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Liquor Proof


eje
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I had always assumed that the tendency of firms to adjust the proofs of their liquors downward was a modern thing.

However, when I visited the Museum of Brands and Packaging in London, (conveniently within stumbling distance of both Montgomery Place and The Lonsdale,) they had several displays of liquor bottles and cocktail paraphenalia from the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s.

A cool museum based on the collection of a gentleman named Robert Opie, they had bottled cocktails, shakers and pitchers, and all sorts of other fun things organized by decade.

So sad to see the exuberance and excitement of the 20s and 30s give way to ration books, propaganda, and blitz balloons of the 30s and 40s.

I noticed, though, that, in all cases, the liquor bottles in the cases (Scotch, Brandy, Gin...) were 70 proof or 35% ABV.

I also noticed that much of the Gin and Vodka currently on sale in the UK is slightly less than 80 proof. Unless you are buying "Export Proof", 37.5% ABV seems a common number.

Would Ian Fleming have been drinking cocktails based on overproof gin or underproof gin?

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Doesn't the UK do alvohol by weight and not by volume?

Not any more, although in the case of those older bottles it would be by weight. So they used to be stronger than the puling, weak stuff they peddle now (Gordon's, the leading gin in the UK, used to be 47% abv; now it's 37.5; a shame).

As always, the taxman is to blame.

aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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Well, the bottles didn't have ABV or ABW percentage numbers (except for some of the bottled cocktails).

They all said 70 Proof.

Shoot, I just noticed I didn't upload those pictures into ImageGullet. There was a particularly cool bottled White Lady.

I'll upload them tonight when I get home.

Edited by eje (log)

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Note that Plymouth Navy Strength "100 Proof" is actually 57% abv.

If someone could take pity on my poor fraction enfeebled brain and explain in simple terms, I would appreciate it!

100 Proof is what ABV? ABW?

In the US, my understanding of 100 proof is that it is 50% alcohol. I guess that is by volume?

70 Proof is what ABV? ABW?

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Oh, by the way, the bottles did say 70 (degree sign) Proof, which I was wondering about.

What does that indicate?

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Note that Plymouth Navy Strength "100 Proof" is actually 57% abv.

If someone could take pity on my poor fraction enfeebled brain and explain in simple terms, I would appreciate it!

100 Proof is what ABV? ABW?

In the US, my understanding of 100 proof is that it is 50% alcohol. I guess that is by volume?

70 Proof is what ABV? ABW?

Proof is calculated differently in the US than the UK. In the US, we simply double the ABV and call it proof (100 proof is 50% ABV). In the UK, 100 proof is 57.15% ethanol. (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof_%28alcohol%29 )

Marcovaldo Dionysos

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cocktailgeek@yahoo.com

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Proof is calculated differently in the US than the UK.  In the US, we simply double the ABV and call it proof (100 proof is 50% ABV).  In the UK, 100 proof is 57.15% ethanol.  (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof_%28alcohol%29 )

Ah, I really should search the wikipedia before posting.

A "proven" solution was defined as 100 degrees proof (100°). This has since been found to occur at 57.15% ethanol. This is still used as the British definition, although only the ABV system is used on bottles and sales. A simpler ratio to remember is 7:4, i.e. 70° proof is approximately 40% alcohol by volume. Thus pure alcohol is approximately 175 degrees proof (175°).

Whew! I was worried about Ian Fleming for a second! Thought he might have been a bit of a lightweight.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Proof is calculated differently in the US than the UK.  In the US, we simply double the ABV and call it proof (100 proof is 50% ABV).  In the UK, 100 proof is 57.15% ethanol.  (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof_%28alcohol%29 )

For "is" read "was." In the UK, proof used to be measured as alcohol by weight, not by volume. A proof spirit was 50% alcohol by weight. Since alcohol is lighter than water, this yielded a spirit that was 57 to 58% alcohol by volume.

The degrees of proof you saw on those old bottles were the percentage of that 57% by weight that was in the bottle. There are plenty of conversion charts for this on the internet.

In general, when I see a spirit in the 114-116 proof (ABV) range, that tells me it's pretty old-school. I like.

aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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Proof is calculated differently in the US than the UK.  In the US, we simply double the ABV and call it proof (100 proof is 50% ABV).  In the UK, 100 proof is 57.15% ethanol.  (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof_%28alcohol%29 )

For "is" read "was." In the UK, proof used to be measured as alcohol by weight, not by volume. A proof spirit was 50% alcohol by weight. Since alcohol is lighter than water, this yielded a spirit that was 57 to 58% alcohol by volume.

The degrees of proof you saw on those old bottles were the percentage of that 57% by weight that was in the bottle. There are plenty of conversion charts for this on the internet.

I think UK degrees proof are still measured the same, only now bottles are labeled with ABV instead. For instance, The Plymouth Navy Strength Gin is labeled 100 Proof/57% Vol. but the Plymouth Damson and Sloe Gins are labeled 26% Vol. with no mention of proof.

