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What Does “Proof” Mean?

Dayton DUI Attorney Charles Rowland > Uncategorized  > What Does “Proof” Mean?

What Does “Proof” Mean?

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Modern breweries and distilleries are bustling with science.  They employ teams of in-house scientists who are employed in areas such as quality assurance, new product development and process development.  Several institutions offer brewing qualifications. The Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD) in London offers a diploma in brewing and a master brewing course. Some companies, such as Coors, pay for their staff to do these courses, which can be spread out over a number of years. Alternatively, the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, offers both honours and masters degrees in brewing and distilling. Two of the well-known brewing schools are in Germany: the Weihenstephan science centre at the Technical University of Munich, and the Research and Teaching Institute for Brewing (VLB) in Berlin.  According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “[s]cience is crucial to the distiller’s art. One has to know how to measure the “physical parameters” of the whisky—hydrometers to determine the percentage of alcohol, pH meters to test acidity. And then there are the more elaborate modern technologies of analytical chemistry, such as “gas chromatography” and “high-performance liquid chromatography,” which can map the chemical makeup of malts thoroughly enough “to provide a ‘fingerprint’ of our whiskies for quality and authenticity purposes.”

But before the modern techniques, we still had a desire to know how strong our alcohol was. Whiskey took off when farmers realized they could make ten times the money on their corn if they distilled it. As the market soared so did watering down the booze for even more money.  Suspicious 18th century buyers came up with a “gunpowder proofing,” testing method.  They would take equal amounts whiskey and gunpowder, mix and set it on fire.  When ignited, if the mixture did not burn it was too weak.  If it burned to rapidly, it was too strong.  If the mixture burned with an even blue flame, it was “proved” to be perfect for consumption.  The term stuck.  We still describe the strength of an alcoholic beverage by its “proof.”  According to Medical-legal aspects of alcohol / edited by James C. Garriott: contributing authors, William H. Anderson… [et al.] — 4th ed., page 9, “Proof is just about twice the percentage of the alcohol concentration of a beverage. For example, 50 percent alcohol by volume equals approximately 100 proof. (Since alcohol causes water to contract, fifty parts alcohol + 53.73 parts H2O gives not 103.73 but 100.  Proof is slightly more than double).

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Charles Rowland


Charles M. Rowland II has been representing the accused drunk driver for over 20 years. Contact him at (937) 318-1384 if you find yourself facing a DUI (now called OVI) charge.

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