John Larrysson's Kitchen: Wine and so on

In Hong Kong many people incorrectly use the word wine to mean any type of alcoholic drink. So in this article I will discuss something that I cannot cover at school: What words are used for different alcoholic drinks? Many of these I can put into a detailed online chart, which will be provided in the next article.

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My family has a wine cellar and I worked hard making wine and other drinks to fill it. Before I left for Hong Kong, I had provided my parents with more than a thousand litres of wine, beer, cider and mead in bottles and barrels. That was a long time ago. However they still have some over-aged bottles left over.

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Certain concepts must be covered first. Wine is only the drink made from fermented grape juice. If another fruit, such as apple, is used it might be called fruit wine or apple wine. However there are other words for drinks made from other fruits and these words are preferred. Instead of apple wine, use cider.

In England home-made wine is often produced from things other than grapes because few people have their own vineyard. Elderflower and elderberry are probably the most common, but there are many more.

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All alcoholic drinks are fermented, some are also distilled. When something, such as grape juice, is fermented, microorganisms, typically yeast, grow and live in it. The yeast eat the sugars and then make alcohol as a liquid waste. Eventually either the food runs out or there is so much alcohol that the yeast are killed by their own waste. There is a moral here about the dangers of pollution.

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The fermentation of foods happens naturally all the time. Wild yeast live all around us, including on us and on our food. If you put some grape juice in a cup and leave it beside your window for a month something will grow in it. If yeast grow in it, you will have wine. If bacteria, such as Acetobacter, grow in it, you will get vinegar. You might get something even less pleasant if slime moulds grow in it.

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Distillation is a complicated and more advanced technology originally used for scientific experiments and making medicines and perfume. Distilling a fermented drink produces a more concentrated alcoholic drink. Eventually distillation was also used for making stronger alcoholic drinks.

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Beer is made from malt. Malt is made from grain (typically barley). First it is put in water, then when the grain starts to grow, it is roasted. This roasted malt is added to hot water with flavouring hops. When the water cools, yeast ferments it into beer. The world's strictest beer law, the Reinheitsgebot, allows only barely malt, water, hops and yeast to make German beer. Many lesser beers use cheaper grains.

When talking about alcoholic drinks one should be careful not to use the word wine for everything. Check the next article for a simple reference chart.

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by John Larrysson

[email protected]

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.


NOTE:Starting in 2016, this column has been published once every two weeks, on every other Tuesday.

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