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Drinking Habits

Alcohol Percentage Content in Drinks

Published:
June 14, 2024
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20 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 14, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 14, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
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20 min read

How Much Alcohol Is in Your Glass?

  • ABV refers to the amount of alcohol present in a particular drink. It’s given as a percentage, which generally ranges from about 5% for beer or cider to 40% or more for distilled liquors.
  • You can stay safe by knowing the alcohol content of your drink to avoid becoming intoxicated and risking alcohol poisoning and other problems.
  • Reframe can provide you with accurate information about alcohol content while giving you science-backed tips about the health benefits of drinking less. Get started on your journey today!

How many drinks do you consume on a typical weekend? “Just a glass of wine with dinner,” you might say. But is that glass really one drink? And what happens if instead of your usual glass of white you have a Sherry or a Madeira? You might be surprised at the difference.

It’s important to be aware of the alcohol percentage content of our drinks, especially when we’re trying to be more mindful about our intake or are on a journey to cut back. With jumbo glasses and “free” refills clouding the picture, those drinks can add up more quickly than we realize. Plus, some are less “innocent” than they might seem. Let’s dig deeper!

Why Alcohol Percentage Matters

Two people making a toast with their glasses of whiskey

As we know, all alcohol is not created equal. The amount of ethanol in different drinks is measured as “alcohol by volume,” or ABV. It’s listed as a percentage on the container (sometimes you have to look closely, but it’s there!). The ABV, meaning the amount of booze inside, determines how strong a particular drink is. The higher the ABV, the more potent the alcohol.

Both high and low ABVs spell trouble. The more potent drinks will get us intoxicated faster, potentially leading to alcohol poisoning. However, ones with a lower ABV percentage can launch a sneak attack: we might be lulled into thinking we’re sober until it hits us all at once. Talk about a trainwreck!

How much is too much? Here’s where the concept of “alcohol units” and “standard drinks” comes into play.

What Is a “Standard Drink”?

According to NIAAA, one "standard" drink (or unit) has around 14 grams of pure alcohol. What does this look like in real life?

  • 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5% alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12% alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40% alcohol

Want to take a deep dive? Check out “Alcohol Units.”

Alcohol Percentage

Alcohol Percentage Content Countdown

1.  Beer: Buyer Beware

As a planet, we drink a lot of beer. In 2021 alone, we collectively chugged around 185.60 million kiloliters — enough to fill the Tokyo Dome around 150 times. (Yikes!) China has been the uncontested top consumer for the last 19 years, but the U.S. isn’t too far behind in second place. The numbers shot up after the COVID-19 pandemic, with an increase of about 7.13 million kl compared to the previous year.  That’s quite a few extra “bottles of beer on the wall” (11.3 billion, to be exact). 

That said, interest in beer is declining these days! Partially fueled by the rising prices of craft beer and partially by the sober-curious movement that’s driving folks away from booze altogether, sales in beer have dropped in recent years. In fact, in 2023 shipments of beer were at their lowest in 25 years!

How much alcohol is in beer? Typically, beer has an alcohol content of about 4% to 6%. However, the numbers vary, ranging from 0.5% for low-alcohol versions to over 12% for stronger craft brews.

Why the difference? It comes down to the brewing process, when yeast gobbles up fermentable sugars, creating alcohol as a byproduct. The strain of yeast that’s used accounts for the difference: some have a higher output than others. (If you’re wondering just how high those numbers can go, it’s probably higher than you think — a whopping 57.8%!)

Note of caution: While beer generally has a lower alcohol content, consuming large quantities can lead to alcohol poisoning and contribute to long-term issues like liver disease and alcohol dependency. (For a closer look, check out “What Happens If You Drink 6 Beers a Day?”)

2. Cider: When Apples Let Loose

Hard cider is similar to beer when it comes to alcohol content and production process. It’s fermented from sugary fruits (usually apples). The type of apples that are used and the length of the fermentation process can create a range of ABV values, but they usually fall within the 4% to 8% range.

