If you're drinking vodka occasionally, you may have heard people discussing the proof of vodka, the term "alcohol proof" or simply "proof." Alcohol proof is a unit to measure the amount of alcohol in a beverage. That applies not only to vodka but all alcoholic beverages.
Depending on the type of beverage, the proof can vary a lot. Lower-proof beverages like beer are as low as five proof, vodka proof is much higher. In the US, the standard proof of vodka is 80. However, the proofs vary within the vodka category.
This article will guide you through everything you need to know about vodka proof. Let's find out how strong this spirit is and how the proofs of different vodka brands compare.
Understanding Alcohol Proof
Alcohol proof is one way to measure the alcohol content of liquids. The higher the proof, the higher the amount of alcohol. However, proof isn't the only way to measure the alcohol content of a spirit. The most-used measurement worldwide is ABV (Alcohol By Volume). This measurement indicates the amount of alcohol in a beverage through a percentage.
The proof measuring system is primarily used in the United States, where proof equals the double amount of a spirits ABV. For example, if vodka is 40 percent alcohol by volume, it's 80 proof vodka.
How Alcohol Proof and ABV Are Measured
The amount of alcohol in vodka can be measured in proof or ABV, with the proof being ABV times two. But let me explain in more detail.
ABV means alcohol by volume and is the standard way of measuring the alcohol strength of drinks. It specifies how many ml of pure ethanol are in a 100ml solution. To further standardize those numbers, ABV gets measured at 68 °F or 20 °C. That is a global standard to measure alcohol content.
In the United States, there's also the term proof. The unit proof is also describing the alcohol content in a liquid. It's precisely two times the amount of ABV. So a vodka of 47% ABV is 94 proof. And now you may be wondering why it's called proof.
Back in the day, liquors were "proofed" to check the level of alcohol in them. That first occurred in England in the 1500s. Back then, liquors were taxed depending on the amount of alcohol. And naturally, as there's nothing as serious as taxes, that had to be "proofed" to get the correct taxation rate.
There were two different ways to "proof" alcohol amounts:
1. Burn or no burn
At first, a simple method called "burn or no burn" was used. For this, one tried to light the liquor itself to see if it burned. If the alcohol set fire, the liquid was considered "over proof". If it did not, it was considered "under proof."
However, this burn test was inaccurate as the flammability of alcohol highly depends on the temperature. That could lead to inconsistent results as it depended on the time and place the alcohol was tested. That's an issue that the gunpowder method fixed.
2. The Gunpowder method
The gunpowder method is the first way to check alcohol content scientifically. This method involved a gun pellet soaked in the liquor. It got lit to find out how much alcohol was in the liquor.
If it burned, the spirit was considered "above proof." If it didn't, it was "under proof." And if it was "proof" and burned blue, it had just the right amount of alcohol. This sweet spot, by the way, is at 114 proof or 57.5% ABV.
How proof is measured today
Today we're past the gunpowder test and the old-school burn or no burn. By US law, alcohol proof equals twice the ABV percentage. That means to learn how proof is measured, we need to look at how ABV is determined.
One can measure Alcohol By Volume (ABV) with the help of the Gay-Lussac scale - a proof scale. French scientist Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac invented this method in 1824 in France to detect the concentration of alcohol in a liquid, specifically in alcoholic beverages. It is based on the principle that pure alcohol has a specific volume at a certain temperature and pressure.
To determine the alcohol content using the Gay-Lussac scale, take a sample of the liquid, and measure its volume at a known temperature. Then, the volume of pure alcohol in the sample is calculated based on its density and the specific volume of pure alcohol at that temperature. This calculation gives the exact volume of pure alcohol in the sample as a percentage of the total volume of the liquid.
For example, a sample of an alcoholic drink has a volume of 100 milliliters and contains 40 milliliters of pure alcohol. Then, the alcohol content is 40% ABV (40 milliliters of alcohol out of 100 milliliters total).
What Proof is Vodka?
Now that we've had a quick look at alcohol proof, I bet you're curious about the alcohol content in your beloved spirit, vodka, right?
