Knowing what alcohol proof means is one thing. Knowing the history of how it came to be is a way to dazzle your friends while you’re all getting toasted and recovering with IVs in the Keys with Hangover Hospital.
Proof is the measure of alcohol content in an alcohol. Scientifically speaking, it is the measure of ethanol in a drink. However, it doesn’t work like a simple percentage. The proof of an alcohol is actually twice the percentage of the ethanol content. This is because proof is graded on a scale of 200. Therefore, 100 proof alcohol is not 100% alcohol, but rather 50% alcohol.
The question, of course, is why? Why would alcohol be graded on a scale of 200 as opposed to 100? The answer to that question is: England.
England decided that alcohol needed to be graded on a scale of 200 as opposed to 100. But it isn’t that simple. Originally, proof was a measure of “alcohol by volume” or ABV. In England, proof was equivalent to around 1.75 times the amount of ABV. The Americans simplified this to 2.00 times and the rest is history.
The History of Proof as a Measure of Alcohol
Proof dates back to the very early Renaissance in 16th century England. It was used as a method of taxing alcohol depending on the alcohol content. The more alcohol, the more heavily taxed it was. Of course, the early English did not have sophisticated means of measuring alcohol content. Instead, they dipped a pellet of gunpowder in the alcohol and, if they were still able to burn it, then it was taxed “above proof” and slapped with a higher tax.
However, in order to qualify as “above proof” the alcohol content for rum would have to be around 57.15% ABV. If we’re using English standard for proof, which is about 1.75 times the ABV, that comes out to roughly 100. So, the English called that 100 proof.
The U.S. is the only country left on earth that sells alcohol by proof. They are also the only country left on earth that knows how many pecks are in a bushel (four).
Measuring Alcohol in Your Bloodstream
You may, at this point, be wondering what proof your blood is if you’ve had such and such amount of drinks. BAC measures how many grams of blood is in your alcohol stream—no wait—how many grams of alcohol is in your bloodstream per 100 g of blood. Fun fact: If the police draw less than 100 g of blood, it can artificially inflate your BAC.
So if you have a .08 BAC, then you have .8% alcohol in your bloodstream. This means your blood (by the American standard) is 1.6 proof. Yum!
Talk to the Hangover Paramedics
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