Where do you buy your alcohol for your tincture menstruum?
People sometimes ask me where I buy the alcohol for my tincture menstruum. Of course, you’d want to use a good alcohol that is suitable for making tinctures and in which your herbs come into their own. Especially when it comes to 190-proof alcohol, it’s not always that easy to find. After all, the alcohol you’ll find at the chemist is generally not meant for internal use, which is obviously a requirement.
The rubbing alcohol at the chemist is intended for things like disinfecting, cleaning stubborn grease spots, or removing glue residues. Toxic substances have been added to make the liquid unsuitable for human consumption. Naturally, you wouldn’t want to ingest those toxins. Wondering why those substances are added? By making their wares unsuitable for consumption, the producers avoid paying excise taxes, so they can offer them cheaply for tasks where alcohol needs to be used externally.
Alcohol menstruum for tincture with dried plants
When making a tincture with dried herbs, shopping for your menstruum is fairly easy. In that case, you’ll generally need 80 to 100-proof alcohol. You could, of course, purchase 190-proof alcohol and then dilute it to the correct percentage, but this is unnecessarily expensive and cumbersome.
Up to 100-proof alcohol your local off-licence can help you out. Just buy a neutral liquor like gin or vodka with an alcohol percentage of 40 to 50%. There are also flavoured spirits that may be useful. This does come with potential complications, because you should read the label carefully to see if any additional ingredients do not affect the effect of your tincture. Plain, good quality gin or vodka is therefore the best choice.
Alcohol menstruum for tincture with fresh plants
When making tinctures with fresh plants, it’s a different story. You’ll might need a higher alcohol percentage for that. The amount of alcohol will depend on the moisture content of the plants you’re macerating. And if you’re making a weighted tincture with fresh plants, you’ll almost always use 190-proof alcohol. But then you’ll have to be able to find it first.
The frustrating thing is that 190-proof alcohol is quite expensive. Add to that the fact that not many people use it in their daily lives – how many people do you know who make their own standardised tinctures? Alcohol that strong is also hardly pleasant to consume, and it’ll certainly not make your liver happy – so logically, it’s difficult to find. Due to this combination of high price and low demand, many retailers find it an uninteresting product to put on offer. Some can buy their alcohol through a wholesaler, but that means buying in bulk. There are some speciality shops to be found, but not everyone has them nearby.
The best tip: visit your pharmacy
There are options to find a good alcohol with a high permillage outside the specialty shops. Especially if you know your way around the internet, you can sometimes order some at a favourable price. Drinks such as Everclear and Poitin are sometimes available online in a 190-proof (95%) variant. But you can’t have those sent to every country. In addition, I personally would want to know that my alcohol is ethically produced. Not every source supplies sufficient information on the production process.
Perhaps the best tip I can, therefore, give you, is to visit your local pharmacy. They can order 190-proof alcohol for you. Explain what you need it for so that you’ll get the right product. Surely you wouldn’t want to pick up your order only to find out that it’s not suitable for consumption as well.
In short, there are always ways to source 190-proof alcohol, but maybe it’s best to first try out those recipes that only ask for a trip to the off-licence. It’s certainly something I take into consideration when choosing the traditional over the weighted method. Or a completely different, yet faster and less complicated method, like infusion or decoction.