Alcohol drink background.

Alcohol ‒ some use it to rub into sores; others use it as a first-aid elixir. Creative types pour alcohol into their gas tanks, and most people drink it in some form. Alcohol is ethanol, and when it’s bottled for consumption as a beverage, the amount of alcohol in a bottle must be measured and reported according to laws, not only of the states, but of countries. In the United States, the amount of alcohol in a bottle of spirits is called “proof.” The basis for quoting proof levels is 50 percent alcohol equals 100 proof. Check out the bottles in your liquor cabinet ‒ if any of them read over 100 proof, you know you have a backup should you run out of gas.

Proving Alcohol Percentages

Hundreds of years ago, when spirits were taxed according to how much alcohol they contained, distillers had to “prove” what they were selling. British naval teams who soaked their gunpowder in alcohol and lit it were the first to “proof” alcohol. If there was no fire, the rum contained little alcohol. The wrath of the Navy was enough encouragement to load the rum with alcohol.

Today, taxing is still based on the alcohol strength of what’s in the bottle. The term “Navy Strength” on the label means the gin or rum in the bottle has from 57 to nearly 70 percent alcohol, making it a minimum of 114 proof. The sailors found that 50 percent was the minimum amount of alcohol needed to burn their gunpowder. Today, you’ll find spirits at 40 percent, enough to warm your cockles, but not burn your gunpowder.

Some labels of spirits sold in America give you the “proof,” and others don’t. In the United States, and we stress the U.S., because other countries have different rules and regulations regarding alcohol labeling, the label informs you of a percentage of its alcohol content. A bottle of your favorite gin may read 40 percent alcohol, meaning it’s 80 proof.

Drinking 100 Proof Alcohol

Whisky, rum, vodka and all spirits containing alcohol, even beer, have a proof quotient. Forty proof, or 20 percent alcohol, is the minimum amount of alcohol for the product to be called a liquor. On the other end of the spectrum, liquors with exceedingly high alcohol content may be legal, but they also can be dangerous. Try drinking some 190 proof Everclear vodka and see if you can still walk!

Whisk(e)y: Whether it's Scottish, Welsh, Irish or American whisk(e)y, 100 proof is available. Some are a bit over and some under, but they average 100 proof. American bourbon, different from Irish, Scottish or Welsh whisky, comprises at least 51 percent corn, as opposed to the 100 percent barley in its British counterparts. It has to be aged in new, charred oak barrels instead of those formerly used for ageing port, Madeira or sherry, and it must have an alcohol percentage of 40 percent or more.

The distilling process affects the proof level, and what goes into the barrel at one proof might come out as a different proof. Dilution occurs, and in many cases, disturbs the flavor of the spirit. Choose your spirit by taste.

Explore the following 100-proof spirits to find your favorite:

  • Whisk(e)y: Four Roses Single Barrel, Wild Turkey Rare Breed (112 proof), Aberlour, Lismore, Arran and Jack Daniels Single Barrel 100 proof.
  • Vodka: New Amsterdam, Smirnoff, Svedka and Absolut lead the pack with 100-proof vodkas.
  • Rum: Captain Morgan Spiced Rum and Bacardi are popular rum brands that you can find at 100 proof. Any rum that’s more than 80 proof is considered “overproofed.” Check the labels.
  • Gin: Gun Club and H.O.B.S. are two gin brands that come in at 100 proof.