What is ABV?

What is ABV? Alcohol by volume ABV is the measure used to show the alcohol content in a drink. It is expressed as a percentage of the total volume. Different drinks vary in ABV but the higher the figure the more potent the drink. As a general rule of thumb beers are anywhere from three and a half to seven or eight percent but some can be higher. Wine is on average around twelve percent by volume and spirits normally go from just below forty percent.* In the UK any drink with an ABV above 1.2 % must legally contain the ABV on the label.

Label showing ABV %

Why do we measure ABV?

It is believed the first comprehensive measurement of alcohol in drinks was carried out in the sixteenth century by the British state as a tax-raising measure. They calculated the proof of an alcoholic beverage by soaking gunpowder in the liquid and trying to light it. Proof is not the same thing as ABV and is calculated in a number of ways in different countries. Many countries now also indicate units of alcohol in a bottle or drink as a health measure.

*It is important to remember that the number of drinks you consume is just as important a factor when calculating your alcohol intake. Cocktails can vary immensely depending on the ingredients whether spirits or liqueurs and how much.

Type of Drink                               Alcohol By Volume

Beer                                                 3.5 – 8 %

Wine                                               10 – 14 %

Fortified Wines                            15 – 25 %

Liqueurs                                         15  % upwards

Spirits                                             35 % upwards

Published by Christian Gott - An Island Chef

I am a food and drink writer, chef, one-time publican and restaurant manager, and qualified ASET trainer with over thirty years of experience in hospitality. I now live and work in the Channel Islands with my beautiful family. I’ve worked on six islands and in probably just about every type of business you can imagine, from beachside burger joints to world-famous pizza restaurants and in more than a few really good food pubs, historic country inns, and a former RAC Blue Riband UK Hotel of the Year. I have helped to create a small informal dinning group, been a group executive chef for eighteen diverse bars and eateries, demonstrated at food festivals, and contributed to the Real Food Festival Cookery Book, national and local publications, and podcasts. I am a proud member of the Guild of Food Writers and the British Guild of Beer Writers.

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