Why is Whisky Filled at 40% ABV?

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The minimum ABV, like that of the minimum 3 year maturation was introduced as the result of political wrangling between the distilleries and the prohibitionists of the early 20th century. Despite this distilleries today will often attribute this towards quality control.

Most Scottish whiskies are bottled with 40% ABV. This was not always the case: at the beginning of the 20th century, the alcohol content of whisky was usually between 44.6% and 48.6%, i.e. significantly higher. These somewhat crooked numbers resulted from the fact that the British gave the values ​​in proof and thus in their own unit of measurement.

In the turmoil of the First World War, a single man ensured that whiskies had to be bottled at least 40% to this day. We explain how this minimum alcohol level came about and why we may even have to be grateful to David Lloyd George!

If you order any Scotch in a bar, you often get a spirit in the glass that has exactly 40% alcohol. This minimum strength is mandatory for Scotch Whisky.

How it came about that whisky had to be stored for at least three years

When Britain entered World War I, pressure on Scottish whisky distillers also increased. In part to keep grain for food, and in part to maintain a reliable workforce to manufacture weapons and other war-essential goods. British Finance Minister David Lloyd George was also a staunch abstainer and openly opposed to alcohol. He continually made efforts to curb widespread alcohol consumption. Oddly enough, this unintentionally introduced the minimum storage period of three years for Scotch Whisky that is still maintained today.

In 1915, David Lloyd George wanted to double taxes on alcohol. The influential whisky manufacturers were able to prevent this with the assurance that they would store their Scotch whisky in oak barrels for at least three years in the future. In this way, the amount of available whisky should be reduced in the short term. The mandatory minimum alcohol content of whisky was set at 37.2% in the hope that the distilleries would now also sell less bottled qualities.

It is interesting that the minimum storage period for whisky that is still valid today has little to do with quality assurance, but is due to this politics, even though many whisky distilleries like to present it differently today. Ultimately, however, the introduction of the minimum storage period has led to the establishment of Scottish whisky worldwide as a premium spirit and an increase in quality. Before that time, whisky was not necessarily a quality product - it was often stored unold or sold in wooden barrels after a few months of maturation.

Why whisky has to have at least 40% alcohol today But Lloyd George did not give up and continued to try to reduce the alcohol content of the whisky. Under his leadership as Prime Minister in 1917, he enforced that whisky was only allowed to have between 28.6% and 40% alcohol.

After another tax hike in 1920, manufacturers were banned from adding taxes to the whisky price. Bottling and selling whisky above 40% alcohol became uneconomical for several years. After the war, manufacturers and consumers had become accustomed to this new lower limit on filling strength. In the Scotch Whisky Act of 1988, the usual 40% alcohol for Scotch Whisky was required by law as a minimum level. The old defacto upper limit had become a new lower limit.

This also happened in contrast to other spirits such as rum or gin, which only have to be filled with at least 37.5%.

How does the alcohol content influence the whisky taste?

Alcohol is a flavor carrier and plays a role in whisky that should not be underestimated: it is not for nothing that cask strength whiskys are enjoying increasing popularity. Anyone who tastes single malts at 46% or more will find that these stronger whiskys often have a more complex and distinctive taste.

Therefore, it tends to be more whisky for beginners, which are filled with 40%. The current minimum alcohol content is a good compromise, which helps to ensure the quality of whisky. Historically, whisky connoisseurs could have been worse with 28.6% as a minimum.

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