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History of Alcohol Proofs

You know what alcohol by volume (ABV) is. But, there’s also this figure, called “alcohol proof”, which is basically double the ABV.

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Where does the concept of “proof” come from? Why do we need this second number? Okay, dorks. The following question-and-answer goes through some basic you-should-knows.

(1)  Where is the concept of alcohol proof from?

The practice of “proofing” alcohol started in the eighteenth century. Traders and sailors, needing to confirm the alcohol content of drinks like rum and whiskey, used this measurement to confirm that the alcohol had not been watered down.

(2) How does the proofing process work?

Testers “proofed” alcohol by dousing a bit of gunpowder with some of the liquor, and subsequently lighting the gunpowder on fire. If the powder ignited (burned blue), then the proof was confirmed to be just right at “100 degrees proof”, or 57.15% ABV. However, if the alcohol didn’t catch fire, it had been watered down.

(3) What is the point of having an alcohol proof, next to the alcohol-by-volume (ABV) measurement?

In America, the concept of proof is mostly a historical remnant that carried over to modern times.

(4)What are the benefits of higher proof?

Higher proof has more taste. Think of stronger wines, which seem to explode with fruity flavor in your mouth more than some watered-down counterparts. Similarly, bartenders seeking to provide livelier drinks will typically infuse their concoctions with higher-proof spirits for that “pop” of flavor.

(5) But, isn’t more taste is a good thing? Why don’t we see higher proofs of everything?

The answer is, as with the concept itself, largely historical. Around the turn of the twentieth century, the U.S. government made it a standard that alcoholic drinks were “bonded” at 100 proof. Largely for health concerns, state and federal governments excised taxes on higher-proof spirits, which brought down the average proof of liquors.

Mmkay, so that’s the run-down on the no-longer-needed concept of alcohol proof . Share this info with your friends next time you’re out getting turnt.


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Hel Ya

Helen Yang ("Hel Ya", Writer) synthesizes Turn Up's creative energies into online form. She has partied in cities outside of New York from L.A. to Shanghai. Hel Ya currently resides in Queens, NY.

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