Thursday, December 8, 2011

Be Careful With High Proof Whiskey.

At this time of year, when people like to treat themselves and their friends, it's common to buy whiskeys you normally don't, probably because they're too damn expensive.

Many people are enamored of barrel proof or cask strength whiskey, whether it's Booker's Bourbon at 63% ABV (alcohol by volume), McCallan Single Malt at 58% ABV, or the 2007 George T. Stagg Bourbon at 72.4% ABV. If you give or receive any of these this holiday season, or anything else above about 55% ABV, be careful.

Of course, you always need to be careful with straight spirits. Most whiskey is sold at 40% ABV, which is about four times as much alcohol per ounce as wine and more than eight times as much as most beers.

The most important part of self-control in an alcohol consumption context is being aware of exactly how much alcohol is going into your body; not the volume of liquid, the volume of alcohol.

With very high proof beverages there are additional risks.

Gentle sipping of small quantities of very high proof spirits probably won’t hurt you. It depends on your personal sensitivity. Drinking—as opposed to sipping—alcohol at very high concentrations risks damage to any and all of the tissue it encounters along the way: mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach.

A pour of straight Stagg, for example, contains 75 percent more alcohol than Jack Daniel’s. If you’re not paying careful attention to how much you consume, you risk alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal. Those are the primary risks, tissue damage and alcohol poisoning.

On the other side of the risk there is no reward. High proof alcohol tends to deaden or anesthetize the sense receptors, reducing your ability to taste or smell the whiskey. No fun in that.

Whiskeys aren’t bottled at high proof so you can drink them that way. They’re usually expensive and are bottled that way so you pay for whiskey, not added water, and can prepare it for drinking as you see fit. I recommend reducing the proof with room temperature water to about 50% ABV.

I hope this isn't a downer. Have a great holiday, including your favorite adult beverages. Just be adult about it.

5 comments:

T Comp said...

Sound advice Chuck which from personal experience too often gets purposefully ignored by novice high proof drinkers who in macho man style assure me "I can handle it" and then start slurring and swaying a short time later. Respecting high proof or any proof whiskey is crucial to being enthusiastic about it. For those who like to be precise about proof levels, like me, the whiskey dilution calculator under the tasting tab at the Straight Bourbon forum (I believe it is accessible by non-members) is a great tool. Most drug stores have some sort of tube or dropper that measures out in milliliters with 30 milliliters equal to one ounce. I bring my barrel strengths to 100 proof and enjoy them best there.

Chuck Cowdery said...

The formula is Wi * ((bP/dP)-1) = Wa

Wi = amount of whiskey
bP = bottle proof
dP = desired proof
Wa = amount of water to add to achieve desired proof

BMc said...

Are there any whiskeys that you prefer at bottle proof, or close to it? I think some, like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection William Larue Weller, lose their flavor when diluted to 100 proof, while others seem to hold up better. I had one of those Willett bottlings (wherever it came from) yesterday that became a fantastic whiskey when I diluted it from 124 proof to about 104.

I wonder whether some are released at higher proof because they don't taste so great at a lower one. I haven't tried it myself, but I heard that the Stagg and Handy don't do so well with water, either.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Obviously, anything below 55% ABV I enjoy at bottle strength. Above that, not really. Even Old Grand-Dad 114, at just 57%, gets a little water in my house. The 55% ceiling is arbitrary, but holds up well.

Producers offer some products at high proof because they sell, but I know of none that the producer feels drink better at that proof. Most will give you the same advice I did.

jpact said...

As I sip one of my last few ounces on non-blend Ten High, this post resonates for me. My cellar has more than a few barrel proof whiskies and I tend to shy away from them because the fascination with a "from the barrel" experience doesn't mesh well with just having a simple after-work drink. I need to run out to Walgreen's tomorrow and get one of T Comp's ml droppers and get over this psychological hurdle. Such a stupid thing to have to be told, but thanks for the reminder.