World's Strongest Liquors

  • Balkan Vodka

    Photo: Courtesy of Wine and Spirit

    1 of 14

    Super-strong liquors are making their way into upscale cocktails. The catch? You may have to travel abroad to find them.

    From November 2010 By

    Grain alcohol may bring back memories—or flashbacks—of college dorms. But Gilardi’s, a sleek Italian bistro in Springfield, MO, offers a house-made Limoncello with lemon zest, sugar, and the 190-proof grain alcohol Everclear. It’s served straight up in a sugar-rimmed cordial glass—hardly a means to a sloppy end.

    The drink is no anomaly. In the last few years, exceedingly potent alcohols have moved beyond the frat house and into the mainstream palate, thanks to the revival of pre-Prohibition cocktails and our unending thirst for the latest and greatest. “There’s this new level of connoisseurship among drinkers in search of novelty,” says Noah Rothbaum, editor in chief of liquor.com. “It’s not about flavor; it’s about the experience.”

    What kind of alcohol levels are we talking about? While your everyday Absoluts and Macallans average between 80 and 100 proof, some specialty liquors come with proofs as high as 196, or 98 percent alcohol. But drinking them is not all about getting blasted: some higher-proof alcohols, especially whiskeys, can in fact be more flavorful at a higher proof because they’re not cut with water, says Rothbaum.

    Josh Childs uses overproofed alcohols like Four Roses bourbon and green chartreuse, both 110 proof, sparingly at Trina’s Starlite Lounge, his bar in Somerville, MA. “Overproofed spirits can enhance the flavor of cocktails,” he says. “But it’s a rinse or a spritz. Otherwise all you’re getting is the heat.”

    Sampling some of these high-proof liquors, however, requires a passport. Balkan 176, a 176-proof vodka made in Bulgaria, is sold in more than 20 countries, but not yet in the U.S. That may be a good thing: it comes with 15 warnings (including one in braille) about dangers of drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, and drinking while pregnant. “There’s no product in the liquor trade that has more caveats,” says Dale Sklar, CEO of the liquor’s London-based distributor, Wine & Spirit International. “And the marketing guys will say to me, ‘You know that sells more, don’t you?’”

    Sklar also imports 179-proof absinthe, which he began doing 10 years ago, after British travelers started bringing the legendary liquor home from weekend trips to Prague. “I thought absinthe was going to be a flash in the pan, but the more dangerous something is, the more people seem to want it,” he says.

    Glasgow-based Pincer Vodka, whose Shanghai Strength vodka is 88.8 percent alcohol, insists that danger isn’t a factor in its vodka’s appeal—for Pincer, superproofing is a matter of convenience and environment. “Shanghai Strength is 234 percent stronger but reduces packaging waste and carbon footprint by the same amount,” says CEO Jonathan Engels. “But it is meant to be a mixer. It is not intended for drinking straight.” Of course, that’s what they all say.

  • Spirytus

    Photo: Tristan Biley

    2 of 14

    Spirytus

    Proof: 192 (96% alcohol).

    Made in: Poland.

    Approved this year to be sold in New York State, the Polish-made Spirytus vodka is the strongest liquor for sale in the U.S. “It’s like getting punched in the solar plexus,” one sampler told the New York Post. Or as one liquor retailer recited in a frightening endorsement, “Pilots in Siberia used to drink it.”

  • Everclear

    Photo: Courtesy of Luxco Spirites Brands

    3 of 14

    Everclear

    Proof: 190 (95% alcohol).

    Made in: United States.

    The first 190-proof alcohol ever to be bottled for consumers, Everclear spawned a ‘90s rock band and many a bad idea—it’s a favorite among young drinkers because it’s nearly tasteless. For context, drugstore-brand rubbing alcohol averages 91 percent alcohol.

  • Golden Grain

    Photo: Courtesy of Luxco Spirited Brands

    4 of 14

    Golden Grain

    Proof: 190 (95% alcohol).

    Made in: United States.

    From the same makers as Everclear, and nearly identical in constitution, Golden Grain is the key ingredient in drinks with names like The Screaming Purple Jesus and Instant Death. Here’s a shocker: it’s illegal in many states.

