The word "alcohol" can refer in a general sense to various compounds, not all of which are potable, though in common usage, the word is used to refer specifically to alcoholic beverages. Such beverages all possess a specific type of alcohol, called ethanol. Alcoholic beverages can be divided into three separate categories (brewed, vinified, and distilled), under each of which there are any number of varieties. Most or perhaps all varieties of alcohol are known to exist on Earth, hence alcohol is considered one aspect of Terran culture, which is commonly replicated on The Land. (One difference is that on Earth, only distilled beverages are referred to as "spirits"- not to be confused with spirits- whereas on the Land, all alcoholic beverages may be referred to by that term. The reason for this is a tradition rooted in antiquity.) All three categories of alcohol were first produced sometime in the first century, possibly within the time of Connor and Brigid. The production of alcohol is perhaps the earliest application of chemistry on the Land, and therefore spirit-making is considered a science.
Alcohol is a psychoactive drug, specifically referred to as a depressant. It can be used as a sleep aid or pain reliever, but it's most popular application is as a mood enhancer. Its popularity derives from stimulating or enhancing emotional pleasure by temporarily altering the brain's chemistry, though its effects can also be negative, potentially stimulating or enhancing such moods as sadness or anger. When consumed in excessive quantities, alcohol can also lead to clumsiness, lowered inhibitions and impaired judgement, sleepiness, and other potentially dangerous effects. Such a state is referred to as intoxication or drunkenness, and may be simultaneously pleasant and unpleasant. Different types of alcohol may affect different individuals in different ways or to different degrees, and most individuals have different tolerances (that is, different amounts they can drink before becoming intoxicated). Drinking a small amount of alcohol may have no noticeable intoxicating effect, but merely be used as is any other beverage. A bit more can lead to a slightly relaxed state. A bit more can lead to a so-called "buzz," a feeling of enhanced pleasure which is not on the same level as drunkenness. And in fact there may be different levels of intoxication, from mild to severe. Severe drunkenness may cause particularly unpleasant physical feelings, possibly inducing vomiting. This may occur either while drinking, or several hours after a cessation of drinking (this is referred to as a "hangover," which itself may differ in severity, including such symptoms as dry throat, unclear thinking, headache, etc., and in some cases even short-term memory loss).
Because of the dangers associated with alcohol consumption, its purchase has, since the establishment of adult licenses in 899, been restricted to those who have obtained both a physical and emotional stamp.
Alcohols produced by brewing are collectively referred to as "beer," which may be subdivided into several varieties, including ale, lager, lambic, nihonshu, porter, and stout. These may range in "alcohol by volume" content from 2% to 18%, though most beers are between 4% and 6% alcohol. Nihonshu is 18% to 20% alcohol, though it is commonly diluted to 15%.
The most common basic ingredient of beers is barley, which is first germinated in water (which produces enzymes), then dried in a kiln, thus producing a malt. The malts are then broken down and mashed along with hot water, at which time the enzymes convert starches to sugars. The result of the mashing process is called wort. The wort is then strained, and boiled with hops and perhaps other ingredients, which affect flavor and color. The process also terminates the enzyme process, and sterilizes the product. The wort is then quickly cooled (a process which became much more efficient after the introduction of refrigerators replaced earlier methods of refrigeration), and moved to a tank where yeast is added, to begin the fermentation process which produces ethanol and carbon dioxide (the latter of which gives the beer its fizz). The beer is then moved to another tank for conditioning, in which it is cooled to near freezing. The beer may be aged for several weeks or months.
Nihonshu is made by a somewhat different process. First, it uses rice rather than barley. The rice is steeped in water, then boiled or steamed. It's then cooled, and inoculated with a mold called koji. When it's ready, the koji rice will be mashed with yeast and water, which begins the fermentation process, which may take several weeks. In some countries on Earth, Nihonshu is known as "sake" or "rice wine" (in spite of the fact that the process of making it is closer to that of beer brewing than wine-making).
Lambic is made from malted barley and unmalted wheat. The wort which is produced is exposed to open air, which leads to spontaneous fermentation. (The process is only done during winter months in villages of the Northern Alliance.) After fermentation begins, the lambic is stored in barrels for one to three years. Eventually, lambics will be bottled along with any of various fruit syrups, most commonly rainbowberry or sprayberry. There is also a variety of lambic called "kriek," which is made with sour cherries. It's the only lambic to be made outside the Northern Alliance (in Triscot), and only by one brewery, which is owned by the Kriek clan (currently headed by Nicole Kriek).
Beers may be served cold, warm, or at room temperature. Some seasonal varieties of beer are produced at specific times of year, though this is more common in Triscot and the Northern Alliance than most other villages.
