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Logo: Rethinking Drinking - Alcohol and your health

What's a "standard" drink?

Many people are surprised to learn what counts as a drink. In the United States, a "standard" drink is any drink that contains about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of "pure" alcohol. Although the drinks below are different sizes, each contains approximately the same amount of alcohol and counts as a single standard drink.

12 fl oz of
regular beer
= 8-9 fl oz of
malt liquor
(shown in a 12-oz glass)
= 5 fl oz of
table wine
= 3-4 oz of
fortified wine
(such as sherry or port; 3.5 oz shown)
= 2-3 oz of
cordial, liqueur, or aperitif
(2.5 oz shown)
= 1.5 oz of
(a single jigger or shot)
= 1.5 fl oz shot of
80-proof spirits
("hard liquor")
12 fl oz of regular beer - about 5% alcohol   8 - 9 fl oz of malt liquor in a 12 oz glass - about 7% alcohol   5 fl oz of table wine - about 12% alcohol   3-4 oz of fortified wine - about 17% alcohol   2-3 oz of cordial, liquer, or aperitif - about 24% alcohol   1.5 oz of brandy (a single jigger) - about 40% alcohol   1.5 fl oz shot of 80-proof spirits ('hard liquor' - whiskey, gin, rum, , vodka, tequila, etc.) - about 40% alcohol
about 5% alcohol   about 7% alcohol   about 12% alcohol   about 17% alcohol   about 24% alcohol   about 40% alcohol   about 40% alcohol
The percent of "pure" alcohol, expressed here as alcohol by volume (alc/vol), varies by beverage.

The examples above serve as a starting point for comparison. For different types of beer, wine, or malt liquor, the alcohol content can vary greatly. Some differences are smaller than you might expect, however. Many light beers, for example, have almost as much alcohol as regular beer—about 85% as much, or 4.2% versus 5.0% alcohol by volume (alc/vol), on average.

If you want to know the alcohol content of a canned or bottled beverage, start by checking the label. Not all beverages are required to list the alcohol content, so you may need to search online for a reliable source of information, such as the bottler's Web site. For fact sheets about how to read wine, malt beverage, and distilled spirits labels, visit the consumer corner of the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Although the "standard" drink amounts are helpful for following health guidelines, they may not reflect customary serving sizes. For example, a single mixed drink made with hard liquor can contain 1 to 3 or more standard drinks, depending on the type of spirits and the recipe. If you want to know how much alcohol is in a cocktail or a beverage container, try one of our calculators.