  • Bruichladdich X4 Quadrupled Whiskey

    Photo: Courtesy of Bruichladdich X4 Quadrupled Whiskey

    5 of 14

    Bruichladdich X4 Quadrupled Whiskey

    Proof: 184 (92% alcohol).

    Made in: Scotland.

    Based on the 17th-century method of quadruple distilling, Bruichladdich’s X4 is billed as the most alcoholic single malt ever made. Aged in new oak casks to enhance flavor, the X4 can also, as proven by a pair of BBC journalists, power a sports car at speeds over 100 mph.

  • River Antoine Royale Grenadian Rum

    Photo: Jack Sullivan / Alamy

    6 of 14

    River Antoine Royale Grenadian Rum

    Proof: 180 (90% alcohol).

    Made in: Grenada.

    Drawing from the centuries-old tradition of “pot stilling”—a method of slow-distilling used for maximum flavor—this strong, clear rum is distilled from fermented sugarcane juice using a waterwheel. Drink it neat (with a water chaser) if you want to blend in and/or get drunk with the locals.

  • Hapsburg Gold Label Premium Reserve Absinthe

    Photo: Nick Oliver

    7 of 14

    Hapsburg Gold Label Premium Reserve Absinthe

    Proof: 179 (89.9% alcohol).

    Made in: Czech Republic.

    Marketed with the slogan “There are no rules,” Hapsburg’s absinthe blend might not be the same version drunk by Van Gogh, the most famous of absinthe drinkers, but rest assured it’s inspired some “artistic” behavior. “We always beg people not to drink it straight,” says U.K.-based distributor Dale Sklar. “But then, who are we to tell people what to drink?”

  • Pincer Shanghai Strength

    Photo: Courtesy of Pincer Vodka

    8 of 14

    Pincer Shanghai Strength

    Proof: 177 (88.8% alcohol).

    Made in: Scotland.

    The Glasgow-based, eco-minded makers of the botanical (that’s right—it’s healthy) vodka say their 177-proof formula is intended to be used as a concentrate: a single bottle supplies 65 shots as compared to the usual 26. What’s more, it’s got wild elderflower and milk thistle, which is used in Chinese medicine as a liver support. You’ll need it.

  • Balkan Vodka

    Photo: Courtesy of Wine and Spirit

    9 of 14

    Balkan Vodka

    Proof: 176 (88% alcohol).

    Made in: Bulgaria.

    Imported from Bulgaria, Balkan 176 is sold in more than 20 countries and, according to importer Sklar, is especially popular in South America (though not yet available in the U.S.). “By nature, vodka is a colorless, flavorless alcohol,” says Noah Rothbaum, editor in chief of liquor.com. “Higher proof won’t add anything, taste-wise. But this certainly gets your attention, doesn’t it?”

  • John Crow Batty Rum

    Photo: Jeff Allen

    10 of 14

    John Crow Batty Rum

    Proof: 160 (80% alcohol).

    Made in: Jamaica.

    Jamaican white rum is the country’s version of moonshine. The legendarily potent John Crow Batty was so named, the story goes, because it’s stronger than the stomach acids of the wild “John Crow” vultures, which snack on decaying meat. If you’ll drink to that, you’ll drink to anything.

  • Bacardi 151

    11 of 14

    Bacardi 151

    Proof: 151 (75.5% alcohol).

    Made in: Puerto Rico.

    Listed as a must-have in subarctic survival, the light brown 151 is used often in more moderate climes as a piña colada floater or on fiery drinks like the Tucker Max–endorsed Flaming Dr. Pepper (tastes just like regular Dr. Pepper, only made entirely of alcohol).

  • King of Spirits Absinthe

    12 of 14

    King of Spirits Absinthe

    Proof: 140 (70% alcohol)

    Made in: Czech Republic

    King of Spirits is powered by thujone—a chemical produced by the grand wormwood plant that’s banned in the U.S. Thujone is also the primary culprit of the “absinthism,” a 19th-century affliction; symptoms could include sleeplessness, hallucinations, and convulsions. Yet this absinthe draws in fans with claims that drinking it will make “colors seem brighter, your breath better, and your mind particularly receptive.”

