On every bottle of rum you’ll find two very important numbers somewhere on the label. One of them is the percentage of alcohol by volume, represented by ALC/VOL, and the other is the Proof, usually printed as a number followed by the word Proof; like this, 80 Proof.
These informational tidbits are a legal requirement, but they’re much more than that. They tell a quick story that provides you with some key information about the rum you’re considering buying.
ALC/VOL tells you what percentage of the bottle, when it’s new and full, is actual alcohol. For example, 75% ALC/VOL means 75% of that beautiful rum is alcohol. So what’s the other 25% you ask? It depends on the brand, but mostly it’s water and some added flavoring and coloring.
Proof tells you how potent, or strong, the alcohol is. The higher the number the stronger the alcohol. So, 80 Proof is stronger than, let’s say, 60 Proof. Higher numbers may also suggest the alcohol has been distilled several times, although it’s impossible to know exactly how many times from that number alone. Other spirits, like scotch, will sometimes say “Triple Distilled”; which means it was distilled three times. The more times you distill alcohol the more concentrated it becomes. Higher Proof rums are more expensive and therefore more valuable than their lower Proof counterparts because of their higher potency and more lengthy process.
Higher Proof rums also stand apart from lower ones in that higher Proof rum is typically a sipping rum, not a mixing rum. Lower Proof rum has plenty of flavor and I absolutely enjoy sipping on them straight, but they do very well in mixed drinks. Higher Proof rums could be used in a cocktail, but I wouldn’t use it often. They are better left for sipping.
These two numbers, while representative of different information, are not mutually exclusive. Look at this… If you divide the Proof by two, you’ll find your ALC/VOL. So, 80 Proof is also 40% ALC/VOL. Make sense? Good.
So there you have it. Now you know what ALC/VOL and Proof mean. Now you’ll start seeing those rum labels in a whole new way. Bottom shelf, low Proof rums, despite their welcoming price tag, will now begin to loose their appeal as your eyes wander up the shelves towards the 151 Proofs that sell for three times the price. I have a fair share of low Proof and high Proof in my own collection.
Each moment in life requires a different strength and intensity. It’s through our own experiences that we begin to know when it’s time to sip, or when it’s time mix.