Alcoholic beverages are made by fermenting different types of grains, fruits, and vegetables. This process creates ethanol, an ingestible type of alcohol.
Some alcohols go through an additional process called distilling that removes the water and increases the alcohol content.
Each liquor is created through a unique process, and each process manipulates the flavor profile and the alcoholic content of the beverage.
Alcohol by volume (ABV) refers to the number of millimeters (mL) of pure ethanol in every 100 mL or 3.4 ounces (oz) of fluid (fl). Base liquors are distilled and have a higher ABV than undistilled drinks.
The proof of any liquor can be found by doubling the percentage of the ABV.
Many of the ABV and calorie ranges below are based on data from Drinkaware, an independent charity that aims to reduce alcohol-related harm.
Liquor is usually divided into six main categories: gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila, rum, and brandy. These spirits can be enjoyed as a stand-alone beverage or used as a base in a mixed drink or cocktail.
Vodka is popular in cocktails due to its near-flavorless profile. Made with potato, rye, or wheat, the ABV can range from 40–90% per shot.
Whiskey is made from fermented and distilled grain, usually from rye, corn, barley, or wheat. One shot of whiskey typically has 40-50% ABV and contains about 105 calories.
Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, which is indigenous to Mexico. A shot of tequila typically has 40–55% ABV and contains about 97 calories.
Rum became popular in the 18th century as travelers explored coastal shores. It’s typically made with sugarcane molasses or sugarcane juice.
Most rums have around 40% ABV and contain about 97 calories.
Brandy is essentially distilled wine. Apple and plum are popular flavors, but brandy can be made from any fruit.
A shot of brandy has 35–60% ABV and contains about 97 calories.
Some spirits are created and manufactured in East Asia using a different process.
Sake is a popular Japanese alcohol made from fermented rice and contains around 13–17% alcohol.
There are five types of sake:
One shot of sake has about 59 calories.
Shōchū is also from Japan and is made from sweet potato, rice, and barley. Shōchū is typically 20–35% alcohol. There are two types: otsuri and korui.
One shot of shōchū has about 39 calories.
Soju is a Korean spirit similar to vodka and is usually around 20% alcohol. It’s made from rice or sweet potato. One shot of soju has about 60 calories.
A shot of absinthe, for example, is 45–74% alcohol and contains about 153 calories.
Other popular liqueurs include:
- Amaretto (21-28% ABV)
- Schnapps (15–20% ABV)
- Triple sec (20–40% ABV)
- Curaçao (15–40% ABV)
The alcohol content of unfortified wine is usually lower than that of liquors, typically ranging between 12–15%. Fortified wines have 16–24% ABV.
One serving of wine is 174 mL or 5 fl oz.
Red wine is made by crushing dark-colored grapes and allowing them to ferment. The skins are left on the grape to help influence the deep color and taste of the wine.
Popular red wines include cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and pinot noir.
One serving of red wine has around 125 calories.
Rosé is made the same way as red wine but is fermented for a shorter period. Rosé usually contains natural sugar and starches, making the calorie count higher than base liquors. It can be still or sparkling.
One serving of red wine has around 138 calories.
White wine is made from fermented grapes without the skins. All grapes are the same light color inside, so any grape can be used to make white wine.
Popular white wines include chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and pinot grigio.
One serving of white wine has around 120 calories.
Sparkling wine, also known as dessert wine, has carbon dioxide to make it bubbly.
Popular sparking wines include prosecco, champagne, and cava.
One serving of sparkling wine has around 100 calories.
Fortified wines contain added distilled alcohol. After the grapes are fermented, they’re fortified with spirits like brandy, increasing the alcohol content.
Vermouth is a type of fortified white wine commonly used in cocktails. Other popular fortified wines are marsala, Disaronno, and sherry.
One serving of fortified wine can have almost double the amount of calories as a red wine.
One serving of beer is 355 mL or 12 fl oz.
Lager beers are crisp and made with a special type of yeast called Saccharomyces pastorianus. During fermentation, the yeast gathers at the bottom of a tank for a few months before being ready to enjoy.
There are 3 main types of lager: pale, dark, and Vienna.
One serving of pale lager (like a Pilsner) typically has 4–6% ABV and around 150 calories.
Ale is made from another form of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This type of yeast rises to the top of the tank during fermentation, giving the alcohol an aromatic flavor profile.
There are 12 main types of ale. Popular ales include:
- American pale ales (APA)
- India pale ales (IPA)
One serving of ale typically has 3-3.5% ABV, with some special ales going up to 12% ABV. One serving of IPA has around 200 calories.
Lambic is a wheat beer fermented through exposure to wild yeasts and bacteria in Belgian. There are several types, including gueuze, kriek, and fruit Lambic beer.
One serving of Lambic typically has 2–6% ABV and around 200 calories.
Other fermented beverages
Other beverages can be created by fermenting different types of sugars.
Cider, for example, is made from fermented apples. A 12 oz serving of alcoholic cider usually has a 5% ABV and around 120 calories.
Mead is a mashup of fermented honey and water and has 5–20% ABV. A 6 fl oz serving has around 250 calories.
Kombucha comes from sugared tea that has been fermented and introduced to yeast. Store-bought kombucha has an alcohol content of 0.5% and around 120 calories. Kombucha spiked with additional alcohol (“hard kombucha”) will have a higher alcohol content.
What’s the difference between distilled and undistilled liquor?
Alcoholic beverages fall into one of two categories — distilled and undistilled.
Undistilled spirits are taken through the fermentation process to create ethanol. Distilled spirits are put through a second process where the water is removed to increase the ABV.
What type of alcohol is the strongest?
Distilled liquors are considered the strongest type of alcohol. Spirytus is a vodka that’s 192 proof with the
What type of alcohol is the least potent?
Beer is the least potent alcoholic beverage, with some light beers coming in as low as 2% ABV.
Many different ingredients and processes can create alcohol. The alcohol content of each drink is determined by the amount of pure ethanol per 100 mL or 3.4 oz.
Whatever your drink of choice, stay safe and drink responsibly.
Catasha Gordon is a sexuality educator from Spencer, Oklahoma. She’s the owner and founder of Expression Over Repression, a company built around sexual expression and knowledge. You can typically find her creating sex education materials or building some kinky hardware in a fresh set of coffin nails. She enjoys catfish (tail on), gardening, eating off her husband’s plate, and Beyoncé. Follow her everywhere.