  • Clarke's Court Spicy Rum

    Photo: Courtesy of Ministry of Rum

    13 of 14

    Clarke’s Court Spicy Rum

    Proof: 138 (69% alcohol).

    Made in: Grenada.

    From one of Grenada’s largest rum producers, the honey-colored rum is celebrated for its nuances more than its high alcohol content: clove, nutmeg, white pepper, and cinnamon combine for a spirit that’s as complex as it is potent. Quite civilized, actually.

  •  

    14 of 14

  • Balkan Vodka

    Grain alcohol may bring back memories—or flashbacks—of college dorms. But Gilardi’s, a sleek Italian bistro in Springfield, MO, offers a house-made Limoncello with lemon zest, sugar, and the 190-proof grain alcohol Everclear. It’s served straight up in a sugar-rimmed cordial glass—hardly a means to a sloppy end.

    The drink is no anomaly. In the last few years, exceedingly potent alcohols have moved beyond the frat house and into the mainstream palate, thanks to the revival of pre-Prohibition cocktails and our unending thirst for the latest and greatest. “There’s this new level of connoisseurship among drinkers in search of novelty,” says Noah Rothbaum, editor in chief of liquor.com. “It’s not about flavor; it’s about the experience.”

    What kind of alcohol levels are we talking about? While your everyday Absoluts and Macallans average between 80 and 100 proof, some specialty liquors come with proofs as high as 196, or 98 percent alcohol. But drinking them is not all about getting blasted: some higher-proof alcohols, especially whiskeys, can in fact be more flavorful at a higher proof because they’re not cut with water, says Rothbaum.

    Josh Childs uses overproofed alcohols like Four Roses bourbon and green chartreuse, both 110 proof, sparingly at Trina’s Starlite Lounge, his bar in Somerville, MA. “Overproofed spirits can enhance the flavor of cocktails,” he says. “But it’s a rinse or a spritz. Otherwise all you’re getting is the heat.”

    Sampling some of these high-proof liquors, however, requires a passport. Balkan 176, a 176-proof vodka made in Bulgaria, is sold in more than 20 countries, but not yet in the U.S. That may be a good thing: it comes with 15 warnings (including one in braille) about dangers of drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, and drinking while pregnant. “There’s no product in the liquor trade that has more caveats,” says Dale Sklar, CEO of the liquor’s London-based distributor, Wine & Spirit International. “And the marketing guys will say to me, ‘You know that sells more, don’t you?’”

    Sklar also imports 179-proof absinthe, which he began doing 10 years ago, after British travelers started bringing the legendary liquor home from weekend trips to Prague. “I thought absinthe was going to be a flash in the pan, but the more dangerous something is, the more people seem to want it,” he says.

    Glasgow-based Pincer Vodka, whose Shanghai Strength vodka is 88.8 percent alcohol, insists that danger isn’t a factor in its vodka’s appeal—for Pincer, superproofing is a matter of convenience and environment. “Shanghai Strength is 234 percent stronger but reduces packaging waste and carbon footprint by the same amount,” says CEO Jonathan Engels. “But it is meant to be a mixer. It is not intended for drinking straight.” Of course, that’s what they all say.

  • Spirytus

    Spirytus

    Proof: 192 (96% alcohol).

    Made in: Poland.

    Approved this year to be sold in New York State, the Polish-made Spirytus vodka is the strongest liquor for sale in the U.S. “It’s like getting punched in the solar plexus,” one sampler told the New York Post. Or as one liquor retailer recited in a frightening endorsement, “Pilots in Siberia used to drink it.”

  • Everclear

    Everclear

    Proof: 190 (95% alcohol).

    Made in: United States.

    The first 190-proof alcohol ever to be bottled for consumers, Everclear spawned a ‘90s rock band and many a bad idea—it’s a favorite among young drinkers because it’s nearly tasteless. For context, drugstore-brand rubbing alcohol averages 91 percent alcohol.

  • Golden Grain

    Golden Grain

    Proof: 190 (95% alcohol).

    Made in: United States.

    From the same makers as Everclear, and nearly identical in constitution, Golden Grain is the key ingredient in drinks with names like The Screaming Purple Jesus and Instant Death. Here’s a shocker: it’s illegal in many states.

