Strength in Numbers

High octane spirits; good for drinking and more
Tasting Table

Your suspicion that your drinking tolerance has decreased recently might be right.

Within the last decade, there's been a market-wide push toward alcohols with higher proofs, upping the chances that your cocktail has been packing a stronger punch.

These high-octane spirits are called "cask strength," "overproof," or, in the case of gin, "navy strength." Each exceeds the industry standard of 80 proof.

Though this may shift may seem like a recipe for a massive headache, many bartenders argue that these overproof elixirs create better cocktails. Regular spirits are diluted with water after distillation, while overproof versions are bottled directly from the still or barrel. So these spirits retain more of their essential flavors. (The ethanol created during distillation acts as flypaper to fatty oils, preserving the distinct taste of a spirit.)

We've collected our favorite overproof spirits here, which range from a rare, highly sought-after bourbon to a new group of gins. They offer exciting new drinking dimensions. But exercise caution: We often decrease the proportions used in a cocktail by a quarter to a half ounce. See our versatile cocktail recipe here, which is calibrated specifically for the strong stuff and works with almost every spirit we've thrown at it.

Now we all can be cheap dates.

  • This year, an eruption of navy-strength gins have re-emerged. The term "navy-strength" stems from this high-proof gin's history with the British navy. It was determined that gunpowder, when soaked by booze under 114 proof (or 57 ABV), would not ignite. So distillers began making booze destined for ships' decks at 114 proof to ensure that they would never accidentally render the gunpowder on the ship useless. (From left: New York Distilling Co. Perry's Tot; Hayman's Royal Dock; Leopold's Navy Strength)

  • Perhaps the most frequently encountered spirit at above-average proof is rum, which, like gin, has a long history with the navy. Many overproof rums are used as floats on classic tiki drinks. (From left: Lemon Hart 151; Smith & Cross; Wray & Nephew)

  • Whiskey bottled at "barrel strength" is the latest verticle that distillers have embraced. Most are marketed as high-end, single-barrel bottlings but even lower-priced brands are exploring the genre (for instance, Jim Bean's Devil's Cut). (Left: Four Roses Single Barrel | Right: George T. Stagg)

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