Proof vs. ABV (What’s The Difference?)

Alcohol by volume (ABV) and proof are the main indicators of alcohol in a beverage, but the two metrics often get confused. Proof is a term that was commonly used during the 16th century before advanced methods of measuring alcohol content were developed.

Today, however, some countries (like the US) still use proof to refer to alcohol percentage and vice versa. In this post, we’ll unravel the meaning behind these terms and share with you the difference between proof and ABV. 

Why Is It Called Proof?

The alcohol content of a beverage is referred to as proof because the term is an indication that the spirit has a high alcohol content by volume. It’s a prehistoric term that was used by the government of England in order to determine the rate of tax that should be charged on certain alcoholic beverages. To better understand the concept, it’s best to give a brief (historical) overview.

Why Was Alcohol Measured In Proof? (A Brief Overview) 

During the 16th century in England, liquor was taxed according to the amount of alcohol it contained. There were no sophisticated and simple methods to test for alcohol by volume, so the government used what was called a gunpowder test. To carry out this test, they soaked a gun pellet with alcohol and set it on fire. If it flamed up, the alcohol was considered “proof spirit”.

This means it contained proof or evidence that there was a high amount of alcohol, and so the liquor was liable for higher tax rates. During the 19th century, a system that measured the gravity of an alcoholic beverage was developed to get more accurate readings. And, so, the invention of hydrometers and alcohol meters came to life.

What Is Proof?

Proof is the alcohol content a spirit contains. The term is used to refer to liquors with a proof of above 40, which is why ciders, wine, and beer are not referred to by proof, but by volume. Different regions have their own scales for measuring the proof of alcohol. Here’s an explanation of how proof is determined in the UK, the US, and France.

What Is Proof In The UK Imperial Scale?

The UK is known to have a bit of a complex scale when it comes to measuring the proof of alcohol. To measure the proof, according to the UK imperial scale, you’ll need to multiply the ABV by 1.75. For example, if a spirit has 40% ABV you multiply it by 1.75, which gives you 70. This means the spirit has 70-proof alcohol.

What Is Proof In The US Scale?

In America, alcohol proof is defined as twice the percentage of alcohol by volume. This means if a spirit contains 40% ABV, multiply the percentage by two and you’ll get 80 proof of alcohol.  

What Is Proof In The French Scale? 

Scientist Louis Gay-Lussac developed a 1:1 ratio for measuring proof in France. Simply put, the French believe the ABV to be equal to the proof. So, 40% ABV is equal to 40 proof. 

NOTE: Even though some countries still use proof to refer to alcohol by volume, the law only requires ABV to be listed on the packaging.

What Does Alcohol ABV Mean?

Alcohol by volume (ABV) refers to the percentage of alcohol in a spirit. It’s a standardized measurement used worldwide and it determines the amount of alcohol (ethanol) in a spirit. The higher the ABV of the beverage, the more likely you are to get drunk from it. 

What Does IBU Mean?

International Bitterness Units (IBU), is a scale used to measure the bitterness of alcohol. The higher the alcohol content, the more bitter the beverage.

How To Calculate ABV From Proof

Calculating the ABV of a spirit from proof will depend on the metric you’re using. In essence, when working out the ABV from proof, you’re reversing the calculations. Here’s an explanation of how that works.

  • According to the US scale, you’d divide the amount of proof by two to get your alcohol by volume percentage. For example, if we had to calculate the percentage of vodka which has 80 proof, we would follow this step:  80÷2=40% ABV
  • If you’re using the Ul imperial scale, divide the proof by 1.75. Using the example of vodka, you’d follow this step: 80÷1.75=45.7% ABV
  • Using the French scale, which uses the 1:1 ratio, alcohol with 80 proof alcohol will have 80% ABV.

What Is The Proof Of Alcohol? (With Examples)

The higher the ethanol, the more proof alcohol of a spirit. Here are various proof alcohols (using the US scale) with examples of brands on the shelf carrying that amount.

What Is 150- 200 Proof Alcohol?

200-proof alcohol is ethanol in its purest form. Often the type of spirit you’d find with this proof has 99.5% ABV, like isopropyl alcohol. It’s impossible to get 100% ABV because through distillation, you get 96% alcohol since water and ethanol form an Azeotrope at this stage.

To get up to 100%, manufacturers often add chemicals like benzene. But, you can still find spirits that have up to 192-proof of alcohol that are sold for human consumption. Here are some spirits with a range of 150-200 proof of alcohol.

  • Stroh Rum
  • Cocoroco
  • Sunset Very Strong Rum
  • Palinka
  • EverClear
  • Golden Grain
  • Chacha
  • Rachie
  • Absinth
  • Poitin

What Is 100-150 Proof Alcohol?

Most grain and very sweet fruit-based spirits tend to be on this spectrum of proof (sometimes higher). This is because grains generally have a high sugar content, which gives the distilled product a higher alcohol volume. The following are examples of such.

  • Most Liquors
  • Tequila
  • Vodka
  • Brandy 
  • Scotch Whisky
  • Whisky
  • Grappa
  • Arak
  • Gin
  • Baijiu
  • Sotol

What Is 75-100 Proof Alcohol

Most vodkas and whiskies fall under this category of proof. But, it’s not to say you won’t find any of these with proof of higher than 90. Here are a few examples of spirits with 75-100 proof of alcohol. 

  • Tsipouro
  • Soju
  • Shochu
  • Bitters
  • Pisco
  • Apple Jack
  • Lambanog

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What’s the highest proof of alcohol?

The highest proof of (consumable) alcohol is 192 (95% ABV). Examples of liquors with this content are Everclear, Spirytus, and Polish Vodka. Isopropyl has 200 proof, but it’s only ideal for household purposes.

Q2. Can you drink 200-proof alcohol?

It’s not recommended to drink alcohol with 200 proof. This is because it’s highly flammable and you’ll most likely consume other chemicals like benzene. Consuming this level of proof might give you the desired effect you’re going for (get you drunk), but it can cause liver damage, and cancer and can lead to death.

If you want to consume high-proof alcohol, you can opt for brands such as Everclear which are sold for drinking purposes (though it has to be diluted).

Conclusion

Proof and ABV are terms used to refer to the alcohol content of a beverage, and one thing they all have in common is that they do determine how much alcohol one should consume. Proof was commonly used during the 16th century for tax purposes, and this method of measuring alcohol does not apply today because of simpler methods of calculating using hydrometers and alcohol meters.

An interesting fact to note is that 200-proof alcohol does not necessarily mean that a spirit has 100% ABV, but it refers to the highest percentage of alcohol that can be obtained during distillation, which is typically 96%. If you decide to embark on indulging in potent alcohol, err on the safe side (dilute the spirit) because it can be fatal. 

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