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How Is Alcohol Made? 10 Spirits, & Their Magic Ingredients

This is where the magic comes from

Woman holding grains.
Woman holding grains.

You know it, I know it, we all know you drink like a fish. But you’re a fool. Starting off classy with some pinot noir, then your friend convinces you to try that new whiskey they got for their birthday, by that time your already spiraling sipping on some vodka, a little rum cocktail, a shot of tequila, the new guys sake, some leftover homemade cider, and finally wash it down with god old fashion beer. I’m throwing up just writing this sentence. Your probably the type to wonder how is alcohol made?

I’m not gonna sit here and run through the specifics, but after this, you’ll have a better idea of what ingredients it takes to make your favorite booz.

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1. Whiskey

Corn For Whiskey
Corn For Whiskey

We start our journey to discover how Is alcohol made with Whiskey. With Whiskey Grains are the name of the game. Distilling whiskey starts with any variety of grains such as Corn, Wheat, Rye, or Barley, either of which may be malted, meaning they are soaked and then dried over hot air to release the enzymes. 

The grain is then mashed and fermented. The fermented whiskey is then placed in a steel or wooden (mostly oak) barrel where it sits to age and receive some of the flavors from the wood itself. Fun fact: most distilled alcohols are colorless before they get placed into oak barrels. The flavors you can expect to be extracted from some of the barrels are vanilla, walnut, cherry, maple, chestnut, and more. 

2. Scotch

Wheat For Whiskey - Cocktail Hammer
Wheat For Whiskey.

Now just like rye, or bourbon, or Irish, scotch is just a different type of whiskey. But we included it in our list because scotch has a special little extra ingredient that gives it its signature flavor. Scotch, (which can only be really called scotch if it comes from Scotland in case you didn’t already know) is generally very smokey. 

What’s the cause of this smokey taste you may ask? The answer my friends comes from Peat. Peat: decayed vegetation or organic matter. You use a peat cutter, a cross between a shovel and a sickle, to cut log-like slabs of earth right out of the soil.

These logs of soil are logs of peat, which are most commonly found near bogs, peatland, mires, moors, or muskegs. So basically to find peat you need the right kind of environmental factors, the kind you’d find in Scotland. 

Anyway, once they have enough of this peat, they dry it out and place it in a furnace with a chimney. The chimney then transfers all of the smoke right into the room with the grain, and viola you have all the ingredients you need to make a smokey whiskey or scotch. Well isn’t that pretty neat?

3. Rum

Sugarcane  - Cocktail Hammer
Sugarcane

Where doth finds sugarcane, doth shall find Rum. Sorry for the Shakespearean talk. I like to sound smart sometimes. Sugarcane is the name of the game for this drank. The sugar cane is cut and then squeezed for its juices, which are then crystallized ( applied with high amounts of heat and then cooled), and you now have molasses. When you distill the molasses, you create Jack Sparrow and George Washington’s favorite alcohol, rum!! 

Odd pairing I know, but true nonetheless. Obviously, it makes sense why so many fruity, or sugary cocktails are made of rum. The sugar and alcohol of the rum mixed with a complimentary fruit or herb provide for a sweet combination.

4. Gin

Gin Juniper Berries on A Tree how Is Alcohol Made? 10 Spirits, & Their Magic Ingredients - Cocktail Hammer
Juniper Berries on A Tree.

The name Gin is short for the old English word genever, which was taken from the french word genievre which was taken from the Dutch word jenever which derives from the Latin Juniperus which are little plants that create the juniper berry. This botanical fruit is mashed up and fermented. 

Known for its strong nose. Gin provides earthy floral notes, fruity notes, and a very predominant Juniper taste. I mean I don’t know how often you just eat juniper berries but trust me, taste gin and then say “I think there’s definitely juniper berries in here”. To the untrained drinker, they’ll be amazed at how you knew that. 

What to see what an Amazon Gin distillery looks like? take a look at this video from Bombay Sapphire as they show us how they make their gina and what makes it so special.

5. Wine

Wine Grapes From Argentian - Cocktail Hammer
Wine Grapes From Argentina.

We probably all already know that wine is made from grapes, we could have guessed that green grapes make white wine and red grapes make red wine, we could have even imagined that most of these fancy names for wine comes from grapes of the same name such as riesling, pinot noir, malbec and so on. So you probably know it all don’t you….right? wrong!

There are so many different varieties of grapes and processes to make specific wines that it would take an entirely different post just to cover half of it (In fact I’m working on that post as we speak–who needs sleep). Look what you need to know is that oxygen+grapes to the power of stomped on, multiplied by yeast, equals alcohol grape juice. Yeah..that definitely made sense didn’t it. 

If you’re interested in making your own wine from the comfort of your home. Take a look at this post from Winemag that breaks down how to make wine and save you some time. Hey, that rhymes.

