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Friday, December 4, 2009

What is Proof - And Why Does it Matter?

Proof is the commonly used measure of how much alcohol is in an alcoholic drink. You take the percentage of alcohol in a drink and double it to get the proof measurement. The amount of alcohol in a bottle is regulated by law and affects taxing it.

Proof is one of those hold-out terms, the ones that stay despite long gone origins. In the 18th century and up until about 30 years ago, Britain defined alcohol content in terms of “proof spirit.” The British term started when payments to British sailors included rations of rum. To save money, sometimes the rum would be watered down and the alcohol content very low.

So the sailors would toss gunpowder into the rum to see if it would light on fire. If there wasn’t enough alcohol, it didn’t burn and was considered to be “under-proof.”

Different types of alcohol have different proof levels in part because of what they’re made from. Here’s some more information on how much alcohol is in a single drink:

Beer – The alcohol content of beer in the U.S. is usually between 3-6%. Grains, malts and lager beers can have higher alcohol content.

Wine – American wine is between 9-14 percent alcohol. Fortified wines have alcohol content higher than 14 percent. These wines contain added alcohol or brandy to increase the alcohol content to approximately 20 percent.

Hard Liquor – The alcohol content can be up to about 14% legally in one drink of distilled spirits, for goods sold in the United States. This can vary in other countries, for instance in Japan the alcohol content in a single drink can be substantially higher.

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