Whisky Alcohol Percentage [For Scotch, Bourbon, & Rye]

by Dane Wilson | Last Updated: August 27, 2022

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It comes as no surprise that whiskey is strong alcohol. It has been burning the throats of excited drinkers for a long time now. While it is undeniably strong, the whisky alcohol percentage in a bottle can vary from company to company. The strength of whiskey can also be different depending on what type of whiskey it is in the bottle.

Table of Contents

Jack Daniels tennesse whisky bottle near glass

Whisky Alcohol Percentage (ABV%) For Whiskey

Out of all the alcoholic beverages, whiskey is known for getting people incredibly drunk. Although that is not to say it is the strongest alcohol, it is just a very common occurrence for people to get drunk while drinking it.

Whiskey averages at about 40% ABV for the typical bottle. This is a lot higher when compared to a common alcoholic drink such as beer or wine. Beer is normally at an ABV of 5%, which is significantly lower than whiskey.

ABV, abbreviated from alcohol by volume, is a measurement of how strong a drink is in terms of alcohol content. Most distilled alcoholic beverages will list this on the front of the bottle and it will have a percentage to show you how strong it is.

All of the alcohol bottles on shop shelves will have a clear label showing how their alcoholic strength. Alcohol content plays a huge part in what drinks are popular as consumers determine the alcohol strength and then buy the bottle they think will be both enjoyable, and help them get drunk.

The prices for a lot of alcohol will vary, but this is not because of alcohol content. The strength of whiskey is not why it is more expensive than beer. This price difference is down to how long the distillation process is, and how expensive the drink is to both craft and import. Once distilled, the alcohol’s price is then determined by time, money, and labor instead of by strength.

That being said, there are alcohol taxes that must be paid. Alcohol taxes are paid when buying the drink and are in place to help both decrease over-consumption and increase revenue. That can be used to fund medical care and any damaged property. While the funds are not used exclusively for this, they help a governing body pay for a lot of useful stuff. In England, alcohol taxes go towards funding the National Health Service. There are a lot of accidents and admissions that are purely alcohol-related or caused by alcohol.

Alcohol Proof – Explained

While it is not always labeled on the front of a bottle, like ABV is, there is a common term used when describing whiskey where someone will mention a certain bottle being “80 proof”. This refers to the alcohol proof, which is a measurement of the ethanol content within an alcoholic beverage.

Every country has a different system for measuring proof and it can be quite confusing to understand. Initially, when the term was coined, England used it to show strength and it typically equated to being 1.8 times whisky alcohol percentage of alcohol by volume. After a while, the ABV was shown on a bottle instead as it is much easier to read.

In the USA, alcohol proof is roughly twice the percentage of ABV. For instance, an 80-proof bottle of whiskey will have an ABV of 40%. The legal need for the proof to be documented on a bottle was once a mandatory requirement but has since been slowly phased out and replaced with ABV. The laws will differ in a lot of countries. American distillers are required by law to use the measurement of ABV. Although, it is common for them to also show proof alongside the ABV.

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The Difference Between Scotch, Bourbon, And Rye

While there are a lot of types of whiskey, the most common types of these distilled spirits are Scotch whisky, bourbon whisky, and Rye whisky. Each of these whiskies is loved by many and has its own unique personality which makes them different from each other.


Front shot of a whiskey bottle.

Scotch is by far the most popular type of whiskey in the eyes of a lot of whisky drinkers. What makes Scotch whisky stand out from all the rest is the regulations and laws that are in place for it to be authentically considered Scotch.

Scotch whisky must abide by a set of regulations before it can be labeled as such. These regulations include specifications as to where the drink can be distilled, aged, and bottled. All of which must take place in Scotland. Any of the five regions of Scotland are acceptable but the drink must be made in only these areas and nowhere else.

