High proof liquors exist for both daring temperaments and refined palettes. Proof, based on alcohol by volume or ABV, gauges the amount of ethanol in distilled spirits. Proof is actually the ABV percentage doubled -- so a liquor with 45 percent ABV is 90 proof. Most liquors have moderate to moderately high proofs, usually topping out at around 120 proof. Some types of liquors, which are alcoholic beverages distilled from sources like grains and vegetables with little to no sugar added to them, come in amazingly high proofs.
The Usual Suspects
Many bars, both home and professional, carry such familiar spirits as vodka, whiskey, scotch and gin, which are often blended into cocktails or served neat or on the rocks. Vodkas are usually about 80 to 100 proof, but one vodka, Spirytus vodka from Poland, has a record high proof of 192. Whiskeys also normally top out at about 100 proof, but one whiskey, Bruichladdich X4 Quadrupled Whiskey, exceeds that range with a high of 184 proof. Scotches are divided into two camps, blended and single malt, with both having the highest possible proofs of 190, as defined by the Scotch Whisky Regulations of 2009. Of the different types of gins, including distilled and London, Navy strength gins, based on a combustible level of alcohol, have the highest proof of 114.
South of the Border
Liquors, like tequila and rum, also top out at staggeringly high proofs. Tequila, the best known Latin American spirit, normally has proofs around 80, though one tequila, Sierra Silver tequila, has an overwhelmingly high proof of 150. Mezcal or mescal, which like tequila comes from the agave plant, has a high proof limit of 110. Rum generally has a proof up to about 100, though the highest proof rum is 180. Cachaca, a Brazilian sugar cane-based liquor similar to rum, can't exceed a proof of 96 by Brazilian law. Pisco, a Peruvian and Chilean grape brandy, has a proof range of 76 to 96.
Liquors from Europe and its neighboring regions have a reputation for being high proof. One of the most widely known is absinthe, a Swiss-French, flavored, herbal liquor known for its wormwood content; the strongest absinthe is a Czech distilled spirit with a proof of 179. Borovicka, a Slovakian liquor similar to gin, has a proof range of 75 to 80 but can go as high as 90 proof. Horilka, which comes from Ukraine and is similar to whiskey except that it's distilled from regional ingredients like sugar beets and honey, doesn't exceed 80 proof. Tuica, a plum-based distilled liquor from Romania, usually has a moderate proof of 90, but some brands go up to 120 proof.
Asian countries like China, Japan and Indonesia also have liquors with excessive proofs. Arrack, found across southern Asia and distilled with local flavors like coconut flowers and red rice, generally has a proof range of 66 to 100 proof, but some types, like the ones distilled in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, can reach up to 140 proof. One widely produced and imbibed Chinese spirit is baijiu, which has many variations and flavors; one type of baijiu with the highest proof is Fenjiu at 130 proof. Shochu, a spirit distilled from rice, comes from Japan and tops out at about 50 proof. Soju, a Korean spirit distilled from rice and other grains, is similar to shochu but has almost double the amount of alcohol at 90 proof.
- China Daily: Chinese Alcohol, Chinese Spirits
- iCohol: Types of Alcohol
- The National Archives: The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009
- The Washington Post: Navy-Strength Gins Are Perfect for Cocktails
- Rosebud Magazine: Liquor Is Quicker: The World's Most Potent Alcoholic Drinks
- Department of the Treasury: TTB Amends the Distilled Spirits Identity Regulations to Recognize “Cachaca” as a Type of Rum and Distinctive Product of Brazil
- Pisco 100: History of Pisco
- The Washington Post: Becoming Fluent in Shochu, Japan's Answer to Vodka
- Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images