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Understanding ABV's & Units
Written by The Restaurant Doctor UK Team
Last Updated: 29th October 2023
ABV, or "Alcohol By Volume," is a measure of how much alcohol is in a drink. It is shown on the label of every bottle of spirit, beer, lager, alcopop, keg, and wine, and it is a legal requirement to display the ABV. ABV tells you what percentage of the drink is pure alcohol.
For example, if you have a whisky with an ABV of 40%, that means 40% of the drink is pure alcohol. If you serve a 25ml shot of this whisky, then 40%, or 10ml, is pure alcohol. Similarly, if you have a wine with an ABV of 11%, and you serve a 125ml glass of it, then 11%, or 13.75ml, is pure alcohol.
Different types of drinks have different ABVs. Generally, spirits like whisky, vodka, and rum have an ABV between 37.5% and 40%, while lager and bitter have an ABV between 3% and 5%. Wine, on the other hand, has an ABV between 5% and 14%. However, these are just general guidelines and do not apply to every make of alcoholic drink.
Units were introduced as a measure of alcohol intake to provide us with a guide to how much alcohol we are consuming. One unit is equal to 10ml of alcohol. So, a drink that contains 10ml of alcohol provides you with one unit.
To work out the number of units for a drink, you use a formula:
Units = amount of liquid (in ml) x %ABV x 0.001
For example, if you have a 25ml shot of whisky with an ABV of 40%, the number of units in that drink is (25 x 40) x 0.001 = 1 unit. Similarly, if you have a 175ml glass of wine with an ABV of 11%, the number of units in that drink is (175 x 11) x 0.001 = 1.9 (or 2) units. If you have a pint of lager with an ABV of 4%, the number of units in that drink is (568 x 4) x 0.001 = 2.27 units.
While you won't need to work out the units for your customers, it is useful to know roughly what size and types of drinks contain how many units. You could include this information in your bar tariff to show that you are responsible.
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