Another regulation is that the whisky must be aged and matured for at least three years in oak barrels. Scotch whiskies are mostly made from malted barley and can oftentimes have the word “single” in the title. A single malt whisky must be made exclusively in a single distillery. The single is only used to show that it is exclusive to one distillery and nowhere else.

Scotch is considered a very good whisky but is not recommended for newcomers to alcohol. It has a very strong taste and most bottles would likely put off anyone who is willing to start drinking whiskey. This is of course not true for everyone as many whiskies that are labeled as Scotch are quite smooth and easy to drink. They have been aged in oak containers for a long time. That helps to remove any impurities that they may have initially possessed.


While Scotch is exclusive to Scotland, there are many American whiskeys that can be distilled and made in many countries and not exclusively one. Bourbon is one of those whiskies that are distilled mostly in America. It has a sweet taste that makes it unique and delicious.

Bourbon does not have as strict regulations as Scotch does. However, for it to be classed as bourbon, it must have a mash (the mixture of fermented grain and other grains) that is 51% corn, wheat, rye, malted barley, or malted rye. As long as it has the majority of its mash from a singular type of cereal grain, then it can be considered bourbon.

On top of this, the only other regulations it must follow are that it needs to be stored in charred oak containers. This way, it cannot contain any additives. The oak containers are never ones that have already been in use. For bourbon, brand new containers, mostly barrels or casks, are used. Eventually, bourbon is the first type of whiskey to ever enter them. These barrels then are sold to other distilleries and used as Scotch barrels. Essentially, the bourbon is used to season them.


captain morgan original spiced gold bottle

Rye whisky, as the name suggests, is made from a mash that includes at least 51% rye. This whisky alcohol percentage is the bare minimum for a bottle to be classed as rye. Anything less than this will be considered something else. A lot of distilleries will only use the required amount of rye in their rye whisky. Usually, they make up the other 49% from different cereal grains.

Jack Daniel’s has a product that is a Rye whiskey and it surprisingly uses 70% rye in the mash. This is a lot higher than the majority of the competition. Rye whiskey is loved for having a lighter-bodied flavor and being a smooth drink. Rye is a lot easier to drink than some other whiskies as the flavor is a lot less intimidating and can be enjoyed without any harshness.

Alcohol Abuse

While writing about alcohol content and the use of ABV with an alcoholic beverage, I feel as though alcohol addiction should be mentioned. Alcoholic drinks are great for enjoying as they taste amazing and can help you feel more relaxed. However, how much alcohol you drink is up to you and should be regulated with a lot of caution.

Alcohol abuse is a serious issue. A lot of people may not notice the signs of alcohol use disorder until it is too late. Are you concerned about how much alcohol or other spirits you are drinking? Whether it is gin, rum, beer, wine, or vodka that you are drinking, it is never too late to start your recovery journey.

For help with any alcohol addiction you may be concerned about, you can call the American Addition Centers and find help. Whether it is a hotline or a treatment center, finding the best help possible is a great place to start.

What Alcohols Are Stronger Than Whiskey?

While the whisky alcohol percentage is more dependent on the distiller and not the type of alcohol it is, whiskey is considered to be incredibly strong. However, there are some types of rum and vodka that are stronger. The Polish-made vodka called Spirytus Vodka is 192 proof (96% ABV) and can be purchased in the state of New York. It is among the strongest liquors available globally.

FAQs On Whiskey Alcohol Percentage

Is all whisky 40%?

Not all whisky is 40% ABV. Some whiskies can go to a strength of 45% ABV and even higher, although this is rare. 40% is the average strength as the taste of alcohol (mostly ethanol) can ruin the flavors that are being made in the whiskey itself.

How strong is whisky?

Whiskey has an average strength of 40% ABV. This can be higher if a distiller chooses, although it is not allowed to go any lower than that according to a lot of whiskey regulations.

What percent of alcohol is most whiskey?

Most whiskies are bottled at 80 proof, which is 40% ABV. There are some other whiskies, commonly single malt Scotch whiskies that go above and have an ABV of 45%.