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Whiskey Alcohol Content & Terms: What ABV Tells You About Whiskey | TwiftNews

Whiskey Alcohol Content: What ABV Tells You About Whisky

When tasting a drink, for every true connoisseur, knowing what stays behind that taste is an important part of the process.

In addition to telling how quickly the first alcohol notes will strike your head, it would be beneficial to understand what effort the makers put into making the drink unique and inimitable and what the ingredients of this fine liquid in your glass are.

We’ve assembled this guide for true whiskey lovers. Later in the article, the whiskey alcohol content will be disclosed, along with other interesting facts about the flavor and essence of this drink.

Whiskey Alcohol Content

What Is Whiskey?

Whiskey (or whisky) is a beverage of class and style, loved by many people around the world. It is a strong alcoholic drink distilled from grain mash. The types of grains may vary, and each separately imposes its own unique flavor. The ones that typically build whisky alcohol content are wheat, corn, barley or rye. Usually, whiskey is being aged in oak casks, which provides the drink with a final ‘wooden’ taste.

Whiskey is not an internationally made drink, different types are widely spread across the world, and each country names it its own. The contrasting number of flavors makes each beverage unique. How much alcohol in whiskey is considered to be normal? In order to be called ‘whiskey’ a drink has to have an average alcohol by volume showing 40-94,8%.

History and Meaning of Alcohol Proof

It may have happened that you’ve seen that on some bottles with strong drinks there is a caption like “100 proof”. This is a form of determining the beverage ‘strength’ by defining how much ethanol is contained in the overall volume of the drink.

The term itself goes back to the XVI century when the notions of distillation and taxation were first introduced in England. Before ABV alcoholic beverages were tested by simply a burning factor. If the beverage lights up with fire it is considered “above proof”, if not – “under proof”. In modern times the term Alcohol By Volume (ABV) is more widely spread, as it is much easier to read.

However, even though being more of a historical term, alcohol proof is still used in some countries, and it practically means the same thing as ABV – the amount of alcohol twice the overall volume of the drink. So, if someday you see a whiskey with ’80 proof’ printed out on a bottle, it means that it’s a whiskey containing 40% alcohol.

How Much Alcohol Is in Whiskey?

It is a widely accepted legislative requirement that to be considered whiskey any bourbon should contain exactly 40% alcohol. However, you might find various whisky ABV levels on drinks still labeled as whiskey. The law regulation mainly concerns taxation. So, if your whiskey is above 40% it means you will have to pay more taxes and such a beverage will be characterized as ‘special’.

Of course, there are whiskey blends with different flavors under 40 ABV. While being still quite strong those are considered liquors. In any case, if you want to know what percent alcohol is whiskey which is considered to be ‘true’ – it is around 40%.

Whiskey Alcohol Content

What Is US Proof?

Back to history. In the early years of mass alcoholic beverages’ production manufacturers had various ways to determine the real alcohol content of the drinks. One of the most interesting ones was the ‘gunpowder test’. A small amount of the gunpowder was mixed with whiskey and ignited. If the fire was strong and flashy it meant the drink was proof, if not – it was considered under-proof. If firing such a cocktail resulted in a sudden burst – it was clear the drink was over-proof.

The proof measuring as we know it today, however, was invented in the USA. In the mid-1800s Americans invented a scale according to which the proof was a value twice bigger than the alcohol content. A fine American whisky was marked as 100-proof back then. Of course, some less strong whiskeys nowadays are marked the same way, which makes a “100 proof” caption on a label a sign of true American quality.

Whisky calories

In addition to a high whisky alcohol percentage, it might be one of the most high-calorie strong drinks. The reason for this is a distillation process. The calories from the majority of spirits do not derive from sugars, they originate from alcohol. This means that in a standard shot (about 30ml) of whiskey there are about 65 calories. The situation is often aggravated because of a widely accepted way of drinking whiskey by mixing it with very sweet non-alcoholic mixers (like coke for example). The content of sugar in those cases will rise up to the sky.

Whiskey Terminology

There are too many words in the whiskey terminology, the variety of which can make it difficult even for a true connoisseur to understand the process of making this fine drink. The terms often derive from the method of beverage creation and sometimes are subject to changing legislative requirements. Some of those are used solely for marketing purposes, aimed at delivering a message about whiskey’s uniqueness. While others simply show the alcohol percentage in whiskey.

In order to spare your time, we’ve gathered the most important terms in this article, all of which, in their own way, reveal the exact and subtle art of whisky distillation and blending.

Whiskey Alcohol Content

Cask Strength

This has nothing to do with the actual durability of the cask but is more about the percentage of alcohol in whisky. The term has another variant – “barrel proof”, and refers to the process of bottling whiskey directly from the casks without mixing it with water first. Such whiskeys are pretty strong and their ABV may get as high as 65%.


