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What is Grain Alcohol?

Grain alcohol, also called ethanol, can be used in alcoholic beverages or as a fuel, solvent, or antiseptic.
Ground corn kernels can be used as an ingredient in grain alcohol.
Diluted grain alcohol can be used to make vodka.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 July 2014
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Grain alcohol is a form of pure alcohol which has been produced by fermenting and distilling grain. It is also known as ethyl alcohol or ethanol. In addition to being used in the production of alcoholic beverages, grain alcohol is also used as a solvent and in a variety of other industrial applications. Because grain alcohol is extremely potent, it should not be consumed straight, and people should never consume other alcohols such as methyl alcohol, because these substances are very toxic.

People have been using grains like corn and rye to make alcohol for centuries. When grains are fermented, yeasts consume their natural sugars and convert them into alcohol. Depending on how a grain is fermented, the ethyl alcohol can be fairly low, as is the case with many beers, or quite high. When fermented grains are allowed to reach a high ethanol content and then distilled, the result is a colorless and very potent liquid which is sometimes called neutral grain spirits, in a reference to the clear color. One popular brand of neutral grain spirits is Everclear, a drink which is infamous for its formidable kick.

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Some mixed drinks integrate a small amount of grain alcohol for an alcoholic note, while some flavored alcoholic products are made with a base of grain alcohol. It can be difficult to obtain pure neutral grain spirits, due to the high alcohol content, which can make them very dangerous in inexperienced hands. In some regions, commercial sale of grain alcohol is actually banned due to health concerns. More commonly, grains are not allowed to fully ferment, as is the case with colored spirits like whiskey, or alcohol products are diluted to lower the alcohol content, as with vodka.

Technically, ethyl alcohol is toxic, as most people who have consumed it are aware. In moderate amounts, ethyl alcohol can have interesting effects on brain and motor function; many people enjoy these effects and they deliberately cultivate them through the ingestion of ethanol. However, this toxicity also means that grain alcohol can be very dangerous, since it can be very deceptive. It is easy to cause permanent brain or liver damage with grain alcohol, and it is also a skin irritant which can cause discomfort when swallowed.

There are a number of industrial uses for grain alcohol and ethanol created through other refining processes. Ethanol can be used as an antiseptic, a fuel, and as a solvent. Industrial ethanol may not always be safe to drink, since it often contains additives. Other industrial alcohols like isopropyl alcohol have a different chemical structure which makes them unsafe for human consumption.

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Discuss this Article

anon956282
Post 6

You can have a chemist run an NMR spectrum of a very small sample to test for ethanol vs. other alcohols.

anon298113
Post 5

Herbal extracts need a high dosage of alcohol in order to extract the healing properties in plants. It is not harmful to you because you are using such a small dosage of the extract.

anon128237
Post 3

I drink herbal extracts and it contains 85-90 percent grain alcohol. it's an ounce. Is that bad for me?

anon54525
Post 2

Occasionally, my dad would buy a gallon or so of grain alcohol when out of the country, which he would mix with fruit juices to drink.

I inherited one of his large bottles of alcohol, which I assume is grain alcohol, and it smells right — different from, say, isopropyl. But, it isn't marked as to type and before I ingest any I want to make sure it isn't one of the poisonous forms. Is there a way to test?

cary
Post 1

Of course, ethanol can also be used as an alternative fuel for automobiles. There has been much research and development on this subject in the past few years.

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