If you're used to beer or wine labels that state the drink's alcohol content as a percent, you may be confused when you need to select a bottle of vodka. Vodka and other spirits have their alcohol contents stated as a proof number. Even if your math skills aren't up to par, determining the strength of a bottle of 120 proof vodka isn't a challenge.
Alcohol Proof Versus Percentage
Alcohol content is typically measured as alcohol by volume or ABV. To calculate what percent of a certain volume of a spirit is alcohol, simply take the proof number and divide it by half. For example, a glass of 120 proof vodka would contain 60 percent alcohol (120 / 2 = 60). In some states and on some low-alcohol beers, alcohol volume by weight is used instead of ABV.
Proof was an old British term that first came about in the 18th century. Sailors were paid with liquor. Since they didn't take lightly to being shorted their wages, they wanted proof the booze they were being offered wasn't watered down. A small portion of the spirits would be poured onto gunpowder and then the gunpowder was lit. If the gun powder wouldn't catch fire, the liquor had been watered down. Alcohol-soaked gunpowder that would light proved the liquor was pure and considered 100 degrees proof.
Vodka Alcohol Content
Most vodkas sold in the U.S. have a proof of 80, meaning they are 40% alcohol. To obtain this alcohol content, the vodka must be distilled at least once more past the first distillation, a process referred to as rectifying the vodka. Achieving 120 proof vodka requires additional rectifying using efficient distillation equipment. Vodka over 80 proof is considered overproof and is uncommon. In Russia, this type of vodka is called krepkaya, which translates to strong.
Due to the high alcohol content, a straight shot of 120 proof vodka would leave a dry, harsh taste in your mouth. To make the vodka more palatable, it is best to drink it with a sweet mixer such as fruit juice. The screwdriver is a classic vodka drink using orange juice. Fill an 8- to 12-ounce glass with ice, add one and a half shots of vodka, then fill the rest of the glass with orange juice. For variation, you can combine orange and another fruit juice such as pineapple, cranberry or mango.
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