Congeners usually mean chemical mixtures which find their way into the final product. Such mixtures originate in grain mash and generally represent fats and esters. Those two can enrich the whiskey’s final taste and contribute to the drink’s depth. If the distillation process is violated, the grain mash can oxidize and produce negative compounds (like aldehyde). Such a supplement will influence the flavor of a drink adding the notes of something spoiled to the final distillate.

Chill Filtration

This term mostly speaks for itself. Chill filtering is a variant of filtration during which whiskey is cooled down to 5-10 °C before being sent through the filter. This is an easy way to remove any ‘dirty’ compounds (like that aldehyde we talked about earlier). The negative effect, however, is that some good ones may go as well. It is a widely accepted notion that whiskeys that were filtered this way are of low quality.


This term comes from the corresponding legislative act published in the late 1800s in the US. The government had to deal with the growing number of whiskey adulteration. The idea was to interest the manufacturers to undergo state supervision of their whiskey distillation and blending. Tax discounts were offered in exchange for strict regulation of the process – the beverages had to be produced within one season by one company at one plant, after which the liquor had to be aged in governmental warehouses. The bottled-in-bond labels are given only to USA-made whiskeys. The alcohol content of whiskey with such a label is usually 100 proof (50%).

New American Oak

American whiskey distillation craft is precise and long-standing. The distillers in the USA pay much attention to the casks in which the final whiskey is aged. New American Oak is a term that is used to underline the highest quality of the barrels. And those are not plain words. It is a known fact that most of the whiskey’s taste comes from the time it spends in a cask. So, the barrels made from the finest American Oak are favored by distillers around the world.


The process of malting is another way of extracting additional flavors for whiskey. As a result of this process, grains germinate and then are dried again to be afterward turned into malt. Malted grains add a honey-like taste to the distilled liquor.

Mash Bill

Mash Bill is just another name for the mix of grains used in the initial stage of whiskey production. All kinds of alcoholic drinks have strict recipes in terms of the overall contents of the mash bill. For example, the mash bill requirement for bourbon is more than 51% of corn.


Another term is turf – a mix of organic matter, soil, and decomposed plants. The bricks of such a substance are placed into the fire during the malt drying process. In such a way grains consume the smoke, getting an additional ‘smoky’ flavor. Such a process is more common in the production of Irish and Scottish whiskeys.

Pot Still

Pot still is a type of distillation equipment that allows you to get the spirit out of any raw material (grain mash). The construction is rather simple and primitive, which also fastens the distillation process. The pot-stilled beverages often lack rich flavor and possess a rather sharp taste and higher density. Part of Irish whiskey production is connected with pot still distillation.

Column Still

This is a completely different and technologically accurate way of distillation, most commonly used now to make rye or bourbon. The process consists of two columns, one of which is responsible for wash distilling and another one – for alcohol condensing. Column still is used to produce pure spirits of high ABV which have almost no unstable compounds.

Whiskey Alcohol Content

Scotch, Bourbon, And Rye: What’s The Difference


Usually, whiskey made in Scotland under strict regulations is called scotch. All five regions of Scotland are suitable for its distillation. There are some requirements for the age of scotch – the beverage has to be kept in oak casks for three years to be able to bear the name. A peculiar term might be stumbled upon when looking for scotch – single malt. This means that this drink has been distilled in a certain distillery, more like a sign of quality. The alcohol percentage in scotch does not differ from its American brother.


It is one of the American variants of whiskey, which does not abide by so many laws and regulations as scotch. One of which is, as mentioned above – the mash bill contents should be at least 51% of corn. Just like any other type of whisky bourbon is aged in oak barrels and just like scotch percent alcohol it has around 40% ABV.


Rye is the type of whiskey whose mash bill has more than 51% of rye grain. What percent of alcohol is whiskey made of rye? Well, those may vary from 80 to 160 proofs (40-80% ABV).

Alcohol Abuse

Even though there is a wide variety of alcohol drinks with exclusive tastes which might let you feel at ease, it is necessary to remember that abusing alcohol has a negative effect on your life. Alcohol abuse is not to be treated lightly, as the ones that suffer are not only people who drink but their relatives and loved ones too. So, when drinking – drink responsibly.

FAQ On Whiskey Alcohol Percentage

Is all whisky 40%?

The thing about whiskey is that its ABV may vary from type to type. But with the higher content of alcohol, the higher the possibility that you will not taste the nature of flavor.

What percentage alcohol is whiskey?

The average strength of a ‘true’ whiskey is around 40% (80 proof). Some types are stronger, however, there are no real whiskeys with less than that ABV.

Is Scotch Better than Bourbon?

Depends on who’s drinking. Bourbon tends to have a sweeter favor, while scotch is as sharp as it gets.

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