With each passing year, the spirit consumption across Nepal is ascending. International liquor brands are capitalizing on this truth and fighting for their place across Nepal’s bar shelves by introducing multiple variants. To compete with imported spirit, native liquor companies are also investing heavily in their product lines, thus making consumers spoilt for choice. With so many options to choose from, consumers must understand what goes inside their favourite tipple, right from taste to the alcohol strength of the spirit.

There are three primary systems used to measure the strength of alcohol – the most common is Alcohol By Volume (ABV), followed by US Proof, and lastly, Imperial Proof, a system that’s not as common globally, but still used across Nepal and other regions of the Indian sub-continent. All three systems are an indication of the alcohol strength of beverages in their own respective way but this isn’t their only purpose. These systems were primarily introduced so governments could use them as benchmarks to levy taxes on alcoholic beverages. 

Very simply, the US Proof is double the metric ABV. This means 80 US Proof is the same as 40% ABV. Calculating Imperial Proof enters the tricky territory, where it is 7/4 times that of the metric ABV. For example, 75 Proof (also known as 25 Under Proof) is the same as 42.8% ABV. 

ABVUS ProofImperial Proof
42.8%85.625 UP
40.0%8030 UP
35%7040 UP

Historically, the term proof originated in the UK circa the 16th century and was a very basic test that involved igniting the spirit. If it was flammable, it was filed under ‘over proof’ (OP) and taxed. If not, it was ‘under proof’ and not taxed. This system was not exactly consistent (or competent) since the flammability of alcohol depends heavily on the temperature of the liquid. A second test was later introduced and was aptly called the gunpowder test. If the gunpowder burned after it was soaked in spirit, then then it was classified as 100 Proof (or 57.15% ABV). In 1816, the legal standard definition became one based on the specific gravity of the spirit. In this method, 100 UK Proof was defined as a spirit that had 12/13 specific gravity of pure water at the same temperature, which again was 57.15% ABV. This system had the benefit of standardizing the temperature and also measuring the alcohol strength beyond 100 proof. Across the Atlantic, the US Proof system was introduced around 1850 and differed only slightly from the UK system. In this system, 100 Proof was rounded off to 50% ABV. Today, the metric system is defined by the International Organization of Legal Metrology as the amount of pure alcohol contained in a given volume of the alcohol beverage at 20 degrees Celsius. 

These days, what defines the alcohol strength of spirits is largely dependent on regulatory measures and is influenced by trade associations and the historical background of the category. For example, Whiskey, except in a few markets, is strictly controlled with alcohol strength being no less than 40% ABV (80 US Proof or 25 UP in Nepal). Other categories have a little more flexibility in terms of ABV, with Gin and Vodka offering anything upward of 37.5%. While taxation bands are one outcome, the effect of alcohol on the overall profile and taste of the drink is an entirely different story. 

Functionally, alcohol brings heat, bitterness and mouthfeel to the liquid it is present in. Invariably, lower alcohol levels mean lower levels of these attributes. Alcohol also acts as an effective carrier for the flavors present in the drink. Thus, the aroma profile of a drink at 35% ABV will be considerably different from one at 40% ABV. The amount of alcohol also affects the nature of consumption. For example, drinking Whiskey at 30% ABV on the rocks will taste thinner, watery and with less heat compared with the same whisky at 40%, purely due to the difference in alcohol content. Depending on the whiskey, the mouthfeel and initial apparent sweetness will be higher at higher ABV percentages and decrease respectively. Likewise, as the ABV decreases, so does the heat sensation and the bitterness derived from the alcohol. The conclusion is that ABV unquestionably affects the balance of the product, both in taste and smell and changing the ABV can have drastic effects on the final profile. These changes are further accentuated depending on mixers and the amount of ice added to the drink. 

Due to the low content of alcohol (and lower taxation), lower ABV products are sold at much lesser prices than higher ABV ones. In Nepal’s context, 25 UP is sold at almost double the price of 40 UP products. Price-sensitive consumers are getting attracted to 40 UP products, leading to exponential growth in this segment. With ABV defining and even changing market trends, the challenge to companies who are looking to develop new products with lower alcohol content is balancing both strength and taste. However, the classic 25 UP market continues to grow as matured consumers who recognize taste and quality stick to favorites like Khukri Rum, Old Durbar, Signature,8848 and Royal Stag in the market.

Categorization of Nepali Brands25 UP30 UP40 UP
 Old Durbar, Signature, Khukri, 8848, Royal StagRuslanGolden Oak, Virgin, Passport, Baron
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