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Alcoholic Beverages

Alcohol or alcoholic beverages can be divided into two classifications: Distilled and Non-Distilled.

Distilled beverages start out as a natural fermentation product and is then heated. The process of heating the natural fermentation product or Mash causes the ethanol to be released from the mash in the form of a vapor. These vapors are collected in a condensation apparatus, cooled and reformed into a liquid. The captured liquid containing primarily alcohol along with some water and flavors from the mash is placed into charred oak barrels for aging and flavor.

During the aging process certain chemicals, called Congeners, are extracted from the barrel. It is these congeners which give whiskeys their distinctive color and aroma. Some distilled beverages derive their particular colors and aromas from the products from which they are made, such as Rum made from the distillation of sugar cane, Gin from the distillation of juniper berries, Scotch which derives its distinct flavor and aroma from both the grains and the original use of peat as the fuel for the distillation process.

Fermented fruit juices when distilled produce Brandies and Cognacs. Distilled beverages normally have an ethanol concentration of forty (40) to fifty (50) percent ethanol by volume. Proof of the distilled beverages is expressed by the doubling of the amount of ethanol in the product.

Non-Distilled beverages are classified as either beers or wines. Beer and wines are a product of natural fermentation and receive no further processing. Natural fermentation for beer is usually carried out in a large vat or container in which at least one grain product (such as corn, wheat, or a similar grain product) is combined with some malted barley, yeast and water. The barley contains an enzyme which converts the starch of the grain into sugar. The yeast will then consume the sugar and produce ethanol as a natural byproduct. This process continues until either all of the sugar is consumed or the ethanol concent4ration reaches a maximum of 15%, which will inactivate the yeast. In the case of wine, fruit juice is substituted for the grain and no malted barley is required due to the high amount of sugar present in the fruit juice.

Beer normally contains four (4) to six (6) percent ethanol by volume. When the ethanol content exceeds this amount the beer must be relabeled as Malt Liquor or Ale. Wine will contain twelve (12) to fifteen (15) percent ethanol. Wines which exceed this amount are classified as Fortified wines and are produced by either adding additional alcohol or blending the wine with another alcohol product (normally a distilled one, such as brandy).

Legal Definition of Alcoholic Beverage in California

California Vehicle Code Section 109

California Vehicle Code Section 109 defines the term alcoholic beverage. "Alcoholic Beverage" includes any liquid or solid material intended to be ingested by a person which contains ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol, drinking alcohol, or alcohol, including, but not limited to, alcoholic beverages as defined in Section 23004 of the Business and Professions Code, intoxicating liquor, malt beverage, beer, wine, spirits, liqueur, whiskey, rum, vodka, cordials, gin, and brandy, and any mixture containing one or more alcoholic beverages. Alcoholic beverage includes a mixture of one or more alcoholic beverages whether found or ingested separately or as a mixture.

For purposes of the Driver License Compact, "intoxicating liquor" as used in Section 15023 has the same meaning as "alcoholic beverage" as used in this code.

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