6. Vodka

vodka potatos
Bunch if potatoes for Vodka.

Some people might tell you that they’re smart because they heard that vodka is made from Potatoes. Well, you can tell them that they’re right, but not technically. Then that person will tell his friends about how a pedantic mess you are, and you’ll receive dirty looks all night. Is that what you want?

Well if it is then I have the facts that’ll get you there in no time. You can make vodka from potatoes, but you can also make it from grains like corn, apples, rice, wheat, rye, and so on. 

The correct answer is that vodka is made from fermenting starch. Once you distill starch in a still container, then you collect the evaporated alcohol which separates the water and the alcohol to have potent concentrated alcohol. This is the process you use for gathering any spirit, except the starch is the key to the creation of your favorite vodka. Now good luck being the most hated person at the party before someone even more pedantic shows up. 

7. Tequila

Agave Plant - Cocktail Hammer
The agave Plant.

Just like Scotch, which can only be called Scotch if it’s made in Scotland, Tequila may only be called tequila if it is made in Mexico. Well, guess what, who’s gonna stop me. Wait, I just received a subpoena from the trademarking office. I guess they found out I’ve been making and selling my scotch tequila homebrew. Well, I’ll deal with that later. 

Tequila is made from a plant called agave. The agave tequilana plant looks like a massive green pineapple. They cut all of the pointy green bits until they’re just left with the body or core, which is pretty darn big. Then comes a series of cutting, warming, squeezing for nectar, fermenting, and distilling. Sometimes put in oak barrels, sometimes not. Either way, you have the agave plant to thank for that one time you went streaking.

8. Sake

Rice For Sake - Cocktail Hammer
Rice For Sake

When people drink alcohol, they find a way. I’ve been eating rice all my life, but I would have never thought it could have been made out of rice, and then sake showed up. What a wonderful night that was when we were introduced, if only I could remember the rest of the night. 

When making sake, you steam the rice, you add “koji seeds’ ‘, there some mold, some yeast, some very precise temperature control, and once you’ve reached the end of the rainbow, you’re left with a liquefied solution from the mash, which is your sake. 

Remember, sake is made through a fermentation process, like wine, and is not distilled, like spirits. So if you love sake, then you’re basically a sommelier.

9. Cider

This isn’t just your grandma’s cider. We’re talking about hard cider. The kind of cider that has your grandma twerking on the kitchen table. Grab some apples, and start juicing. That’s it. You now have apple juice. Okay, now give some to the kids to make them go away. 

Now get the rest of your apple juice and add some yeast, preferably champagne yeast, and give it some time (possibly a few weeks), and congrats, you’re now a scientist. Your creation: Some good old hard cider. 

Fun fact: only fermented apples and pear can technically be called cider; if it’s any other fruit, it must be deemed “fruit wine”–Who comes up with this stuff?

10. Beer

We finish this list off with Cerveza. Oh sorry, I meant beer for the non-polyglots here. Beer is made from some of the ingredients mentioned here before. Grains such as wheat, malted barley, whiskey, rice.

But what’s the secret? You know… the one Planktons been trying to get his hands on, the thing that was inside Marcellus’ Wallace suitcase, the sixth infinity stone, the ninth horcrux… umm what else…okay, Well It’s hops. Hops is the answer. Once you get all these things together, you start to ferment, and boom you get beer. 

If you’re wondering why beer and whiskey aren’t the same things, you know, because they use most of the same ingredients, then you probably forgot that whiskey is distilled and beer is fermented. Big difference. Beer, Cider, Wine, and Sake are fermented. Gin, Whiskey, Tequila, Vodka, Rum, and Scotch are distilled. 

Want to see just how beer is made? take a look at this video from

How Craft Beer Is Made. Source: Food Insider.

Conclusion: How is Alcohol made

Well, I’m glad we got to the bottom of all of this. I know we spoke a lot today about distilling and fermenting but please, stop hyperventilating. We know that all that science talk drove your anxiety through the roof.

Half of you probably skipped over those words anyway. But let’s just all calm the hell down. Read our “what is fermentation” and “what is distillation” post so you can sleep better at night.

In fact, go read all of our posts while you’re at it. In fact, now that you know exactly what your favorite alcohols are made out of, go check out our part two in case you didn’t see your favorite alcohol up there. Hope you enjoyed it. Until next time 

How Is Alcohol Made? 10 Spirits, & Their Magic Ingredients.
How Is Alcohol Made? 10 Spirits, & Their Magic Ingredients.

Written by Julian Solorzano

Hailing from Queens, New York, Julian Solorzano served four years in the United States Air Force, traveling throughout Europe and experiencing the best of the local cultures, including their passion for good food and wine. He has since grown an appreciation for all things wine and mixology. Julian fuses that passion with his skills in writing, photography, and video production to share his passion with the world.

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