What Does Proof of Alcohol Mean?

Addressing the frequently asked questions dealing with addiction.

Question:

What is meant by proof when referring to alcoholic beverages?

Answer:

The word proof came about years ago when ships, unloading their cargo of whiskey, had only one way to tell the strength of the liquor they were carrying.  They mixed a spoonful of whiskey with a pinch of gunpowder.  When a lighted match was dropped into the mixture, it ignited with an audible “proof”!   This micro fireworks would happen only if the alcohol content was 50 percent or more by volume.  Today proof is defined as twice the alcohol content by volume.  Whiskey with 50 percent alcohol is 100-proof whiskey.  There are better ways of determining alcohol content by volume these days, but they are not as much fun as the old-fashioned way.

"Sober Days" ran in the Palm Springs daily newspaper, the Desert Sun, for several years in the 1990s-2000s. The popular Q&A column was written by Dr. James West, the Betty Ford Center’s first medical director. He remained with the Betty Ford Center until 2007, when he retired at age 93.

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