Does anyone here know anything about the origin of the American proof system, ie ABVx2? I can find a lot of info about the English system and its origin in the navy, but the US system eludes me. Any help here?
I think this sums up the internets knowledge of the subject quite nicely, answer by askville user Snow_leopard:
"In the definition current in the United States of America, the proof number is twice the percentage of the alcohol content measured by volume at a temperature of 60 °F (15.5 °C). Therefore "80 proof" is 40% alcohol by volume (most of the other 60% is water),
and pure alcohol would be "200 proof". If a 150-proof beverage is mixed
half-and-half (by volume) with water, the product is close to 75 proof
(not exactly because of a small volume change when alcohol is mixed with
water). US proof numbers are properly cited as, for instance, "86
proof," not "86 degrees proof." The use of the word "degrees" in this
context is incorrect.
US Federal regulation (CFR 27 5.37 Alcohol Content) requires that
liquor labels state the percentage alcohol by volume (sometimes
abbreviated ABV). The regulations permit (but do not require) a
statement of the proof as long as it is right next to the percentage
alcohol by volume.
The why is shrouded in the mists of the past."
Sune Urth:...but why did the crazy Americans decide to use a different system, and what is the actual point of writing a higher proof on the bottle, it must result in higher tax.
What I was trying to say is that, from what I've read earlier and now more recently, the American system is the original British system. Originally, if gunpowder still ignited when doused with liquor, that liquor was "proved," but anecdotal knowledge and the crude experimentation at the time led them to believe that proved spirits which they then called 100 proof were actually 50% ABV. It didn't really matter to them at the time what the actual percentage was as long as it wasn't too low, or under proof.
After the system was in use for a while, it was discovered that the thinking about proved spirits being 50% ethanol was wrong and that it was actually 57.15%. This knowledge changed how actual ethanol content was converted to a proof number in the early 1800s, but largely only in the UK. The French, who originally discovered this, had switched to a system called "degrees Gay-Lussac" which was actually just the ABV number with a ° symbol. The UK just adopted the degree symbol to signify that it had pegged 100 proof to the higher ABV but still labelled all spirits in "proof" until 1980.
Americans never bothered to adopt the new UK standard (100 proof = 57.15% ABV). In a lot of old US tax law they create a distinction between proven
and under proof spirits, but didn't really bother to use it much as an accurate
measurement of alcohol content. 40% ABV (80 US proof) spirits didn't start to become the standard until the mid-1900s, so the actual description of something as a specific proof other
than 100 was pretty irrelevant in the US. And by that time, we required listing ABV on labels.
When you think about it, the European system is more accurate in relation to gunpowder ignition, but it is kind of silly. If anything, the old system is much easier and accurate description of alcohol content because it's was just ABVx2. Technically, a 100 US proof spirit might not allow gunpowder to light, but how many people are really concerned about that any more. The updated UK system was just a measurement scale fixed to an arbitrary zero point.
I think several different things are being confused here.
Originally, perhaps, "proof" was an arbitrary figure indicating flammability, but by the late eighteenth century in England it had been redefined to indicate percentage of alcohol by weight (as Wayne ably explained), with 50% being the arbitrarily-chosen "proof" figure (i.e., a reasonable percentage of alcohol for all commercial purposes). Thus a spirit that was measured at 50% alcohol by weight was labeled 100% of proof; spirits at other strengths were labeled according to their percentage of that proof figure. Thus a spirit that clocked in at 58% abw would be 8 degrees over proof, and one at 38% abw would be 12 degrees under proof. The British used this system, as has been correctly pointed out, until 1980.
Meanwhile, the United States switched early on from the British Sykes system to the French Gay-Lussac system of measuring alcoholic content, which was indeed based on volume, not weight (and was I believe more resistant to fluctuations in temperature). The US retained the arbitrary standard of 50% being "proof", but now it was alcohol by volume, which as Wayne pointed out weighs less than water and hence a 50-50 mix will have more of the latter and less of the former than if it was being measured by weight. Spirits were still labeled according to the percentage of proof (not of alcohol), in the British fashion, so that a spirit that was 40% alcohol would be labeled, logically, as "80 proof," with the % sign implied. Other countries also adopted the Gay-Lussac system, but merely labeled their spirits with the G-L figure, not bothering with the idea of proof. Everyone on earth is now moving towards that most logical system.
Oh the Bartender is just like a mother to me / And I am his favorite child. --Slim Gaillard
I read about this in an old book a while ago. If I remember correctly, the US proof system is the original one (which was actually more for tax than military purposes). The current UK system wasn't invented until the early 1800s when new equipment and laboratory practices were developed and scientists discovered that what was thought of as a proofed spirit was actually 57.15% ABV and not 50%. That's why in Europe there's a degree mark after the number. They still use the word "proof" but It was a newer and different measuring system.
Proof is still used in the US informally, but all alcohol is required to be labelled with the ABV. You can still use proof, but it must be near the ABV on the label.
Edit: Hmm... looking into it again, seems the history is a bit more convoluted than I was recalling. At least the online version of it is. If I can recall the name of that old chemistry history book, I'll post it.
It doesn't answer the question, but here is a video of Wayne Curtis showing proof/gunpowder testing at last years "Tales of the Cocktail"...
And another one, this time Wayne is apparently in an "undisclosed location" out in the woods somewhere.
It's a long, complicated and technical subject, but the basic explanation for the difference between the British and American proof is the difference between alcohol by weight and alcohol by volume. The British used the former (until 1980 as I recall), where the Americans (and much of the rest of the world) used the latter.
Alcohol weighs less than water, so mind the gap. Basically, 13 pints of alcohol weighs the same as 12 pints of water. So if you mix a 50/50 combo by weight (a pound of each), what results is actually 57% alcohol by volume. Which is why British naval strength rum (like Smith and Cross) is bottled at 57%.
Maybe that helps a little?
Everything helps. But we still need to find some origin of the American proof system. we are all quite clear on the technicalities of the British, but why did the crazy Americans decide to use a different system, and what is the actual point of writing a higher proof on the bottle, it must result in higher tax.
Though it is a bit confusing but still I gained good knowledge about the origin of American proof system..
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The confusement is lifting, and I feel inspired and enlightened. I think we between us have covered the subject. I for one feel confident talking to guests about this now. Thank you all.
It's not just but we also learn a lot from this post. Thanks all for sharing your knowledge.
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Ah, of course! ABW vs. ABV. I knew I'd forgotten something.
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Funny... I almost thought somebody had hacked your account, until I noticed the URL you were linking to :->
For those of you a little late to this thread, Dan was replying to the previous (now deleted) post from somebody commenting on how informative this message thread was, then inserting a link to a totally unrelated site... why they think that this helps them in any way is beyond me, any reasonable site is just going to delete the message.
Sorry, Robert, I know I should have written you, but I couldn't deny myself the pleasure of a little fun.