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What Is A Standard Drink of Alcohol?

By
Brad Johnson
Table of Contents

Drinking is one of the oldest pastimes known to mankind. Recorded history shows humans have been making fermented beverages since at least 7,000 BC, and likely earlier throughout unrecorded history. 

Since those times there have been many types of alcohol and wine varietals, from the sweet and fruity to the bitter and earthy. In order to understand how much alcohol is consumed, people have created measurements that can be applied across beverage categories. One such measurement is the standard drink of alcohol. 

Unless you’re a sommelier or bartender working in the hospitality industry, chances are this term is a little unfamiliar. Have no fear, though--we’ve got all the answers you need on standard drinks. Keep reading this post to learn what a standard drink of alcohol is and how to apply it. 

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What Is A Standard Drink Measure?

A standard drink measure is the approximate amount of pure alcohol in a standard pour. The term “standard drink” was first used in 1984 by the United Kingdom’s Health Education Council.

This phrase appeared in a pamphlet called That’s the Limit, which sought to educate the public about alcohol and personal health. One standard drink was equal to a single alcohol unit, which was the foundation of safe drinking limits for men and women. 

A Standard Drink Of Alcohol Is Considered To Be...

A standard drink of alcohol is the means by which the alcohol concentration in a drink is measured. The alcohol content of a drink depends on what it was made with, whether or not it’s a mixed drink, if it was distilled, and how much you’re consuming. 

Standard drink sizes can also be used when you’re making a standardized recipe, whether that be for popular cocktail recipes or in-house creations. It indicates the amount of alcohol in a certain volume of liquid so you don’t use too much or too little. 

How Much Pure Alcohol Is In One Standard Drink?

The standard drink measure is 0.49 ounces, just a hair shy of half. The liquid volume of a standard drink depends on the type of alcohol, as some drinks have a higher alcohol by volume (ABV) than others.

A drink with higher ABV means you don’t need as much of it to reach half an ounce of alcohol. A 12 ounce beer serving, 5 ounce wine serving, and 1.5 ounce liquor serving all have approximately half an ounce. The difference in alcohol content comes from these drinks’ different creation processes. 

Fermentation and distillation create different concentrations of alcohol in a beverage, with fermentation resulting in a lower ABV.

With distillation, the liquid is heated to evaporate the alcohol from the trub and is condensed in a separate container, Since the resulting liquid has a higher proportion of alcohol, this creates a higher ABV.

What Is The Purpose Of A Standard Drink Measurement?

If you’re now wondering, “What is the purpose of a standard drink measurement?” You wouldn’t be the first person to ask. It’s an interesting concept, but unless you’re a bartender it may not make sense right away. 

To answer that question, we have a single question quiz for you. Make your guess below: 

The purpose of a standard drink measurement is: 

  • A) It’s a way of knowing how quickly you can get drunk
  • B) It is a consistent way of measuring the amount of alcohol in a drink
  • C) It determines how many drinks you can fit in a gallon
  • D) It lets you calculate the average number of drinks per person, per night

If you answered B, you’re correct! The point of a standard drink measurement is being able to tell how much alcohol is in a single drink. This method works across all types of alcohol, whether you’re researching the best alcohol for shots or buying beers for a party. 

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Standard Drink Sizes

Since drinks have different concentrations of alcohol, it’s hard to remember the serving size for beverages, including happy hour drinks. Rather than spending time researching everything on your own, we pulled together the information for you. 

Take a look at these standard drink sizes for popular alcoholic beverages: 

Type of Drink

Standard Drink Size

Beer (4-5% ABV)

12 ounces

Wine (12-13% ABV)

5 ounces

Malt liquor (6-9% ABV)

8 ounces

Spirits/Straight liquor (40% ABV)

1.5 ounces

Hard cider (6% ABV)

10 ounces

Liqueurs (24% ABV)

2 ounces

Wine coolers (5% ABV)

12 ounces

Standard Drink Of Alcohol

Each type of alcohol is different, but the standard drink of alcohol is any serving that has 14 grams of pure alcohol. The amount of liquid needed to reach this alcohol concentration varies based on the drink chosen. 

