A previous article discussed alcohol solvents and some frequently asked questions. In this article we look at what Everclear grain alcohol is and why food grade ethanol is the better choice in South Africa.
What is grain alcohol?
Rectified spirit, frequently called neutral spirits, rectified alcohol, or ethyl alcohol. All these names refer to ethanol of agricultural origin that is highly concentrated and has been purified by means of repeated distillation in a process called rectification. In some countries, denatured alcohol or denatured rectified spirit may commonly be available as “rectified spirit”.
In its undiluted form, it contains at least 55% alcohol by volume (ABV) (110 US proof) in the European Union. The purity of rectified spirit has a practical limit of 95% ABV (95.6% by mass) when produced using conventional distillation processes. Rectified spirit is typically distilled in continuous multi-column stills at 96–96.5% ABV and diluted as necessary.
Neutral spirits can be produced from grains, corn, grapes, sugar beets, sugarcane, tubers, or other fermented plant materials. In particular, large quantities of neutral alcohol are distilled from wine. A product made from grain is “grain neutral spirit”. On the other hand, a spirit made from grapes is called “grape neutral spirit” or “vinous alcohol”. These terms are commonly abbreviated as either GNS or NGS.
Neutral spirits are used in the production of blended whisky, cut brandy, some liqueurs, and some bitters. As a consumer product, it is almost always mixed with other beverages to create drinks like alcoholic punch or cocktails. It is also used to make homemade liqueurs, such as limoncello or cassis, and in cooking because its high concentration of alcohol acts as a solvent to extract flavors. Rectified spirits are also used for medicinal tinctures and as a household solvent. It is sometimes consumed undiluted; however because the alcohol is very high proof, overconsumption can cause alcohol poisoning more quickly than more traditional distilled spirits.
What is Everclear?
Everclear is a brand name of rectified spirit (also known as grain alcohol and neutral spirit) produced by the American company Luxco (formerly known as the David Sherman Corporation). It is made from grain and is bottled at 120, 151, 189, and 190 U.S. proof (60%, 75.5%, 94.5% and 95% alcohol by volume, respectively). Due to its market prevalence and high alcohol content, the product has become iconic, with a “notorious reputation” in popular culture.
Why food grade ethanol is better than Everclear grain alcohol.
Everclear is not available for sale in South Africa, but Royal Vodka is very similar. However, at R549 for 750ml it is significantly more expensive than food grade ethanol. 1 Liter of Royal Vodka costs R732, whereas food grade ethanol can be as cheap as R300 per litre.
It’s also important to note that 96% food grade ethanol is the best option. Ethanol cannot be concentrated by ordinary distillation to greater than 97.2% by volume (95.6% by weight), because at that concentration, the vapour has the same ratio of water to alcohol as the liquid, a phenomenon known as azeotropy. The 190-proof variation of Everclear is 92.4% ethanol by weight and is thus produced at approximately the practical limit of distillation purity.
Ethanol with a concentration higher than 97.2% by volume contains benzene, cyclohexane or other agents used to remove water. These agents are almost always carcinogenic.