Marcovaldo Dionysos

Cocktail Geek

cocktailgeek@yahoo.com

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I think UK degrees proof are still measured the same, only now bottles are labeled with ABV instead.  For instance, The Plymouth Navy Strength Gin is labeled 100 Proof/57% Vol. but the Plymouth Damson and Sloe Gins are labeled 26% Vol. with no mention of proof.

There are a few historical artifacts that keep it on, but I don't think it has legal standing any more. The E.U. followed the French in using the Gay-Lussac scale (abv), not the British Sykes scale (abw).

aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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As well, the on-trade has less incentive to go with high proof these days. On top of higher costs, much of the on-trade has a keener eye to volume-driven economics (easier to sell more at a lower proof) combined with increased liability for drinks/driving in the UK and much of Europe.

Echoing David's comment, the UK alcohol excise taxes are especially high at £19.56/liter pure alcohol. That's approx. £5.13 for a 700ml Gin at 37.5% ABV. Given that this is paid by the producer/importer, it factors into the minimums that both wholesale and trade needs to earn.

Regarding "export" packaging, there was a time (and maybe now again) when transport costs and/or availability made the higher proof of greater necessity. Still today most of the wholesale-only producers of rum and vodka sell to bottlers and re-distillers at much higher proofs than what we get in the finished product.

Going back to the museum, I'd love to see how both brands and packaging have evolved. Beyond looking at the ABV change in Gin, it would also be interesting to compare over time the relative sugar content across and even within the same brands. Then as now, were they dry (or deceptively not) by choice or necessity?

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I think UK degrees proof are still measured the same, only now bottles are labeled with ABV instead.  For instance, The Plymouth Navy Strength Gin is labeled 100 Proof/57% Vol. but the Plymouth Damson and Sloe Gins are labeled 26% Vol. with no mention of proof.

There are a few historical artifacts that keep it on, but I don't think it has legal standing any more. The E.U. followed the French in using the Gay-Lussac scale (abv), not the British Sykes scale (abw).

It's true, the UK follows EU law, summarized as follows:

"All prepacked drinks with an alcoholic strength of more than 1.2%(abv) must be labelled with

an indication of alcoholic strength by volume. This must be shown as a figure (to not more

than one decimal place) preceded by the word "alcohol" or by the abbreviation "alc" and

followed by the symbol "% vol". " No mention of Proof.

Interesting is that under EU law, a product may only be called "Gin" if it has a the minimum 37.5% ABV. With notification, Member states may adopt higher national standards, but not lower.

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Check out this White Lady, not to mention the "Whoopee Wine Cocktail" next door.

gallery_27569_3448_31758.jpg

Was funny, as I had just read an article which referenced flavored gins...

gallery_27569_3448_11380.jpg

Bottled Martinis:

gallery_27569_3448_39821.jpg

Booth's Gin from the 70s (not to mention Mateus and Crazy Wine Aperitif!):

gallery_27569_3448_28268.jpg

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Oh, by the way, the bottles did say 70 (degree sign) Proof, which I was wondering about.  What does that indicate?

Hi eje, "70 degrees Proof" or "70 Proof" are just conventional alternatives to the formal language "70 percent Proof spirits" and there in turn (it won't be news to some avid readers here) "Proof" is used in the sense of "test" (proof of the pudding, exception that proves the rule) and the traditional "test" was whether gunpowder wet with the liquor would burn, which happens at around half alcohol. (A dramatic example of a field assay test using available materials; there are others.)

I've seen older chemical bottles with industrial mineral acids graded in degrees Baumé (a specific-gravity measure). Degrees Brix (for sugar) is common winemaker lingo in measuring grape juice.

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Here's another related question, that I hope is less dumb.

It's my understanding that alcoholic beverages and liquors used to be shipped to bars in barrels. Was it then up to the barkeeps to dilute this? Or would the cocktails have been mixed with "barrel proof" liquor?

When did the switch from shipping spirits to bars in barrels to shipping spirits to bars in bottles, take place?

Now, I know the bottled in bond act was enacted in 1897 to discourage unscrupulous individuals from tampering with spirits. Over-diluting or under-diluting. And, also to give the consumer some confidence that what they were buying was, in actual fact, the spirit it claimed to be.

On a related note, it seems like the widespread availability of spirits in bottles would have had something to do with the possibility for folks to mix their own cocktails.

When did the liquor store, as we know it today, really take off? The ability of individuals to easily purchase liquor for themselves.

Hmm...

When did home mixology really take off? Was it prohibition?

Oops, I should stop now, before I get too far off topic.

Edited by eje (log)

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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When did home mixology really take off?  Was it prohibition?

Data point: I have one classic mixology book originally from the 19th century, revised a few times; from the publication history in it, what really made the book take off was Prohibition. (Which also raised US average alcohol consumption, increased the number of saloons, killed the rapidly developing wine industry, subsidized organized crime, etc etc.)

Also, don't forget Prohibition was not just a US experiment, it was an international trend. Other countries also did it around the same time. And then repealed it later.

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