How to calculate percentage of alcohol content in cocktails?

Ever wonder how strong is your Daiquiri, Margarita or Mojito? Here you will explore a simple way how you can calculate the percentage of alcohol in your cocktails by yourself. But before we get into that there are a few things that you should know.

What does it mean ABV and Alcohol Proof on the label of your spirit?

alcohol by volume and alcohol proof difference

If you’ve ever examined the bottle of spirit you might have noticed one or in some cases two terms, such as 40% ABV and 80-Proof (optional).

ABV is the measure of alcohol content in a wine, beer or spirit can be expressed as a percentage of the whole drink followed by the abbreviation ‘ABV’ (alcohol by volume) or ‘alc/vol’.

Alcohol Proof is a measure of alcohol content in a spirit and in the United States is defined as twice the percentage of ABV while in the United Kingdom it is 1.75 times the number, for example, 40% ABV is an 80-proof spirit in the US and 70-proof in the UK.

Why do we need two terms anyway?

Historically the term proof was used firstly by British Navy to test the alcoholic content of the spirits that people were making and selling. The test involved gunpowder and fire to ensure or ‘to proof’ that rum wasn’t diluted with water.

How strong is wine, beer or spirit?

Below are some common types of beverages with typical ranges of alcohol percentages by volume (ABV).

BEERS (3 – 10%) Pilsner 3–6% Lager 4-5% IPA (India Pale Ale) 6-7%
WINES (8 – 14%) Sparkling Wine 8–12% Dry White 10-12% Cabernet 11-14%
FORTIFIED WINES (16- 22%) Sherry 17–22% Vermouth 15-18% Port Wine 16-20%
SPIRITS (20 – 70%) Light Liqueurs 15-25% Standard Spirits 40% Absinthe 55–90%

Unit of alcohol and standard drink

A unit is another commonly used measure(in the UK) to quantify the actual alcohol content in the alcoholic beverages or in other countries referred to as a Standard drink where the definition differs from country to country.

Why do we need another measure of alcohol content?

Because alcoholic drinks beer, wine or spirits are served in different strength and sizes, therefore, varies in concentration so units are here to figure out how strong your drink is. 

how much alcohol is unit or standard drink

One unit is 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol(UK) and in the United States, a standard drink contains about 17.7ml or 14 g of alcohol.

For example, the amount of alcohol in 500ml of beer of 5% ABV (a typical large drink of beer) is 1.4 standard drinks in the US and 2.5 units in the UK.

Calculating alcohol units(UK)

(Strength %ABV*Volume ml)/1000= No. of Units

(5%*500ml)/1000= 2.5 units

Take a look at myVMC online calculator that will convert your drinks into Standard Serving Sizes for various countries including US, Australia, NZ, UK or Japan.

Calculating percentages of cocktail alcohol content

No matter how people think about alcohol that more is always better, for the well-balanced cocktail is important to get the right proportions. Not too strong to be wasted but not too weak to get a sense of flavour and important base for your drink.

Here I’ll show you how you can easily figure out the percentage of alcohol content in your homemade cocktails.

Firstly, you will need to find out the total volume of your drink, including dilution from ice and percentage of alcohol (ABV) of each ingredient.

For example, let’s take a famous Cosmopolitan with the following recipe:

50ml/ 1.5 oz. Vodka 40% ABV
15ml/0.5 oz. Cointreau 40% ABV
8ml/0.25 oz. Lime Juice
15ml/0.5 oz. Cranberry Juice
22ml/0.7 oz. Water(Dilution)

Assuming that we will be shaking vigorously cocktail with ice, the dilution will be adding about 25% of the total volume, in this case, 22ml/0.7 oz. 

To get a percentage of alcohol content, you can firstly calculate the volume of each alcoholic ingredient(volume ml * %ABV), add those up, and divide by the total volume of all ingredients.

how to calculate percentage of alcohol in cocktails

(50ml*40%+15ml*40%)/(50ml+15ml+8ml+15ml+22ml)=23.64%ABV


But this is still an estimate since the amount of water added by ice can vary widely.

If you measure the total volume of the drink after it’s been shaken with ice then you can insert it into the quotation above and get very close to the actual number(percentage of cocktail alcohol content).

If you don’t want to count everything yourself then you can find useful tool The National Institutes of Health online alcohol calculator to see how much alcohol you’re really drinking in your cocktails.

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