Grain alcohol has a notorious reputation as being the strongest and most pure form of ethanol there is.
Ethanol is the actual chemical name of what we commonly know as “alcohol”.
At such high strengths, it comes with serious dangers.
But what actually makes grain alcohol dangerous?
In this article, we’re going to go through everything you need to know about grain alcohol with a particular focus on safety.
What is grain alcohol?
Pure alcohol is made from the fermentation of grains such as corn, wheat, barley, rye and some others.
The term grain alcohol simply means alcohol made from one of these types of grains. However, its name is commonly reserved for alcohol that has above 90% strength.
Grain alcohol is a colourless liquid that has a very harsh taste.
The main producers of grain alcohol in the USA are Everclear, Golden Grain and Alcohol-95 which are actually banned in many US states because it is considered toxic and dangerous.
How is grain alcohol made?
Grain alcohol is made from the fermentation of sugar. The source of sugar (or starch) is from whichever “grain” is used.
For grain alcohol, it’s most commonly corn.
Yeast and water is added to mushed up corn to set the process off.
After this, the mixture is filtered and distilled until a purity and strength of around 90 – 95% is achieved.
It’s not possible to reach 100% ethanol purity without adding other chemicals to the mix which wouldn’t be suitable for human consumption.
How is grain alcohol used?
The manufacturers of grain alcohol market it as an “unfinished product”. Grain alcohol is used by people who want to make their own alcoholic spirit.
Typically, grain alcohol is added to distilled water and your choice of berry, tea or herb to make your own custom spirit.
The mixture is usually left for 48 hours until all the flavours are fully infused and then filtered off for the finished product.
The important part of this process is the addition of the correct amount of distilled water to reduce the concentration of the alcohol from the toxic >90% down to a safer percentage.
It is under no circumstances meant to be drunk neat.
And this is where the dangers come into play which we will cover next.(1)
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What makes grain alcohol dangerous?
In theory, if grain alcohol is used correctly by someone experienced or has some idea of how to mix alcohol, it should be safe to use.
The danger occurs when it’s drunk neat or not diluted correctly. This can increase the risk of developing alcohol poisoning and cause damage to your gastrointestinal tract.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It slows down the transmission of signals between your neurones.
At low levels, this induces a sense of euphoria and relaxation.
However, at high blood alcohol concentrations, alcohol continues to slow down neurones until it starts to affect the systems which are vital for life.
For example, alcohol can slow down the areas of your brain which are in control of breathing. In alcohol poisoning, the breathing rate drops to a point that the oxygen levels in your blood will be insufficient to supply your organs.
The same effects can be seen with your heart rate and body temperature control.
So where does grain alcohol come into this?
Alcohol is rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream from your stomach and small intestines.
At over 90% strength, grain alcohol causes a rapid rise in your blood alcohol concentration if drank neat.
Relatively small amounts can lead to alcohol poisoning as mentioned above.
The same risks apply to people who are inexperienced at making their own alcohol. If not enough water is added to the mix, the alcohol concentration will be too high.
Gastrointestinal tract damage:
At high alcohol concentrations, grain alcohol can irritate and inflame the lining of your intestinal tract.
This is also known as the mucosal lining which is prone to injury and erosion from concentrated alcohol.
Aside from these important health risks, it’s also good to remember that grain alcohol is highly flammable. More so than the regular spirits you purchase from your local store.
Grain alcohol is an unfinished product, meaning that it requires further dilution to make it safe to drink.
That brings us to the end of our look into grain alcohol and its potential dangers.
The name grain alcohol is used to describe ethanol which is concentrated above 90% with very high purity.
The main purpose of grain alcohol is for use to make your own spirit by adding flavours from herbs or berries to it.
When grain alcohol is diluted with the correct amount of water, it shouldn’t be any more dangerous than your standard spirit.
However, drinking it neat or with minimal dilution is dangerous and should be avoided. This is because alcohol is toxic and poisonous at high concentrations.