There's a wide range of vodka proofs, but the standard proof of vodka in the US is 80 proof, translating to 40% ABV. The US legally requires that all vodka (and any other distilled spirit) is at least 80 proof. That means you won't get vodka with an amount of alcohol by volume below 40%. This legal requirement varies between countries and regions, though.
In the European Union, the minimum is slightly lower, at 37.5% ABV. Of course, the ABV of vodka can always be significantly higher. Vodka with proof of 100, 120, or even 160 is widely accessible.
In fact, the liquor with the highest level of alcohol sold in the US is vodka. It is Spirytus vodka from Poland and has a whopping proof of 192, meaning 96% ABV. There are even different ranges. You can find an overview of the range of proofs for vodka below.
The Range of Vodka Proofs
Vodka below 80 Proof
Within the European Union, there's a vast selection of vodkas below 80 proof. Brands like Smirnoff, Absolut, Grey Goose, Ciroc, Skyy, and many more sell their products with 75 proof. The reason is that the legal requirements in the EU demand that vodka proof is at least 75 or 37.5% alcohol by volume.
Since lower alcohol content also means lower cost, these brands specifically produce vodkas that meet the minimum requirements. The products for the American market naturally contain 40% alcohol or 80 proof.
80 Proof Vodka
As mentioned above, this is the standard vodka proof in the U.S. and also internationally. Some brands produce exclusively at 80 proof to ensure the same taste experience everywhere in the world.
90 Proof Vodka
Several well-known vodka brands that offer the standard 80-proof version, also have stronger options of a 90-proof. So, if you're looking for a little more kick in your mixed drinks without sacrificing that delicate and pleasant flavor profile, a 90 proof vodka might be your perfect match.
100+ Proof Vodka
Vodkas with 100 proofs or more are comparatively rare. In most cases, these products are used in cocktails. Be careful when drinking vodka of this proof range.
Some brands that produce such high-proof vodkas are Spirytus, Balkan 176, and Devil's Springs.
Proof of Different Vodka Brands
The proof of vodka brands and their products varies widely. You will find many brands offering vodkas at 80 proof (40% ABV), but there are plenty of highly alcoholic options available as well.
Here is a short overview of popular vodka brands and their alcohol content in Proof and ABV.
- Absolut vodka ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
- Absolut vodka 100 ABV: 50%, 100 Proof
- Balkan 176 ABV: 88%, 176 Proof
- Belvedere ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
- Ciroc ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
- Devil's Springs ABV: 80%, 160 Proof
- Grey Goose ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
- Finlandia 101 ABV: 50.5%, 101 Proof
- Smirnoff ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
- Spirytus vodka ABV: 96%, 192 Proof
What's the Highest Proof Vodka?
As listed in our overview above, Spirytus vodka is the highest-proof vodka at 192 proof, which equals 96% alcohol by volume. Only a few vodka brands produce such potent vodkas, but there are still a few.
Another one that surpasses the 100 proof mark is Devil's Springs vodka which is 160 proof, or 805 ABV. But remember, such strong vodkas aren't for the faint-hearted.
Let's Talk About Vodka in General
Vodka has been among the most popular types of spirits for decades. It's one of the spirits you should always have in stock at your home bar to make fancy cocktails.
The crystal clear liquor is made of water and ethanol and is known for its neutral flavor. It can contain additional ingredients that influence the flavor, like grains, grapes, fruits, roots, and even potatoes.
For this, the ingredients are fermented, distilled, and finally filtered. After the distillation process, the spirit is often above 90% ABV. After dilution with water, the final product is a high-proof spirit ranging between 40% and 50% ABV, or 80 and 100 proof.
And even if vodka is popular in the US, it is way more popular in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Finland, Iceland, and other European countries.
That does not come as a surprise, considering that vodka comes from Russia - or Poland, as research found. Also, the name vodka derives from the Russian word for water, "voda."
Proof Can Help You Selecting the Right Vodka
Learning about proof of vodka can help you become a better bartender, but also a more discerning vodka drinker. Understanding that proof does not equal quality is the first step. Purity, clearness, and a neutral taste are the primary elements of high-quality vodka.
However, if you need a kick in your vodka cocktails, choosing a higher-proof vodka can make a huge difference. If you plan to sip vodka neat, opt for a product that contains 75 or 80 proof. These ranges offer the best balance between taste and alcohol content.