There’s no better feeling than relaxing in the evening with a glass of wine after a busy day at work. Wine isn’t as heavy on alcohol as most hard liquors, so it’s a perfect way to wind-down without the hassle of suffering from a headache the next morning.
But, despite its popularity, is wine a potential fire risk? Are you in danger from the potentially flammable nature of the alcoholic beverage?
This guide will take an in-depth look at wine and flammability, including a focus on the drink’s chemical make-up, the fermentation process, and its potential to catch fire.
What Makes A Liquid Flammable?
Firstly, before focusing specifically on wine, it’s important to establish exactly what makes a liquid flammable. Flammability is the ease of which things catch fire, with a liquid generally considered to be flammable if it catches fire below 100℉ or roughly 38℃.
The temperature at which an alcoholic beverage catches fire is known as the “flashpoint” of the liquid. It’s worth keeping in mind that this can vary from drink to drink depending on the alcoholic percentage.
The flashpoint of pure ethanol (the alcohol found in alcoholic drinks) is typically between 55-62℉ or 13-17℃. However, the flashpoint of most drinking alcohol such as wine or beer is significantly higher than this.
Chemical Make-Up Of Wine
Wine is a complex alcoholic beverage, especially when you compare it to liquor such as vodka which is made mainly of ethanol and water. Wine is formed by fermenting grapes, or any other fruit. This fermentation process creates ethanol, the alcohol present in all alcoholic drinks.
In addition to ethanol, the fermentation process also produces other, more complex chemicals. One of these is tannins, a chemical that comes primarily from the skin, seeds and, to a lesser extent, the stems of grapes.
Tannins, in large, are responsible for the hangover you often get the next day from drinking too much red wine.
A fair amount of the sugar used in fermentation will remain in the wine afterwards, and there may also be a number of different chemicals created which contribute to overall taste, body and aroma of the drink.
Can Wine Catch Fire?
Wines are significantly weaker than spirits. Most contain around 12-15% alcohol by volume (ABV) when the final product is ready for drinking.
Therefore, the largest component of wine is plain water, with the other chemicals only making up a tiny fraction of the product. Needless to say, water doesn’t burn, so this makes it extremely useful for extinguishing fires rather than starting them.
In most ordinary circumstances, wine doesn’t catch fire. This is because of the substantial water content as well as the alcoholic percentage in wine being nowhere near high enough to burn.
Theoretically speaking, the alcohol in wine can catch fire, but even if this does happen, the flame wouldn’t last long enough to spread and would instantly be extinguished.
This explains why flaming desserts and foods tend to use spirits such as vodka or rum to achieve the burning effect rather than a nice glass of Merlot.
Danger Of Storing Wine
If you store a considerable amount of wine in an environment that’s poorly ventilated and the wine is exposed to the air, it’s possible, over time, for the ethanol to evaporate.
Furthermore, without sufficient ventilation, the ethanol wouldn’t disperse effectively. This alcohol vapor, in turn, could potentially catch fire and cause serious harm.
Despite this risk, there aren’t any other normal circumstances under which something similar could happen. Even in catering and hospitality, it’s customary only to open a few bottles of wine at any given time rather than opening all the bottles for an evening in one go.
Is Wine Flammable During Fermentation?
Even during the fermentation process, there’s very little chance of wine catching fire. In fact, carbon dioxide is one of the natural byproducts of fermentation and this gas is used in fire extinguishers for its ability to suffocate a fire.
With this in mind, you’re free to ferment your wine without having to worry about the risk of your alcoholic product catching fire.
Is Cooking Wine Dangerous?
Like most wines, cooking wine isn’t flammable due to a low alcohol percentage around 16%. Therefore, under all normal circumstances, there’s no risk attached to using wine as a flavor or character enhancer to your homemade dishes.
One of the best and most popular examples of this is adding red wine to a dark beef gravy in order to make it richer and smoother than it otherwise might have been.
Be mindful that although most of the alcohol is removed during cooking, this isn’t always the case. It often takes a lot longer than many people think to cook out all the alcohol.
While this doesn’t have an affect on fire safety, it’s useful to keep in mind in case any of your dinner guests don’t drink alcohol for whatever reason.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Percentage Alcohol Is Deemed Flammable?
Alcoholic beverages are usually considered flammable when they’re above 40-50% of the drink (80 to 100 proof). For this reason, wine, which averages 12-15% ABV, isn’t at any significant risk of being flammable.
Is Wine Combustible?
No, wine isn’t either flammable or combustible. It can boil, but it won’t catch fire due to its low alcohol and high water content.
Why Isn’t Water Flammable?
Water is made of two elements, hydrogen and oxygen. While hydrogen is flammable, oxygen isn’t. Therefore, you can’t burn pure water, which explains why many people use water to smother and put out fires rather than start them in the first place.
What Chemicals Are In Wine?
Whether organic or obscure, most wine additives fall into five categories: antioxidants, tannins (as mentioned earlier), clarifying agents, acidifiers and de-acidifiers, and stabilizers.
Antioxidants are chemicals, usually sulfur, that stop wines from going bad due to oxygen exposure. So, if you’ve ever left a bottle of wine open overnight and had a sip the following day only to find it’s puckered, this is because you’ve tasted oxidized wine.
Tannins help wines to age well and they’re responsible for the dry mouth feeling that often comes after swallowing a mouthful of rich red wine. Since they’re found in grape seeds, skins and stems, they also exist in most unadulterated wines.
Can Pure Alcohol Catch Fire Easily?
If you keep pure alcohol, it’s essential to store it carefully as it can potentially catch fire in fairly low temperatures (55-62℉). However, this flashpoint requires a spark or source of flame to ignite.
The autoignition temperature - the point at which alcohol catches fire by itself - is around 689℉ or 365℃. So, while pure alcohol is highly flammable, it won’t suddenly catch fire while your back is turned if you store it correctly in a cool and safe environment.
Does Setting Alcoholic Drinks On Fire Make Them Stronger?
One of the most common reasons why people set their alcoholic drinks on fire is to alter the flavor. Burning an alcoholic beverage can lower the liquid content in the drink, subsequently creating a richer and tastier drink once condensed.
Moreover, setting alcohol on fire can also produce a beneficial warmth; enriching the flavor and warming the drink up.