Why rubbing alcohol is not for sipping


It’s time to check my email bag for your wine and spirits questions.

My husband enjoys reading your column, and enjoys drinking hard spirits, but to me it all tastes the same (terrible). How is whisky any different from rubbing alcohol?

Whisky and rubbing alcohol are unalike in at least one fairly crucial and entirely objective respect. Rubbing alcohol is explicitly unsafe for human consumption.

In the United States, rubbing alcohol is made of one of two liquids: isopropyl alcohol or ethyl alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol is a completely different from the alcohol of whisky, beer, or wine. It is highly potent and absorbing even a very small amount can be deadly.


When rubbing alcohol is based on ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, it is always denatured — rendered undrinkable by the addition of various poisons and bittering agents.

Why would anybody denature perfectly drinkable alcohol and make it unfit for human consumption? Simple answer: taxes. A substantial chunk of the price of any alcoholic beverage is simply to cover the state and federal taxes and licensing fees. Denatured alcohol, by contrast, is very cheap.

Thus, all rubbing alcohols are objectively unsafe for human consumption. Whisky may not be to your liking, and overindulgence is ill advised, but it is produced to be imbibed. If wine is God’s gift to man, as the saying goes, whisky is man’s gift to himself.

Is it true that bourbon can only be made in Kentucky?

No. Legally, bourbon must be made in the United States. Every state has the right to produce bourbon — it just so happens that nearly all of it is made in Kentucky.

Bourbon is simply a recognized term of identification regulated by the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. It states: “‘Bourbon whisky,’ ‘rye whisky,’ ‘wheat whisky,’ ‘malt whisky’ or ‘rye malt whisky’ is whisky produced at not exceeding 160 proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain, respectively, and stored at not more than 125 proof in charred new oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type.”

Had you asked about Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, you’d have been correct, because any label statement as to place of origin must be true. And Kentucky state law says that any whiskey that wants to put Kentucky on its label must be distilled in Kentucky and aged there for “not less than one full year.”

What’s good this week?

Château Larcis Jaumat, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, 2015 ($30): This is juicy, relatively complex, earthy and well balanced, with aromas and flavors of dark berries, blackcurrants, cherries, raspberries and dried plums, and wisps of earthy forest floor and subtle smoke, and a little cocoa too. Yummy and a solid value.

Fill up Joshua E. London’s email bag with your questions about wine and spirits: [email protected].

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here