Note of caution: Cider has a sweet flavor and often comes in those bright green bottles featuring an orchard or bright Granny Smith apples on the label. But beware! This is no health drink. It’s easy to drink too much because the sugars mask the flavor of alcohol, and overconsumption can easily lead to intoxication and a host of long-term health issues if it becomes a habit. Short-term effects include dizziness and severe hangovers.

3. Seltzer: Sneaky Sips

A relative newcomer on the scene, hard seltzers have skyrocketed in popularity, mostly thanks to marketing that promotes them as “healthier” takes on the traditional beers and malt beverages. Made by fermenting sugar cane or mixing carbonated water, alcohol, and flavoring, they look and fizzle like, well, seltzer. In the last year alone, the market expanded from $12.45 billion to $14.65 billion, and it’s still on the rise.

As for the alcohol percentage, hard seltzer is similar to beer, falling in the 4% to 6% range.

Note of caution: Don’t be fooled by appearances — in spite of the marketing, hard seltzer is neither “light” nor “refreshing” when compared to non-alcoholic alternatives. It will still dehydrate you and leave an unpleasant reminder of itself the next morning, especially if you end up throwing back more cans (or bottles) than you planned to. 

4. Wine: Watch Your Glass

Wine can be one of the trickiest beverages to navigate when it comes to watching ABV content. The typical red and white varieties fall within the 12% to 15% range. 

The exact alcohol content generally depends on the amount of sugar in the grapes, with the stronger varieties reaching an ABV higher than 15%. However, some zinfandels climb up to 17% or higher. Moreover, some fortified wines — such as port or sherry — can reach up to 20%. 

Note of caution: Wine might seem “predictable” enough, as far as ABV is concerned. The problem? It’s super easy to lose track of how much we’re drinking. A “standard” drink is one 5 oz glass, with a typical bottle having about 5. In reality, though, many “wine glasses” hold much more than that, with restaurants often pouring double that amount as a “serving.” And with long-term excessive consumption, we’re looking at complications such as heart disease and alcohol dependence. (Want to learn more? Take a look at “What Happens If You Drink a Bottle of Wine a Day?”)

5. Brandy or Cognac: Behind the Glamour

With their characteristic dark caramel colors, brandy and cognac bottles have that “classy and sophisticated” look. The beverage inside looks a bit like wine, and in some ways it is. Both are produced by distilling wine — a process that jacks up the ABV to about 35-60%.

Note of caution: Brandy and cognac might be close relatives of wine, but they’re in a league of their own. With an alcohol percentage that inches up toward distilled spirits, it’s crucial to take it slow and opt out altogether if we find we’re likely to overdo it or are sensitive to drinks with a higher alcohol percentage. 

6. Tequila (and Gin): Take It Slow

We’re now in the land of distilled spirits, made through the process of fermentation and distillation. After grains, fruits, vegetables, or other sources of sugars go through fermentation, they are distilled through a process that concentrates the liquid to increase its alcohol content.

Tequila is made from the blue agave plant and can only be produced in certain parts of Mexico (unsurprisingly, around the city of Tequila). Tequila alcohol content is highly regulated and has to be at least 35% (though most varieties are around 40%).

Gin, made from juniper berries, is right on par with tequila as far as its ABV is concerned: while the minimum is 35%, most varieties hover around 40%.

Note of caution: Tequila is a strong drink, and the custom of taking multiple shots can quickly land us in dangerous waters. As a typical “party drink,” it also lends itself to some impulsive and possibly risky behaviors. (To dig deeper, check out “What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Tequila?”) 

Gin, on the other hand, poses a different danger. The juniper berries and medicinal smell give it the reputation of a “tonic” (and the tradition of adding tonic water to the mix only strengthens this belief). However, don’t be fooled — it’s a strong liquor and the manufacturing process wipes out the health benefits those juniper berries do, indeed, have in their raw form. (Want to learn more? Check out “Drinking Gin: What Are the Risks?”)

