Rectified spirit

Rectified spirit, also known as neutral spirits, rectified alcohol or ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin,[1] is highly concentrated ethanol that has been purified by means of repeated distillation in a process called rectification. In some countries, denatured alcohol or denatured rectified spirit may commonly be available as "rectified spirit", because in some countries (though not necessarily the same) the retail of rectified alcohol in its non-denatured form is prohibited.

Rectified spirit made in Poland by Polmos

The purity of rectified spirit has a practical limit of 97.2% ABV (95.6% by mass)[2] when produced using conventional distillation processes, as a mixture of ethanol and water becomes a minimum-boiling azeotrope at this concentration. However, rectified spirit is typically distilled in continuous multi-column stills at 96–96.5% ABV and diluted as necessary. Ethanol is a commonly used medical alcoholspiritus fortis is a medical term for ethanol with 95% ABV.

Neutral spirits can be produced from grains, corn, grapes, sugar beets, sugarcane, tubers, or other fermentable materials such as whey.[3] In particular, large quantities of neutral alcohol are distilled from wine and/or by-products of wine production (pomace, lees[4]). A product made from grain is "neutral grain spirit", while a spirit made from grapes is called "grape neutral spirit"[5] or "vinous alcohol".[6] These terms are commonly abbreviated as either GNS or NGS.[7][8][9]

Neutral spirits are used in the production of several spirit drinks, such as blended whisky, cut brandy, most gins, some liqueurs and some bitters. As a consumer product, it is almost always mixed with other beverages to create drinks like alcoholic punch or Jello shots or is sometimes added to cocktails in place of vodka or rum.[10] It is also used to make home made liqueurs, such as limoncello or Crème de cassis, and in cooking because its high concentration of alcohol acts as a solvent to extract flavors.[11] Rectified spirits are also used for medicinal tinctures and as a household solvent. They are sometimes consumed undiluted; however, because the alcohol is so high-proof, overconsumption can cause alcohol poisoning more quickly than more traditional distilled spirits.[12]


United States

Neutral spirit is legally defined as spirit distilled from any material distilled at or above 95% ABV (190 US proof) and bottled at or above 40% ABV.[5] When the term is used in an informal context rather than as a term of U.S. law, any distilled spirit of high alcohol purity (e.g., 170 proof or higher) that does not contain added flavoring may be referred to as neutral alcohol.[13] Prominent brands of neutral spirits sold in the U.S. include:

"Grain spirit" is a legal classification for neutral spirit that is distilled from fermented grain mash and stored in oak containers.[5]

Retail availability

Availability of neutral spirit for retail purchase varies between states.[16][17] States where consumer sales of high-ABV neutral spirit are prohibited include California,[15] Florida,[18] Hawaii,[15] Maine,[15] Maryland,[15] Massachusetts,[15] Michigan,[15] Minnesota,[19] New Hampshire,[15] Nevada,[20] North Carolina,[21] Ohio,[15] Pennsylvania,[22] Iowa, and West Virginia.[22] In Virginia, the purchase of neutral spirits requires a no-cost "Grain Alcohol Permit", issued "strictly for industrial, commercial, culinary or medicinal use".[23] In 2017, Virginia approved the sale of up to 151 proof neutral spirits at its ABC stores without a permit.[24] Pennsylvania sells 151 proof without a permit but requires one for 190 proof.[25]

Within the european legislation,[1] alcohol used in the production of some spirit drinks must be « ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin », which has to comply with the following requirements:

  • Organoleptic properties: no detectable taste other than that of the raw materials used in its production;
  • minimum alcoholic strength by volume: 96,0%;
  • maximum levels of residues do not exceed (in grams per hectolitre of 100% vol. alcohol):
    • acetic acid (total acidity) : 1,5;
    • ethyl acetate (esters): 1,3;
    • acetaldehyde (aldehydes): 0,5;
    • 2-methyl-1-propanol (higher alcohols): 0,5;
    • methanol: 30;
    • nitrogen (volatile bases containing nitrogen): 0,1;
    • dry extract: 1,5;
    • furfural: not detectable.


In Germany, rectified spirit is generically called Primasprit (colloquial) or, more technically, Neutralalkohol. It is available in pharmacies, bigger supermarkets, and East European markets. In the former East Germany, it was available in regular stores. Primasprit is most often used for making homemade liqueurs; other types of use are rare. Most of the Primasprit produced in Germany is made from grain and is, therefore, a neutral grain spirit.


Spirytus Rektyfikowany made by Polmos is the iconic brand with 96% ABV.[26]


The import[27] and sale[28] of spirits containing more than 60% alcohol by volume is prohibited, so only weaker grain spirits are permitted.




