What Proof is Vodka?

What Proof is Vodka?


Vodka is one of the most popular spirits in the world because it’s easily made, inexpensive, and has a neutral character. The traditional spirit lacks any distinct aroma (smell), color, or taste. So it’s ideal for combining with many different flavors and ingredients.

Simply put, vodka doesn’t try to steal the show or add a vibe of its own…unlike gin. As a result, the spirit’s a mainstay in many popular cocktails like the Moscow Mule, Cosmopolitan, Black Russian, Bloody Mary, and Espresso Martini. The raw ingredients in these drinks are what’s meant to shine, not the vodka.

Vodka’s popularity is driven by the fact that it simply gets the job done. When I say “gets the job done” I mean the spirit’s versatility ensures it can always keep the party going. Vodka is stronger than beer and wine, but most importantly it can be mixed with almost anything.

It’s really all you need laying around the house (in terms of liquor), at least for most; just mix it in with whatever juice is begging for attention and you’re good to go!

What Proof is Vodka?

If you’re wondering what vodka’s proof is, I’m sure you’ll find the overly common answer: 80 proof. Although that’s somewhat correct, it’s not entirely true. Yes, a vast majority of vodka in the U.S. is 80 proof aka 40% ABV.

In fact, U.S. regulations require vodka to be at least 80 proof. However, the spirit can be 100 proof, 120 proof, or more.

What is Alcohol Proof?

Alcohol proof is a unit of measure used to quantify the amount of alcohol in alcoholic beverages. It’s a different unit of measure than Alcohol by Volume (ABV) which measures alcohol content as an overall percentage (%). In the U.S. alcohol proof is defined as twice the amount of the ABV.

So if a spirit has an ABV of 50%, it’s considered 100 proof. However, many other countries measure alcohol content differently. For example, the U.K. and the European Union follow the recommendations of the  International Organization of Legal Metrology (OIML).

The scale developed by OIML is known as the ABV standard. The ABV standard doesn’t require conversion to alcohol proof, like in the U.S. That means liquor containing 50% alcohol using the ABV standard would simply be labeled as 50% ABV.

what proof is vodka
Vodka Brands (From Left to Right): Stumbras, Finlandia, Smirnoff, Absolut, Żubrówka

Why is Vodka Measured in Proof?

The term “proof” comes from 16th century England when liquor was taxed at different rates depending on its alcohol content. So testing was developed to determine the alcohol content of a specific liquor, to offer proof that the correct taxation rate was being applied. The King wants his money! However, early methods used to determine alcohol content weren’t very reliable. There were several ways this was done.

Burn or No Burn

The first method was called the “burn or no burn test,” where the liquor was graded based on flammability after being exposed to an ignition source. If the alcohol ignited it would be considered “above proof.” On the other hand, if it didn’t, it would be considered “under proof.”

This method is somewhat irreproducible because alcohol’s flammability is highly dependent on temperature. So depending on the ambient temperature when and where the test was being performed the “proof” of the alcohol varied quite a bit. They certainly didn’t have climate control back in the day.

Gunpowder Method

Another method was known as the “gunpowder method.” Testing involved soaking a pellet of gunpowder in the alcohol, then attempting to ignite the pellet. If the gunpowder burned, the alcohol would be considered “above proof.” Likewise, if it didn’t, it was “under proof.”

Many factors including the size of the pellet and the amount of time it soaked in the alcohol affected the accuracy of the test. However, it was still an improvement over the “burn or no burn test.” Even the name sounds better.

Eventually, alcohol content became measured by specific gravity, which is far more accurate. Nevertheless, today the proof system is an old school way of measuring alcohol content and has been largely replaced by the ABV system.

Even in the U.S. where the proof system is very much alive and well, nearly every distillery sells their vodka with an ABV grade in addition to the bottle’s proof.

The ABV/Proof of Popular Vodka Brands

Grey Goose ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
Belvedere ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
Ciroc ABV: ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
Stolichnaya (Stoli) ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
Absolut ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
Skyy ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
Svedka ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
Smirnoff ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
Pinnacle ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
Burnetts ABV: 40%, 80 Proof


Check out our amazing vodka cocktail recipes!

Moscow Mule Recipe
The Moscow Mule


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