Effects of Ethanol on Flavor Perception in Alcoholic Beverages

Chelsea M. Ickes, Keith R. Cadwallader

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: In terms of both its physiological effects as well as its impact on flavor perception, ethanol is the defining component of alcoholic beverages. While ethanol’s effect on alcoholic beverage systems has been studied across a variety of disciplines, a comprehensive review of the literature is lacking. The aim of this paper is to review the current literature on ethanol’s effect on flavor perception. Methods: This paper reviews the literature, exploring ethanol’s effects on the areas of physiochemical properties, instrumental measurements of flavor release, and sensory evaluation across a variety of alcoholic beverages including beer, wine, and distilled beverages and how changes in ethanol concentration can affect flavor perception. Results: Physicochemical properties such as the molecular level structure of water/ethanol matrices are significantly altered as a function of ethanol concentration. Of particular importance to flavor perception is the effect of ethanol on the release of aroma compounds into the headspace of the beverage. Both static and dynamic headspace systems have been studied. In general, increasing the concentration of ethanol decreases the volatile headspace in static systems, while it tends to increase the volatile headspace in dynamic systems. Most importantly, sensory studies have demonstrated that ethanol concentration significantly changes the flavor profile of beverages to the point where sensory panelists are able to identify and articulate these differences. Conclusions: The current literature demonstrates that ethanol can have a huge impact of flavor release and sensory perception of alcoholic beverages. Additionally monitoring ethanol’s effects in systems as close to real life as possible (i.e., dynamic vs static evaluation) is important. Even with the extensive knowledge in the area, there are still many gaps in our understanding of ethanol’s effects on the flavor of alcoholic beverages. Implications: Ethanol has been shown to have a tremendous influence on flavor release and subsequent chemosensory perception in alcoholic beverages. Changes in ethanol concentration can affect consumers’ perception of alcoholic beverages in terms of aroma, taste, and mouthfeel.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-134
Number of pages16
JournalChemosensory Perception
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017


  • Alcohol
  • Ethanol
  • Flavor
  • Perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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