November 2, 2011

…I guess I got my stagger back.

I remember my first go around with some Southern Comfort 100 proof. As a young college student, I had mastered the Nalgene cocktail to go. That is until my roommate Daniel picked up a bottle of the 10% more alcoholic SoCo. Lets just say that night didn’t end up so well…

But the issue of proof goes beyond the numbers and a few ruined nights. In fact, it’s actually quite interesting. As we’ve talked about before, liquor is qualified by being distilled from a fermented beverage. Liquors can contain as low as 20% alcohol (40 proof) and can legally be sold as high as 95% alcohol (190 proof). But seeing that nothing good can come from a bottle of everclear, most liquors worth mention fall somewhere between 35% and 50% alcohol. So who cares?

For true liquor lovers, the range has nothing to do with how buzzed you can get, and everything to do with complexity and smoothness. Because of the volatile nature of alcohol, the more alcoholic a liquor is, the more likely it will have “bite” during consumption. That is, unless that “bite” is smoothed out by proper handling. As simple as it is made to seem, ethanol is not the only product of fermentation. Therefore, a smooth liquor requires exacting and effective distillation and in some cases, proper aging to ensure the balance is set correctly. Some of the best whiskeys for example are close to 100 proof but contain a negligible “bite” as compared to most 80 proof vodkas.

One more point of interest is the regularity of the 80 proof liquor. I attempted to do some quick research on where that number came from but without much luck. It feels as though as distillation became a true commercial venture, 80 proof became the unspoken standard (at least for most clear liquors). Now as whisky and small batch distillation are once again becoming true American passions, the game is a bit more wide open. I guess you could say the proof is in the liquor…


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