aren't for everyone to be tried neat, but their flavor and power make them a great alternative to any grain alcohol.

                3. How many shots of grain alcohol can get you drunk?

                  For comparison purposes, a 1.5-shot of 40% ABV tequila has the same amount of alcohol as a 0.63-oz. shot of 95% ABV grain alcohol. People reach different BAC levels depending on a number of factors like weight, so the number of tequila shots that get them drunk varies. 

                  However, a standard shot of Everclear is enough to make a person sick and intoxicated and jeopardize their health. That’s why it’s always reminded that grain alcohol should never be consumed straight. 

                  4. Is moonshine a grain alcohol?

                  Although moonshine has some similarities with grain alcohol, such as the high proof and use of any grain as the base ingredient, it is recognized as an unaged or white whiskey. It is usually made of corn and has an ABV ranging from 40-80%.

                  The biggest difference between moonshine and grain alcohol is that the former has flavors derived from the grains or corn used. With this, it can be consumed straight or easily blended with cocktail ingredients.

                  5. Is grain alcohol gluten-free? 

                  Yes, because the distillation breaks down and removes the gluten and other proteins from grains. 

                  Conclusion

                  It’s only natural for alcohol enthusiasts and drinkers to try different alcohols, whether exotic alcohols from lesser-known manufacturers or riskier ones. When it comes to high-proof alcohol, you need to take more consideration before trying it.

                  Since grain alcohol is dangerous, it is your responsibility to use it properly and set your limits. Besides, you don’t have to be pressured into consuming it all in a short time since there are other uses for it at home.  

                  What are your thoughts on grain alcohol? We’d love to hear them, so leave your comments below.

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