  • Bruichladdich X4 Quadrupled Whiskey

    Bruichladdich X4 Quadrupled Whiskey

    Proof: 184 (92% alcohol).

    Made in: Scotland.

    Based on the 17th-century method of quadruple distilling, Bruichladdich’s X4 is billed as the most alcoholic single malt ever made. Aged in new oak casks to enhance flavor, the X4 can also, as proven by a pair of BBC journalists, power a sports car at speeds over 100 mph.

  • River Antoine Royale Grenadian Rum

    River Antoine Royale Grenadian Rum

    Proof: 180 (90% alcohol).

    Made in: Grenada.

    Drawing from the centuries-old tradition of “pot stilling”—a method of slow-distilling used for maximum flavor—this strong, clear rum is distilled from fermented sugarcane juice using a waterwheel. Drink it neat (with a water chaser) if you want to blend in and/or get drunk with the locals.

  • Hapsburg Gold Label Premium Reserve Absinthe

    Hapsburg Gold Label Premium Reserve Absinthe

    Proof: 179 (89.9% alcohol).

    Made in: Czech Republic.

    Marketed with the slogan “There are no rules,” Hapsburg’s absinthe blend might not be the same version drunk by Van Gogh, the most famous of absinthe drinkers, but rest assured it’s inspired some “artistic” behavior. “We always beg people not to drink it straight,” says U.K.-based distributor Dale Sklar. “But then, who are we to tell people what to drink?”

  • Pincer Shanghai Strength

    Pincer Shanghai Strength

    Proof: 177 (88.8% alcohol).

    Made in: Scotland.

    The Glasgow-based, eco-minded makers of the botanical (that’s right—it’s healthy) vodka say their 177-proof formula is intended to be used as a concentrate: a single bottle supplies 65 shots as compared to the usual 26. What’s more, it’s got wild elderflower and milk thistle, which is used in Chinese medicine as a liver support. You’ll need it.

  • Balkan Vodka

    Balkan Vodka

    Proof: 176 (88% alcohol).

    Made in: Bulgaria.

    Imported from Bulgaria, Balkan 176 is sold in more than 20 countries and, according to importer Sklar, is especially popular in South America (though not yet available in the U.S.). “By nature, vodka is a colorless, flavorless alcohol,” says Noah Rothbaum, editor in chief of liquor.com. “Higher proof won’t add anything, taste-wise. But this certainly gets your attention, doesn’t it?”

  • John Crow Batty Rum

    John Crow Batty Rum

    Proof: 160 (80% alcohol).

    Made in: Jamaica.

    Jamaican white rum is the country’s version of moonshine. The legendarily potent John Crow Batty was so named, the story goes, because it’s stronger than the stomach acids of the wild “John Crow” vultures, which snack on decaying meat. If you’ll drink to that, you’ll drink to anything.

  • Bacardi 151

    Bacardi 151

    Proof: 151 (75.5% alcohol).

    Made in: Puerto Rico.

    Listed as a must-have in subarctic survival, the light brown 151 is used often in more moderate climes as a piña colada floater or on fiery drinks like the Tucker Max–endorsed Flaming Dr. Pepper (tastes just like regular Dr. Pepper, only made entirely of alcohol).

  • King of Spirits Absinthe

    King of Spirits Absinthe

    Proof: 140 (70% alcohol)

    Made in: Czech Republic

    King of Spirits is powered by thujone—a chemical produced by the grand wormwood plant that’s banned in the U.S. Thujone is also the primary culprit of the “absinthism,” a 19th-century affliction; symptoms could include sleeplessness, hallucinations, and convulsions. Yet this absinthe draws in fans with claims that drinking it will make “colors seem brighter, your breath better, and your mind particularly receptive.”

  • Clarke's Court Spicy Rum

    Clarke’s Court Spicy Rum

    Proof: 138 (69% alcohol).

    Made in: Grenada.

    From one of Grenada’s largest rum producers, the honey-colored rum is celebrated for its nuances more than its high alcohol content: clove, nutmeg, white pepper, and cinnamon combine for a spirit that’s as complex as it is potent. Quite civilized, actually.

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