It is hard to determine the difference between types of alcohol, as well as deciphering what the distillers and brewers are advertising. One company will brag about how their spirit is made with corn while another brewer will brag about including grains of paradise into their mash. Most of us just nod our heads in astonished agreement but are secretly wondering what it all means. There is a difference between types of alcohol that were made from corn, barley, grain, rye or ethyl alcohol.
Corn is the base of most whiskeys. In fact, moonshine is made from a mash of corn and bourbon must be made using at least 51% corn according to federal law. When corn is mashed and distilled it produces a colorless liquor with an astonishingly high alcohol content. Moonshiners would stop right there and drink that white lightening straight. It smells and tastes like rubbing alcohol. Most whiskeys will go through an aging process in a new oak barrel which reduces the alcohol content while infusing the liquor with color and flavor. This is the most recognizable form a whiskey takes.
Barley needs to be malted before it is used to make alcohol. The malt creates a foamy mash that has all the ingredients for brewing beer. Barley creates a very thick and flavorful alcohol that can be enjoyed in the form of barley wine; a high alcohol content beer with a thick consistency. Barley is sometimes mixed with corn and other grains in order to add flavor to the spirit.
Grain is a generic term for corn, barley or rye, but grain alcohol is a legal term. Any spirit with an alcohol content of 80% or higher is known as grain alcohol. This neutral grain spirit should not be drank without a mixer and it is often added to other spirits as a means to save money in production. Neutral spirits are often added to blended whiskeys to raise the alcohol content as grain alcohol is cheaper than whiskey.
Rye is used in Canadian whiskeys and rye whiskeys. It is usually mixed with other grains to achieve a certain flavor. Rye makes for exceptionally smooth liquor and has a light taste. Whiskeys that contain rye are often referred to as rye whiskey.
Ethyl alcohol is a generic term for drinking alcohol. It is another word for neutral grain spirit or grain alcohol. Ehtyl alcohol has antiseptic qualities because the alcohol content is so high that there is very little oxygen in the liquid which kills bacteria.