What Are Neutral Grain Spirits?

Written by james woudon
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What Are Neutral Grain Spirits?
Vodka has about half the alcohol content of pure grain alcohol, about 45 per cent versus 95 per cent. (Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Neutral Grain Spirits are a special class of alcoholic beverages that have been distilled to a extremely high ethanol content, up to 95 per cent alcohol or 190 proof. Pure ethanol is harmful when ingested and used as or mixed with traditional gasoline, which is also a distillation of another substance.

Grain Mash

Pure grain alcohol is made by starting with a grain mash, consisting of grain that is milled, heated and held at specific temperatures for a certain length of time so that the starch in these grains is converted to sugar. This resultant mix is called a "mash" and is the basis of all ethyl based alcohol. It's put in a still, then heated again until the ethyl evaporates, collecting in another vessel with water to become alcohol of various of types, the penultimate distillation being a neutral grain spirit.

Use in Other Spirits

Many cooks at home enjoy making their own liqueurs and the aptly named neutral grain spirits are best at imparting the requisite alcohol content while not compromising the flavour ingredients in any way. These types of liquor are called "infused" liquors, and usually involve adding some flavour ingredient (black pepper, lemon peel, herb mixtures) to a container of neutral grain spirits and steeping for weeks or months to produce the desired flavours.


Many outlaw liquor bootleggers in rural areas during Prohibition made spirits of various types, according to what they thought there was public demand for. In the absence of regulation or government restriction, liquor with very, very high alcohol content was also produced for private consumption. This lead to popular stories of unwitting drinkers suffering adverse effects from this liquor, such as temporary blindness.

Use in Herbal Extracts

The best way to release essential oils from herbs and roots is with a solvent. Alcohol is a perfect medium for this because it can extract these compounds and, in many cases, some components that are only alcohol soluble. Vanilla extract is an excellent example, but perfumes, colognes and mouthwashes are also based on this exact principle.

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