Whether you are trying to make sure you are sober enough to drive legally or just trying to keep a check on the amount of alcohol you are consuming, it can often be confusing just how much alcohol is in each drink.
Although the ABV system was designed to help us understand the alcohol content of each drink, because there are so many different drinks, sizes of drinks, and different varieties of each one it’s not always clear which is the best drink to stay sober with.
Does a shot of vodka contain more alcohol than a pint of beer? What about drinking a glass of wine – is that the way forward? Obviously with an average ABV of 40% compared to a 5% ABV beer, vodka does seem stronger, but there again you don’t normally drink vodka by the pint. And if you are drinking vodka by the pint you definitely shouldn’t even be thinking of driving!
Let’s take look at the science and simple maths behind the alcohol content of popular alcoholic drinks and try to clear up which drinks are going to help you stay within the legal blood alcohol content.
What is the Volume in Alcohol by Volume?
Size or the physical volume is where most of the confusion often arises when looking at the alcoholic strength of a drink – the many different shapes and sizes alcoholic beverages can come in.
Beer, for example, will often be served in a pint glass (16 oz), a tulip (11 – 14 oz), or a snifter/slim Jim glass (8 – 10 oz). That’s before we even mention the fancy custom glasses that some more exotic imports may use, like a pilsner glass, weizen glasses, a kölsch stange, a German stein, or lambic glass.
Just how much is in those huge plant-pot-like Hoegaarden glasses is anybody’s guess!
To make it even more confusing, packaged beers don’t always come in the same size bottles or cans. You can get the large format bottles or growlers (750 ml or 25.4 oz), a bomber (22 oz) or the standard can/bottle (both 12 oz).
You would think shots would be much easier to define, yes? After all, a shot is a standard unit of measurement, or so you would think. A standard American shot has 1.48 oz of volume but this can vary from bar to bar depending on the pour of the barman.
It can be twice as large in some bars like my local dive bar, where the barman tends to pour with a heavy hand. In other places, like bars in cheap all-inclusive resorts or complimentary drinks services in casinos, it can often be much less than that standard 1.48 oz for cost-cutting reasons.
To make it even more complicated, shot volumes vary around the world being almost 50% larger in countries like Japan to over 50% smaller in Germany. Strange that a country known for the diminutive stature of its people should have such generous serving sizes, yet the Germans known for their love of drinking would have one of the smallest shots!
Shot Volumes Worldwide
|Germany||0.67 ounces (20 ml)|
|UK||0.84 ounces (25 ml)|
|Australia||1.01 ounces (30 ml)|
|Poland||1.35 ounces (40 ml)|
|US||1.48 ounces (44 ml)|
|Russia||1.69 ounces (50 ml)|
|Japan||2.02 ounces (60 ml)|
Some countries like the UK have complicated laws which dictate how much volume should be served in a shot in different drinks.
HM Government and Customs Weights and Measures Act dictates the four basic spirits, (whiskey, vodka, gin, and rum) should be served in measures of 25 ml or multiples thereof unless served in a mixed drink or cocktail of three liquids or more, in which case they can be served in whatever proportion.
Unless the menu states the measure of each spirit (which they rarely do!) you will never know for sure just how much alcohol you are drinking in that delicious Mojito or Cosmopolitan.
For the purpose of this guide, we are going to assume a shot is the US standard of 1.48 oz (or 44 ml) and a standard beer size is a bottle/can of 12 oz (or 354ml).
All alcoholic drinks contain the same type of alcohol, ethanol. However, the amount of ethanol percentages can vary dramatically between beers and other hard drinks like vodka, whiskey, or rum.
Domestic beers on average have an alcohol by volume percentage of between 5% – 8%, although some stronger beers like Imperial Stouts or Double/Triple IPAs will often boost this up to 12% or higher. Some of the boozier beer options on the craft beer scene often boast an ABV of 19%.
Here’s the important part. The current American Dietary Guidelines for 2020 – 2025 define one standard alcoholic drink as containing 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol or ethanol content.
