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Updated on August 11, 2023
5 min read

What Does Alcohol Proof Mean & How is It Measured?

Alcohol is a popular pastime for many, but with excessive consumption comes precautionary measures to ensure it's kept in moderation. 

Whether you’re an occasional or frequent drinker, understanding alcohol-proof levels is essential to ensuring proper and responsible drinking habits.

What Does Proof Mean in Alcohol?

Proof spirit or alcohol proof means the percentage measurement of pure alcohol in drinks (hard alcohol or hard liquor). You calculate it by doubling the percentage of alcohol by volume.

For example, a spirit with 40% alcohol by volume (ABV percentage) is classified as 80 proof. The higher the alcohol proof, the higher the alcohol strength.


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Why is Alcohol Measured by Proof?

The “gunpowder test” was a crude method that determined how much ethyl alcohol was in different batches of rum. Government officials would soak gunpowder with the spirits they measured and ignite them afterward. 

If the rum caught fire, that indicated that the spirit contained more than 57% alcohol. This is the minimum amount that is flammable. 

The term "proof" was retained from this initial proof system. However, the modern standard isn’t based on the gunpowder test.

In the mid-19th Century, 50% ABV became the baseline for labeling spirits as “100 proof” in the US. It’s why the modern proof system simply involves doubling the ABV (alcohol by volume) for any spirit. 

Alcohol Proof Examples

Normal alcohol proof is less than the initial amount that sparked the term. Today, anything in the range of 40-100 proof is considered “normal.” Higher than that, spirits begin to approach flammability. 

Each type of spirit has a “normal” or typical proof. Rum, tequila, gin, vodka, and whiskey are typically 80-proof, though different batches can vary. 

While some alcoholic beverages (mainly rums and vodkas) can seem abnormal due to their very high proof, these are still considered normal because they can be legally produced.


70-proof simply means 35% ABV. It’s most common for flavored spirits and some higher-proof liqueurs. 70-proof is on the lower end of the scale since proof only measures hard alcohol. This is because spirits are supposed to be higher than beer or wine, which are typically below 15% ABV. 


80-proof alcohol is equal to 40% ABV. It’s the most common proof measurement for spirits. Most rums, tequilas, gins, whiskeys, vodkas, and cognacs are 80-proof because US law requires these spirits to be 80-proof. 

In addition, 80-proof alcohol also has historical significance. English men only tolerated alcohol 30 degrees under-proof by weight in the past. This equates to around 39% ABV, which is around 80-proof.

Bottling alcohol at 80-proof also provides economic benefits. It’s cheaper to bottle them since doing so requires less tax. Bottles with higher proof are taxed higher.


100-proof is 50% ABV. In terms of baselines, anything below 100-proof is considered normal. Anything above is considered high. 

Above 100-Proof

Anything beyond 100-proof is considered high. This is more than 50% ABV, which was deemed the baseline when the modern proof measurement system came around. However, popular options ranging from 151 to 190 proof are still legally available. 

Does 200-Proof Alcohol Exist?

No, there’s a physical limit to how pure you can distill alcohol, especially in creating a spirit. The highest proof that’s available for purchase is Everclear at 190-proof. 

No alcohol that humans can safely (or legally) ingest can reach 200 proof. Drinking 190-proof alcohol is already extremely dangerous and illegal in some states. 


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Is it Safe to Drink High Proof Spirits?

Drinking high-proof spirits comes with dangers and side effects. Remember to limit your alcohol intake to avoid these dangers and side effects.


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Dangers of Drinking High-Proof Spirits

The dangers of high-proof spirits are similar to the risks of drinking too much alcohol. These include:

  • Stomach problems
  • Malnutrition
  • Memory problems
  • Concentration issues
  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Mental health conditions
  • Suicide or suicidal thoughts
  • Brain damage
  • Mood or personality changes
  • Obesity (high-proof alcohol has 300% more calories than average-proof alcohol)
  • Heart damage
  • Causing harm to unborn or breastfeeding babies

Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

There’s also a much higher chance of developing alcohol poisoning if you drink high-proof spirits.

The signs to watch out for include: 

  • Pale skin
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Difficulty walking
  • Hypothermia
  • Stomach and intestinal bleeding
  • Stupor
  • Unsteadiness
  • Vomiting, particularly with blood

If you think somebody is experiencing alcohol poisoning or other related health problems, seek medical help immediately. On the other hand, if you have developed Alcohol Use Disorder, contact a healthcare professional to explore treatment options/resources.

Alcohol Proof by Type of Liquor

Each type of spirit varies in proof values due to several factors, such as unique brand recipes. However, different spirits or hard liquor tend to have average or typical proof measurements. 

Below are typical proof ranges for common forms of hard alcohol:

  • Rum: Typical modern rum beverages range between 70 to 100 proof (35%-50% ABV), the most common being 80-proof.
  • Cachaça: Cachaça is typically between 70 to 100 proof, though it tends to be on the lower end of this range. 
  • Tequila: Typical tequila bottles will have between 80 to 100 proof on their label (40-50% ABV), with few exceptions to this range. 
  • Mezcal: Mezcal is much smokier than regular tequila, but the alcoholic content is highly similar. It stays in the 80 to 100 proof range. 
  • Gin: This liquor is usually made between 70 to 100 proof.
  • Whiskey: There are many forms of whiskey, including scotch, rye, and bourbon. Each related subtype is typically between 70 to 100 proof.
  • Vodka: Vodka also varies the most in proof, with different types ranging from 80 to 190 proof. 
  • Cognac: Almost all types of cognac are 80 proof, regardless of which distiller made them.
  • Liqueur: Most spirits in this category are between 30 to 60 proof, and the majority are on the lower end.
Graph showing the ABV content in different types of alcohol


Alcohol proof measures the alcohol content percentage of spirits. Different spirits have different alcohol proof. Hard liquor and hard alcohol in the legal and safer ranges usually fall between 70 to 100 proof. Although it’s okay to drink high-proof spirits, it’s best to moderate and limit your alcohol intake to prevent dangers, such as alcohol poisoning.

Updated on August 11, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on August 11, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. National Institutes of Health (US).Information about Alcohol.” Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, 2007. 
  2. Mostofsky et al. “Key Findings on Alcohol Consumption and a Variety of Health Outcomes From the Nurses' Health Study.” American Journal of Public Health, 2016. 
  3. Alcohol's Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2021.
  4. The Risks of Drinking Too Much.” National Health Services, 2022.
  5. What is a Standard Drink?” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, n.d.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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