The Enabler: Overproof spirits and the Great Downtown Drinking Disaster of 2012

Mess Hall Kitchen bartender Erik Lund pours a barrel-aged Smith & Cross Jamaican rum, which has a proof of 114.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

This week’s Enabler column features a cautionary tale about just how strong the booze inside your delicious mixology drink might be. My drinking alter-ego, the Enabler, learned this the hard way so you don’t have to.

Here’s the deal: The use of -- and creation of -- overproof spirits is on the rise. This means spirits that exceed the 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume) standard. In some cases, like with Demerara rum, the proof can be as high as 151. Overproof spirits aren’t new, of course, it’s just that with the advent of serious mixology they are coming into play much more frequently.

The reason is simple -- the higher the proof the better -- and longer -- the spirit holds its flavor in a drink. For this reason bartenders particularly love using overproof spirits (also called “cask,” “barrel” or “Navy” strength) in stirred cocktails.


If the standard mixology drink features a 2- to 2-1/2-ounce pour of booze, this means that you could be consuming something that packs almost double the punch of what you’re used to. This is how I realized that my tolerance hadn’t decreased -- the drinks had just gotten stronger. Whew!

Read the full column here and find out what L.A.’s favorite bartenders favor when it comes to overproof liquor.