View Full Version : Proof points in sevens?
The current BOTM discussion, with references to ORVW 107, reminds me of something I've occasionally wondered about. Why are there so many "traditional" bourbons that are bottled at a proof 7 (or 14) points off of 100? Besides the ORVW, there's a Weller there, OGD 114, and a host of 86's. Has to be a reason for such an odd number; five or ten would seem more expected.
I think I've seen some reference to a reason in past threads, but I can't find it.
Bob, the discussion was that 114 proof may be (conscious or not) an historical reference, a reminder of a time when 57.1% alcohol by volume was the proof standard in Britain and parts of the world influenced by Britain. Not long after the American Revolution, in England under a new system of measuring alcohol content for excise, 57.1% abv was deemed arbitrarily to be 100 proof, not 50% abv as it later became under an American modification to this earlier (or "Sykes", for its inventor)) method of calculating proof. 175 Sykes proof was pure alcohol, in the current American system, 200 proof is. 57.1% was the concentration at which a mixture of gunpowder and alcohol flared sufficiently.
In my view, therefore, some "proof" liquor as a nod to the old system was always made available even in the U.S. and OG 114 is today's example. You can buy 57% abv rum in Newfoundland - another example (the labels even say 100 proof even though the Sykes system is no longer official in the EU much less Canada). Why 86 proof, under by 14 points instead of over? Maybe because when people in the early days saw that Sykes proof was 114 in the American system, it was in their minds 14 points overproof. Therefore, to make a milder drink, some producers went the other way, 14 points "underproof", and then by halves each way as a variation. They would have been influenced I think by the over and under designations which were part of British and Canadian alcohol vending practice for a long time, e.g., you'd see ads for "Canadian Rye Whisky 30 UP" (30 underproof Sykes which meant about 40% abv), or "Pure Spirit 30 OP" (over 70% abv). To this day some whiskeys are released at approximately 93 proof (my number is not 100% accurate but will illustrate my point perhaps), I think the ORVW whiskeys are. This may go back to the proof of the whiskeys sold by the family's previous generations.
Possibly each of these variations (114, 107, 93, 86) corresponded to an equivalent Sykes whiskey trade category, or some did anyway as I suggest for 114.
Any thoughts on why so many bottlings (I know of scotches and bourbons, at least historically) have been at 86.8 proof? This question has bothered me for almost 40 years.
The .8 was probably a tolerance, to ensure meeting 86 proof in fact.
I do believe the fact that it is 14 points under 100 proof is a way (was) of copying the old U.K. system of OP or UP. If you wanted a milder drink, maybe in England and early America that was say 25 UP (Sykes, i.e., about 45% ABV) and in time that became, once conversion to U.S. 100 proof = 50% ABV, 86 proof or "14 UP". Just guessing, informedly, I hope. :)
I would think it may have been possible that whichever distiller started that particular proof may have diluted his whiskey from barrel proof to the point where he thought it best, then measured the resulting proof and made that the benchmark for bottlings to follow. Don't we all tweak food recipes and note the changes when we hit upon that "perfect" end product? Or even in Gary's case, that perfect vatting?:stickpoke:
One other vestige of the Sykes proof system that can be found on store shelves is Glenfarclas 105, which is about 60% ABV.
Good catch. Dane may be right, too.
I imagine this has been covered elsewhere, but did Wild Turkey's traditional 101 proof begin as a means to "one up" the BIB competition?
The oft-repeated story that attributes the origin of the Wild Turkey brand to the provisions for a turkey hunt makes the proof sound accidental.
Paraphrasing, the version I'm familiar with goes as follows.
" . . . For the next year's hunt everyone asked that he bring more bourbon like the previous year's. He checked the distillery's records and found that it had been 101 proof. . ."
Of course, that story may be nothing but part of the same marketing plan you are inquiring about.
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