6. Rum: Rocky Road Ahead

Another high-proof spirit, rum is made from sugarcane byproducts, such as molasses, or directly from sugarcane juice. Similar to tequila, rum is produced through the process of fermentation and distillation. (Fun fact: it was used as a currency by the British army in the colonial period. It also has a long history with pirates, who would mix it with water to create a not-too-appetizing cocktail aptly referred to as “grog.”)

As for rum alcohol content, it typically hovers around 40% but can vary, especially with overproof rums reaching up to 75% ABV.

Note of caution: Overproof rum is particularly hazardous due to its extremely high alcohol content, and even moderate amounts can rapidly lead to alcohol poisoning. Long-term abuse can cause serious health issues, including brain damage and liver disease. (To learn more about the potential dangers of rum, check out “How Much Alcohol Is in Rum?”)

7. Whiskey

Whiskey, on the other hand, is distilled from a fermented grain mix that includes barley, corn, rye, and wheat. It spends a long time (sometimes as long as 70 years!) maturing in a cask before being bottled. As far as whiskey alcohol content is concerned, it generally lands in the 40% to 50% range.

Note of caution: Like other hard liquors, whiskey leads to quick intoxication if we’re not careful. Plus, its high levels of congeners can intensify hangover symptoms (especially headaches) in those who are sensitive. (To find out more about whiskey and the risks associated with it, take a look at “Is Whiskey Good for You? Side Effects To Be Aware Of.”)

8. Vodka

Finally, vodka is usually distilled from any starch- or sugar-rich plant matter. Most gets produced from grains, which range from sorghum to corn, rye, or wheat. However, potatoes and fruits are occasionally used as the base.

As for vodka alcohol percentage, it hovers around around 40%, but can go as high as 95%! (Yikes! That’s one strong shot, indeed.)

Note of caution: Vodka can be tricky — with its high potency, crystal-clear appearance, and general lack of flavor, it’s way too easy to overdo it. If we do, we’re risking rapid intoxication and the possibility of alcohol poisoning and organ damage. (For a deeper look, check out “What Are the Effects of Drinking Vodka Every Day?”)

Summing Up

All in all, alcohol content drinks can easily sneak up on us if we’re not careful. Let’s remember what’s in our glass and stay vigilant! Better yet, why not shake things up and try a mocktail for some fun new flavors (and no headache in the morning?) And remember, if you’re ready to change your relationship with booze for good, Reframe is here to help!

Summary FAQs

1. What is "alcohol by volume" (ABV) and why is it important?

ABV, or alcohol by volume, is a standard measure used worldwide to quantify the amount of alcohol (ethanol) contained in an alcoholic beverage. It is expressed as a percentage of the total volume. Understanding ABV is critical because it helps you gauge how strong a drink is, allowing for more informed decisions about alcohol consumption.

2. How much alcohol is in beer?

Typically, beer has an alcohol content ranging from about 4% to 6% ABV. However, this can vary widely depending on the type and brand. Some light beers have as little as 0.5% ABV, while stronger craft beers can go well over 12% ABV. The specific alcohol content can usually be found on the label of the beer bottle or can.

3. What constitutes a "standard drink"?

A standard drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. Typically, this corresponds to 12 ounces of regular beer (5% ABV), 5 ounces of wine (12% ABV), or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% ABV). Knowing what constitutes a standard drink can help individuals monitor and moderate their alcohol intake.

4. Why do different drinks have different ABV?

The ABV of alcoholic beverages varies depending on ingredients and the production process. For example, beers usually have a lower ABV compared to spirits due to the type of fermentation process used. Stronger craft brews and distilled spirits have higher ABVs because they undergo processes that concentrate the alcohol content.

5. What are the risks of consuming high-ABV drinks?

High-ABV drinks, such as spirits or fortified wines, can lead to rapid intoxication and increase the risk of acute consequences like alcohol poisoning and chronic health issues such as liver disease and alcohol dependence if consumed in large quantities.

6. How can I track my alcohol consumption?

Keeping track of the number of standard drinks consumed rather than just the number of drinking containers can provide a more accurate measure of alcohol intake. Paying attention to serving sizes and ABV will help you understand how much alcohol you are actually consuming.

Be Mindful About What’s in Your Glass With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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