Blog: Chris Brook-CarterWe Have Proof

Chris Brook-Carter | 1 July 2010

A typo in one of our news stories this morning - "94% abv? You'd die!" - got us querying what the term 'proof' actually means, and why this is used in place of abv (alcohol by volume). So that you don't have to, we looked it up:

In the 18th century and until 1 January 1980, Britain defined alcohol content in terms of “proof spirit”, which was defined as the most dilute spirit that would sustain combustion of gunpowder.

The term originated in the 18th century, when payments to British sailors included rations of rum. To ensure that the rum had not been watered down, it was 'proofed' by dousing gunpowder in it, then tested to see if the gunpowder would ignite. If it did not, then the rum contained too much water and was considered to be “under proof”.

It was found that gunpowder would not burn in rum that contained less than 57.15% abv. Therefore, rum that contained this percentage of alcohol was defined to have "100 degrees proof."


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