The strongest alcoholic drinks in the world tend to be spirits because they are distilled. The concept of distillation is simple. A liquid is heated until it becomes steam, and then cooled so it condenses back into a liquid leaving behind a more potent alcoholic product. Wine and beer cannot reach the alcoholic strength of spirits because they are either fermented or brewed. The average alcohol by volume (ABV) in spirits that we see commercially available here is around 40 per cent. Imported spirits and the products you may purchase when abroad might show the content in “Proof”, which is roughly twice the percentage by volume (40 per cent ABV equals 80 Proof) and many are “over-proof” containing more than the average.
Topping the list of the world’s strongest alcohol would probably be vodka and/or “grain spirits”. These are clear, neutral spirits, mostly made from grain. The most alcoholic spirit available in the world today is Spirytus Polish Vodka clocking in at 96 per cent ABV or 192 Proof. Made from premium ethyl alcohol with a grain base, it is said to smell gentle and taste mild, and can be included in herbal liqueurs, preparing fruit and desserts. Having tasted it once myself, I would say use this powerhouse purely for medicinal purposes only or perhaps fueling a rocket. A U.S. distiller by the name of Everclear out of St. Louis Missouri produces several grain spirits (Golden Grain and Everclear Grain) that weigh in at 95 per cent ABV or 190 Proof each. At almost 100 per cent alcohol, there’s not a lot of taste to these. In fact, they’re so potent that they come with warnings on the label saying to keep it away from heat and open flames, it might ignite or explode and is not meant for consumption straight up and should be mixed with non-alcoholic beverages. No wonder it was banned in North America for many years before being legalized again. Then there’s triple distilled Balkan Vodka at 88 per cent ABV or 176 Proof. This product sports 13 health warnings on the side of the bottle and claims that if you consume it straight up, you’ll probably end up hospitalized.
Scotch lovers note Bruichladdich X4 Quadrupled Whiskey. This quadruple-distilled dynamite, single malt whiskey from the isle of Islay contains 92 per cent ABV or 184 Proof. The locals say “one sip and you live forever; two sips and you go blind; three sips and you expire on the spot”.
Liqueur aficionados might dig Absinthe. Distilled from herbs including the flowers and leaves of the medicinal plant Artemisia Absinthium, it is often used as a digestif, but at around 89.5 per cent ABV or 179 Proof, it will surely cure what ails you.
If you travel to the Caribbean, then you are well familiar with over-proof Rum. John Crow Batty Rum at around 80 per cent ABV or 160 Proof is a white rum so potent, it’s like moonshine. Bacardi out of Bermuda makes a 151 Proof or 75.5 per cent ABV version “that is very inflammable and so comes with a steel flame arrester built in to the bottle neck”.
Tequila is no slouch either in the alcohol department. Sierra Silver at 75 per cent ABV or 150 Proof is full and fruity with nuances of chili, vanilla, pineapple, herbs and caramel.
Finally, there’s Grappa, the Italian spirit made from wine fermentation leftovers such as seeds, grape skin and grape stems, many containing 60 per cent ABV or 120 Proof.
If you manage to score any of these, be really careful with them.