Impacts of Underaged Drinking

Brightly colored drink shots

How Much Alcohol Is in This Drink?

“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 how it is taxed.

Proof is a hold-over term from earlier times. 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, which made 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. Remember that proof is determined by roughly doubling the percentage of alcohol content in a beverage.

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 and 6%. Grains, malts, and lager beers can have higher alcohol content.
  • Wine – American wine is between 9 and 14% alcohol. Fortified wines have an alcohol content higher than 14%. These wines contain added alcohol or brandy to increase the alcohol content to approximately 20%.
  • Hard Liquor – The alcohol content can range from 14 to 40% in distilled spirits. Some of the products used to make hard liquor are corn (bourbon), potatoes (vodka), sugar cane (rum), and malts/grains (scotch).

Next: Measuring How Much You Drank: Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)