Alcohol, such a broad statement, yet so much that can go with it. Have you ever taken a drink of rum, whiskey, or gin and thought about how it came to be three separate drinks? Why each one looks, tastes, and smells different? There is a simple explanation to why it happens, you just have to look into the chemical reactions taking place within each product.

Compound Interest has simplified the chemical makeup of rum and whisky. In the article Chemistry of Rum, one can see that not a lot of things go into making this form of alcohol. For instance, one learns that this form of alcohol comes from molasses which is a byproduct of refining sugar cane. Water is added to this molasses, alongside yeast to being the fermentation process. After fermentation is complete, the liquid is distilled to make the alcohol content and aroma become a lot stronger. As soon as that is over, the rum is transferred into barrels to commence aging. Through this process rum takes on a different taste as well as different color; depending on the barrel used. Once this rum has been aged it is then mixed in with *distillates to create a consistent produced across the board. (*Distillates- liquid taken from distillation)

You might be asking yourself, what does this have to do with chemistry? Well it has a lot to do with chemistry! For instance, esters are formed in the process. These esters are responsible in giving the rum its fruity aroma as well as giving it a flavor palette. Although all alcohols have some amount of ester, rum is the only one that has been found to contain a larger amount of esters. The reason that rum has more esters is due to the fact that it has more short-chains of carboxylic acids floating around. These short-chains allow for more acids to react with the alcohol contents producing more esters. Because rum contains different acids that contribute to the aroma and taste one can get different flavors and smells. Rum is a simple product to make yet it is very complex in its unique way.

Compound Interest

The Chemistry of Whiskey, is another article that explains the components that go into creating a great whisky. To create a whisky you have to start off with dried barely that is later socked and let dry once more. After, the barely is then made into a wort, which is just a mash of barely and water. This process helps the starches found in barely break down creating simple sugars that later will help feed the yeast.  Once the wort has been created the yeast is added to start fermentation. Once fermentation is complete the “wash” is the transferred into a copper still to being the distillation process. Next the product is poured into barrels to age for at least three years.

With whisky you will find different types of compounds that are not present in rum. For instance, one sees phenolic compounds. Phenolic compounds are a result of the second drying process the barely undergoes before it becomes a mash. These compounds also can become present after the whisky has been in a barrel. This compound gives the whiskey that bitter and smoky flavor. In addition, whisky contains whisky lactones which contribute a coconut flavor to the whisky. Whisky lactones come from the barrel itself and is transferred into the whisky. Furthermore, esters can be found in the fermentation, distillation, and very small amounts in the final product of whisky. The reason that not many esters make it to the finally product is because the contents of esters can make the whisky cloud up. Slowly through each process the whisky goes through more and more esters are removed. Over all whisky can contain many compounds not found in other alcohol products.

Chemistry of Whisky

Compound Interest

Rum and whisky go through a very similar process from the very beginning yet end up being totally different products. This can be attributed to the yeast strand, distillation process, and what types of flavors are allowed to form. Although they both get some type of yeast added to their very early stages the yeast is comprised of very different strands. Not only do the strands differ but the way the yeast get their food also differentiates. For example, the yeast for rum gets its food directly form the molasses while the yeast for whiskey gets its food supply from the sugars created through the breakdown of the barely. Furthermore, the distillation of the rum happens within a post-still while the whiskey is distilled in a copper still. The way the distillation happens is very important to what kind of product one ends up with. The post-still is much different than the copper still for one it is not necessarily made of copper. In addition, the still is made of long tubes versus the copper one looks like a tear drop. The shape plays a role as to how the product with condensates and what amount of alcohol will remain. Not only does the distillation process have an effect but also the esters that are allowed to remain present with in the product is what give each one its signature taste. Without the esters each one would very peculiar tastes and aromas that people would not like.

We all know what happens when you drink too much of either of these products, right? That lovely feeling you get the next day after a long night of drinks with your friends has a name, a hangover. But what causes a hangover? You will get all these myths and theories of how to get rid of one but why do people think these things work? That is very simple; science! Alcohol has a component that can lower the levels of antidiuretic hormone vasopressin, which leads to frequent urination as well as dehydration. Many people believe that the more dehydrated one is the worse the hangover symptoms are but that is not necessarily true. Acetaldehyde is actually one of the components that is most responsible for strong hangover symptoms. Our bodies are able to break it down into acetate but the more you drink at once the harder it is for the body to break it down. Likewise, the more one drinks the harder it is for your body to break down methanol over ethanol. The remnants of methanol in your system are also what gives hangover symptoms. Drinking sounds like a fun idea but in the long run it has a lot components you need to think about.

The hangover, the whisky, and the rum articles all interconnect in their own unique ways. Rum and whisky both contribute to the hangover effect because they both are comprised of a strand of methyl which is also a leading cause of hangover symptoms. In addition, the more you drink the more likely you will be to develop hangover symptoms. Your body needs some time to break down the different components in alcohol in order for you to continue on drinking. It is always suggested that you drink small amounts of alcohol at a time to give your body time to break down those enzymes.


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