Alcohols produced by vinification are collectively referred to as "wine," which may be subdivided into several varieties, including mead, merlot, riesling, syrah, zelvin, etc. These may range in alcohol by volume from 9% to 16%.
Wine is most commonly made from any of several varieties of grapes, which may be either red or white. Red grapes are made into a pulp (skin and all), while white grapes are pressed to extract their juice (without their skins). Yeast is then added to either the pulp or juice, to begin fermentation, which produces ethanol and carbon dioxide. (Unlike in the fermentation of beer, carbon dioxide produced in the fermentation of wine is generally lost to the atmosphere.) In the case of red wine, the free run wine is separated from skins, which may be pressed to produce press wine, which may (or may not) be blended with the free run wine. The wine then undergoes a secondary fermentation, and is then transferred to oak barrels to age for several weeks or months.
Merlot and syrah are each named for a specific variety (or cultivar) of red grapes. Riesling is named for a specific variety of white grapes. All three of these cultivars are known to be of the same type that bear these names on Earth, which is what conveys upon them their popularity among Landian consumers. However, there are also some lesser-known cultivars which are uniquely Landian grape varieties.
Mead is a type of wine made from honey and water, rather than grapes. It may receive additional flavoring from various ingredients such as hops (giving it a beer-like flavor), artemisia, cinnamon, maple syrup, rainbowberries, sprayberries, ginger, sou'cit, etc. As noted elsewhere in this article, some beverages may be erroneously called wine, such as nihonshu (rice wine), which is actually a beer, and umeshu (plum wine), which is actually a liqueur.
Fruit wine is made from any of various fruits, rather than grapes. Due to higher acidity, water is added to the fruit mash prior to fermentation. Sugar is also added, to aid in fermentation. After fermentation, sugar is added again, to enhance the fruit flavor (which will have been diluted by the water). Zelvin is made from zelfruit. Other fruits used to make fruit wine include strawberries, rainbowberries, cherries, mangoes, passionfruit, peaches, pineanas, plums, etc.
Wines are typically served at room temperature, though it may also be chilled. It is generally considered best to serve red wine at lower temperatures than white wine. However, occasionally red wine or mead may be mulled, which means heating it along with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, sugar, ginger, swe'cit, etc. This is most commonly done during Las'mo', particularly on holidays such as New winter Day and Last Day.
Alcohols produced by distilling are collectively referred to as "liquor," which may be subdivided into several varieties, including absinthe (45-74% ABV), brandy (35-60% ABV), rum (37-80% ABV), vodka (35-50% ABV), whiskey (40-55% ABV), etc.
Some liquors are technically classified as "liqueur," which is liquor that has had sugar and (in some cases) fruit flavor added. These may include crème de menthe (25% ABV), hélas (16% ABV), green (20% ABV), Irish cream (15-20% ABV), and umeshu (10-15% ABV), etc. The distinction between "liquor" and "liqueur" is not always understood by those outside the spirit-making industry, because of the fact that some liquor, such as rum, may utilize sugar- from sugarcane- in its production, as well as the fact that all alcohol requires natural sugars from the base ingredients- rather than from sugarcane- for fermentation to produce ethanol. The difference is that in liqueur, sugar is added after distillation (or at least after the initial distillation).
The term "distillation" actually applies to the production of other things than just alcohol. These may include water which has been distilled to remove impurities, certain drugs may be distilled by apothecaries, essential oils of various plants which may be used for a variety of purposes including the making of soap, incense, flavoring for cooking, etc.
Distillation is intended to purify a substance, and as such it does not create alcohol; rather it refines it. The alcohol used to make distilled beverages has already been created by the processes used to create beer or wine. Distillation begins by boiling the fermented mash of these earlier processes, along with water, in a device called a still. The steam which is produced will leave behind most of the water and other materials, and thus it contains a greater percentage of alcohol. The steam is then cooled and collected in a separate container. The process may be repeated to further refine the end product.
Absinthe is made from a mash of artemisia, anise, and fennel, which are steeped in a neutral distilled liquor (made from fruits such as peaches or plums) before being redistilled. Brandy is made by distilling wine. Crème de menthe is made by steeping mint leaves in grain liquor before distilling and adding sugar. Green is made by distilling a mash made from emerald melons and sugar. Hélas is made from gentiana root. Irish cream is made from whiskey and cream. Rum is distilled from a mash made from sugarcane juice. Umeshu (also called "plum wine") is made by steeping unripe plums and sugar in alcohol which has been distilled from nihonshu. Vodka is distilled from a mash made of corn, wheat, or potatoes. Whiskey is distilled from a mash of malted barley.
Liquor is typically served at room temperature, though ice may sometimes be added. It is also common to mix certain liquors in different combinations, referred to as "cocktails." These mixtures may include one or more varieties of liquor, along with other ingredients including water, juice, soft drinks, coffee, etc.