In most cases, beverage labels indicate how many standard drinks are in the bottle. In the event your drink doesn’t share standard drink information, you can calculate it with this formula: 

Volume of drink in milliliters x ABV percentage / 17.05 = Standard drinks in a container

Here’s a real life example with a wine bottle: 

750 milliliters x 0.13 ABV / 17.05 = 5.72 standard drinks (rounded up)

Standard Drink Wine

The standard drink of wine is about 5 ounces, or a little more than half a cup. Most wines have between 12-13% ABV, but this depends on how long the wine was fermented. 

The stronger the wine, the less you need for a standard drink amount. Fortified red wine types like vermouth and port have ABVs anywhere from 3 to 8% higher than regular wine. 

Standard Drink Of Beer

The standard drink of beer is 12 ounces, or one and a half cups. While beer companies make products ranging from 8 ounces up to 40 ounces, pouring beer has meant 12 ounces for decades. 

The reason beer servings are larger than wine and spirits is because the average beer’s ABV is 4 to 5%. Therefore, a greater liquid volume is necessary to reach 14 grams of pure alcohol. 

Standard Drink Calculator

Whether you love math or it’s not quite your thing, calculating standard drinks manually takes a lot of time. Instead, you can use a standard drink calculator to speed up the process. 

There are several free standard drink calculators available online. Browse the two websites below for starters: 

University of Victoria in Canada

Canada’s University of Victoria has a free standard drink calculator on their website. You can easily convert your bottle volume into standard drinks or take a standard drink amount and convert it to volume. 

With the former, select either milliliters or ounces, enter the amount, and then enter your drink’s ABV. Click Calculate and you’ll get the result. For volume, first enter the number of standard drinks of your beverage. Then add the drink’s ABV and press Calculate. This calculator helps you get the numbers you need at a moment’s notice. 

CheckUp & Choices

CheckUp & Choices is a rehabilitation organization that helps people change their habits with drugs and alcohol. They also offer a standard drink calculator that’s simple to use. 

First, add the volume of your beverage in ounces or milliliters. Second, enter the ABV percentage of your drink. Click the Submit button, and the screen will display the number of standard drinks in that beverage size. 

Frequently Asked Questions About What Is A Standard Drink

A standard drink is one of several bartending terms, but it’s useful in everyday contexts, too. Whether you’re a regular at local bars or have grown interested in drinks over time, knowing standard drink sizes is helpful. 

We looked at the most commonly asked questions about standard drinks and compiled our answers below. Read them now: 

How Many Standard Drinks Are In A Mixed Drink?

Since mixed drinks can include everything from brandy and rum to fruit juice and a bitters recipe, it’s impossible to say how many standard drinks are in your beverage. However, there are a few ways you can calculate the standard drinks in your mixed beverage. 

One way is getting the total liquid volume of your drink and the total ABV percentage of your drink. Multiply these together, divide by 17.05, and that’s your number of standard drinks. 

A second way is tracking what kinds of alcohol you put in the mixed drink and the ABV of each serving. For example, if your mixed drink includes 4.5 ounces’ worth of shots, that’s the rough equivalent of three standard drinks. This assumes that the shots are the only alcoholic liquid included in the drink. 

How Many Ounces Are In A Standard Drink of Wine?

The standard drink of wine is 5 ounces. This is a little more than half a cup, and should fill a wine glass one third to one half full. 

There are a couple reasons the standard drink of wine is less than other drinks. One, wine alcohol content is higher than beer, at about 12 to 14%. This means you don’t need as much wine to get the same amount of alcohol. 

Two, wine is consumed for both its taste and aromas. There are dozens of chemical compounds that get released as soon as a wine bottle is opened. This process is called oxidation and it makes smelling wine just as valuable as sipping on it.

After swirling wine, its aromas need to be contained within a small space in order to smell them properly. The upper half of a wine glass provides this space, and by smelling the wine first you’re preparing your palate. 

A Standard Size Drink Will Always Contain...

A standard drink size will always contain the same amount of alcohol. The amount is half of one fluid ounce.  

Since the ABV of alcoholic drinks varies so widely and some people drink more than others, standard drink size is a way to understand how much alcohol is being consumed. It also helps with recipe creation, as most recipes only require a certain amount of alcohol. 

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Drinking Too Much Is Liable Tequil-ya

Whether you’re learning about standard drinks as part of your bartender duties or you’re a drinks aficionado, this knowledge serves you well. As a bartender, it helps you control how much alcohol is put in a drink. As a consumer, it’s easier to limit your drinking and understand what may take you overboard.