This is part of our series on how to “Savor Safely.”
From time to time we will write about using alcohol, or even creating your own alcoholic beverages. We try to balance what we write about, knowing that roughly 50 percent of the world population consumes alcohol on a regular basis. Your editor has lost family members to alcoholism, and has a number of friends in AA, so we try to be sensitive to the issues.
An alcoholic drink is a drink that contains ethanol, a type of alcohol produced by fermentation of grains, fruits, and/or other sources of sugar. In the Southwest, a number of our native plants produce easily fermentable fruits (saguaro, prickly pear) or are world famous for their special flavor (the tequila agave).
Here in the Southwest, there is archaeological evidence of alcohol fermentation as long as 9000 years ago. In Europe, late Stone Age jugs indicate that intentionally fermented drinks existed in the Neolithic period, roughly 12,000 years ago. The consumption of alcohol plays an important social role in many cultures across time and space.
In the human body, alcohol is a depressant. Low doses of alcohol can cause euphoria, reduce anxiety, and increase sociability. In higher doses, it causes drunkenness, stupor, unconsciousness or death. Long-term use can lead to alcohol abuse, cancer, physical dependence and alcoholism.
Using Alcohol to Savor the Southwest
Beer, Cider, Kombucha, Mead, and Wine
These alcoholic beverages can all be easily made at home without special equipment. We will occasionally share recipes for these products. Alcoholic content ranges from 0.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) for kombucha to roughly 16 percent for fruit wines.
Wine in Cooking
As well as a drink with the meal, wine is important in cuisine as a flavor agent, primarily in stocks and braising, since its acidity brings balance to rich savory or sweet dishes. Wine reduction or sauce is an example of wine in cooking. Wine “reduction” is when wine is reduced to a sauce by cooking it. It is called a reduction because the heat boils off some of the water and most of the more volatile alcohol, leaving a more concentrated, wine-flavored sauce.
Cordials and Liqueurs
Cordials are based on alcohol in which certain herbs, spices, or other ingredients are allowed to steep. Originally, cordials were medicines for the heart (cor in Latin), prescribed in small doses. This evolved to medicines to invigorate and revitalize the heart, body, and spirit – as well as cure diseases. By the 18th century cordials were being imbibed for their intoxicating effects and medicinal virtues, and were fast becoming recreational drinks, the name eventually evolving into “liqueurs.”
Apéritifs and Digestifs
An apéritif is any alcoholic beverage usually served before a meal to stimulate the appetite, while a digestif is any alcoholic beverage served after a meal for the stated purpose of improving digestion. Fortified wine, liqueurs, and dry champagne are common apéritifs. Because apéritifs are served before dining, they are usually dry rather than sweet. Digestifs include herb-infused spirits and fortified wines.
A tincture is an extract of plant, animal, or mineral material dissolved in ethanol (ethyl alcohol). Solvent concentrations vary from 25 to 60 percent. Some may run as high as 90 percent. Wikipedia mentions “Other solvents for producing tinctures include vinegar, glycerol (also called glycerine), diethyl ether, and propylene glycol.” Some of these are not for internal consumption.
There are laws regulating the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. We advise you, the reader, to take the time to know the laws in your area. In the United States (since 1989), alcohol must have warning labels. These labels must warn “of the risks of drinking and driving, operating machinery, drinking while pregnant, and other general health risks.”
(1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcohol beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.
(2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.
We urge you to create and consume alcoholic beverages with these warnings in mind.
The authors of this blog have researched the edibility of the materials we discuss, however, humans vary in their ability to tolerate different foods, drinks, and herbs. Individuals consuming flowers, plants, animals or derivatives mentioned in this blog do so entirely at their own risk. The authors on this site are not responsible for any adverse reaction. In case of doubt please consult your medical practitioner.
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