  • A column still or spiral still can achieve a vapor alcohol content of 95% ABV.
  • Moonshine is usually distilled to 40% ABV, and seldom above 66% based on 48 samples.[29] For example, conventional pot stills commonly produce 40% ABV, and top out between 60 and 80% after multiple distillations. However, ethanol can be dried to 95% ABV by heating 3Å molecular sieves such as 3Å zeolite.[30][31][32]

See also


  1. "Consolidated text: Regulation (EU) 2019/787 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 April 2019 on the definition, description, presentation and labelling of spirit drinks, the use of the names of spirit drinks in the presentation and labelling of other foodstuffs, the protection of geographical indications for spirit drinks, the use of ethyl alcohol and distillates of agricultural origin in alcoholic beverages, and repealing Regulation (EC) No 110/2008". 25 May 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. Inge Russell, ed. (2003). Whisky: Technology, Production and Marketing. Graham Stewart. Academic Press. p. 180. ISBN 9780080474854.
  3. Zavatto, A. (31 October 2018). "Making a Case for Whey-Based Spirits". SevenFifty Daily.
  4. Pelsy, F.; Merdinoglu, D. (2021). La vigne, miracle de la nature ? : 70 clés pour comprendre la viticulture (in French). Versailles: Éditions Quae. p. 126. ISBN 978-2759233311.
  5. 27 CFR 5.22
  6. "Results of sales of vinous alcohol held by public agencies". Official Journal of the European Union. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  7. David T. Smith (2018). The Gin Dictionary. Octopus Publishing. ISBN 9781784724894. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  8. "Commercial Alcohols". Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  9. Laurel Miller (November 30, 2017). "Getting to the Bottom of What's in Your Glass". Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  10. "Drink Recipe Browser: Everclear drinks". Drinknation. 2010. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
  11. Walton, Stuart; Norma Miller (2000). An Encyclopedia of Spirits & Liqueurs and How to Cook with Them. London: Hermes House. ISBN 1-84215-154-1.
  12. Sonja Sharp; Kenneth Lovett (2010). "That's the spirit! State approves 192-proof Spirytus, allowing New Yorkers to get quite the buzz". The Daily News.
  13. Lichine, Alexis. Alexis Lichine's New Encyclopedia of Wines & Spirits (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987), 365.
  14. "Neutral Spirits". Luxco official website. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  15. "Maryland bans grain alcohol". ConsumerAffairs. Retrieved 2018-11-25.
  16. "Report to Congress on the prevention and reduction of underage drinking - Policy summary: High-proof grain alcoholic beverages" (PDF). United States Department of Health and Human Services - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2017. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  17. Danae King (30 June 2014). "Laws including high-proof grain alcohol ban take effect Tuesday". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 22 December 2018.
  18. 2009 Florida Statutes, Title XXXIV
  19. "2017 Minnesota Statutes: 34A.506 Sales of ethyl alcohol and neutral spirits prohibited". Office of the Revisor of Statutes. Minnesota Legislature. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  20. "Chapter 202 – Crimes against public health and safety – NRS 202.065 Sale of alcoholic beverage containing more than 80 percent of alcohol by volume". Nevada Legislature. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  21. "ABC Commission to end sales of 190-proof booze |". Retrieved 2018-11-25.
  22. "Senate Passes Ban Of 190-Proof Alcohol Products". CBS News. Associated Press. February 5, 2014. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  23. "Get a Permit". Retrieved 2018-11-25.
  24. "Everclear to be legal in Virginia | WTOP". WTOP. 2017-03-07. Retrieved 2018-11-25.
  25. PLCB. "Product Location". Retrieved 2018-11-25.
  26. "Vodka in Short Supply in Japan as Rubbing Alcohol Sells Out". February 29, 2020.
  27. "Alcohol and tobacco quotas". Directorate of Norwegian Customs. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  28. "Lovdata (in Norwegian)". Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  29. Holstege, CP; Ferguson, JD; Wolf, CE; Baer, AB; Poklis, A (2004). "Analysis of moonshine for contaminants". Journal of Toxicology. Clinical Toxicology. 42 (5): 597–601. doi:10.1081/clt-200026976. PMID 15462151. S2CID 97866750.
  30. Carmo, M. J.; Gubulin, J. C. (September 1997). "Ethanol-Water Adsorption on Commercial 3A Zeolites: Kinetic and Thermodynamic Data". Brazilian Journal of Chemical Engineering. 14 (3). doi:10.1590/S0104-66321997000300004. ISSN 0104-6632.
  31. Burfield, David R.; Hefter, Glenn T.; Koh, Donald S. P. (1984). "Desiccant efficiency in solvent and reagent drying 8. molecular sieve column drying of 95% ethanol: An application of hygrometry to the assay of solvent water content". Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology. Chemical Technology. 34 (4): 187–194. doi:10.1002/jctb.5040340408.
  32. Simo, Marian; Sivashanmugam, Siddharth; Brown, Christopher J.; Hlavacek, Vladimir (21 October 2009). "Adsorption/Desorption of Water and Ethanol on 3A Zeolite in Near-Adiabatic Fixed Bed". Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research. 48 (20): 9247–9260. doi:10.1021/ie900446v.

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