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Alcohol Percentages of Cocktails

by on February 2011

When creating a new cocktail, balance is always important. A common rookie mistake is to make a cocktail that has the alcohol content way out of proportion. You know, the one that should actually have the flammable symbol on the side of the glass. Five ounces of Everclear (95% ABV), one ounce orange juice! The idea being that; it may not taste good but it will get you “wasted”. Well, we’ve all done that and realized that there are better ways to enjoy the benefits of alcohol. The best way is in a well balanced cocktail.

The best example of a balanced drink is wine. It has a moderate alcohol content and the sweet and sour balance each other out nicely. The alcohol content of a standard glass of wine is around 12% with some wines approaching 14%. Some ports and sherry have alcohol content in the 17% to 20% range, and still taste very good, usually because the sugar content is higher. Again, it’s all about balance in drinks.

Back in the golden age of cocktails, mixologists thought about how they created their cocktails, including the alcohol content of the finished drink. There ended up being a proportions formula for drinks that looked like this:

1 part sour, 2 parts sweet, 3 parts strong and 4 parts weak

If we create a hypothetical cocktail based on these proportions it would like this:

45 ml (3 Parts) Rum (40% ABV)
30 ml (2 Parts) Pineapple Juice
15 ml (1 Part ) Lime Juice
60 ml (4 Parts) Ice / Water

Sum = 150 ml

The total volume of this drink is 150 ml (5 oz) and the alcohol percentage is 12%. It seems that 12% seems to be the right amount of alcohol for a cocktail and those old timers knew it. So how do you calculate the alcohol percentage of a cocktail?

Calculating Cocktail Alcohol Content

(Volume of “Strong” x ABV % / Sum of Ingredients) x 100

It’s pretty simple to do this calculation, but here are a couple of notes. To get the alcohol percentage just multiply the volume of the alcohol, 45 ml in this case, by the alcohol content (ABV) as a percentage i.e. 40% you multiply by 0.4 and 35% by 0.35 and 20% by 0.2, etc. Then divide this number by the total volume of the drink. Then multiply the number by 100 to get a value as a percent of the drink.

((45 x 0.4) / 150ml) x 100 = 12%

Basically, it works out that a cocktail should have the same volume and alcohol content as a glass of wine. Now, that’s not going to work for every drink and some drinks may have more alcohol, but that could be balanced out with more sweetness. But, it does give you a guideline as to where you should aim when creating a new cocktail.

Here are some other cocktail alcohol percentages:

Mai Tai

2 oz Rum (40% ABV)
½ oz Cointreau (35% ABV))
½ oz Orgeat Syrup
½ oz Lime Juice
2 oz Ice / Water

 The Mai Tai has approximately 17.7% Alcohol

Rum & Coke

1½ oz Rum
3 oz Coke

 A Rum & Coke has approximately 13.3 % Alcohol

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