Using a standard 12 oz bottle of a domestic beer like Bud at 5 % makes for one standard alcohol drink or unit of alcohol.
12 oz/100 * 5 = 0.6 fl oz per standard bottle, can, or 12 oz draft beer glass of regular beer.
An 80-proof vodka with an ABV of 40% also has 0.6 fl oz of alcohol in each shot.
1.5 oz/100 * 40= 0.6 fl oz per standard US 1.5 oz shot of 80-proof spirit.
Using this simple maths formula of the total volume of drink divided by the alcohol by volume percentage to compare alcohol levels shows that one beer is equal to one shot. That’s assuming it’s a 12-ounce beer with an ABV of around 5% and a traditional 80-proof distilled spirit like vodka with an ABV of 40%.
The volume of liquid/ABV = actual alcohol content of beverage in fluid ounces.
This system of measuring the actual alcohol content of the beverage also holds true for wine. With an average ABV of 12 % for most wines and the serving being a 5 oz glass you simply flip the numbers for beer to get a 0.6 fl oz alcohol serving.
Where it all goes to pot is when the ABVs of a beverage are much higher than a regular beer or spirit. Craft beers like Black Tuesday from The Bruery have an ABV of 19% which translates to an actual alcohol volume of 2.28 fl oz, nearly as much as four regular 12-ounce beers.
The world’s strongest vodka, Spirytus Vodka from Poland, has a whopping ABV of 96%, with 1.42 fl oz of ethanol per serving equivalent to two and a half bottles of beer (assuming a 12-ounce 5% ABV beer), all in one little shot glass!
Standard Drink Size Comparisons (As defined by the UCLA Police Department)
|ONE STANDARD BEER DRINK||One 12 oz bottle of beer One 12 oz can of beer One 8 oz glass of malt liquor like Old English or Mickey's A "forty" or 40 oz bottle of beer is about 3 1/2 standard drinks while a "forty" of malt liquor is about 5 standard drinks.|
|ONE STANDARD DRINK OF WINE||One 5 oz glass of wine One 3 - 3.5 oz serving of fortified wines like port or sherry One bottle of table wine is about 5 standard drinks|
|ONE STANDARD DRINK OF HARD ALCOHOL||One 1.48 oz shot of hard liquor One mixed drink containing one 1.48 oz shot of hard liquor A 750ml bottle of hard liquor such as vodka contains about 17 standard drinks|
|STANDARD DRINK OF COCKTAIL OR RTD (READY-TO-DRINK PREMIXES LIKE HARD SELTZERS)||One Long Island Iced Tea is about 4 standard drinks A Classic Martini is about 2 standard drinks A margarita is about 1.5 standard drinks An 8 - 10 fl oz serving of flavored malt beverages at about 7% is one standard drink|
|STANDARD DRINKS IN 16 OZ KEG CUP||3 full keg cups of beer are about 4 standard drinks 1 keg cup filled with wine is about 4 standard drinks|
Shot of Liquor vs Beer – The Calorie Count
If a shot of hard liquor has the same actual amount of alcohol in it you would be forgiven for assuming the calorie count of each drink is similar. Unfortunately, that’s not the case at all.
A regular (5% ABV or less) beer on average contains about 148 calories with a light beer having only 115 calories on average. In general, the more flavor a beer has the more calories it will have too. Higher alcohol content beers will also have more calories packed into them.
Surprisingly, a 12 oz serving of Guinness Irish Stout features 125 calories, only slightly more than the lightest beers like Bud Light. And with an ABV of 4.2 %, Guinness also has the same amount of actual alcohol content as a Bud light.
Depending on the type of hard spirit, an average shot of 40% ABV liquor like Absolut Vodka only contains 97 calories. As a rule of thumb the higher ABV of the spirit, then the more calories it will contain.
A plain normal vodka contains only water and ethanol alcohol apart from trace amounts of some impurities and nutrients. All the calories in vodka, therefore, come from alcohol with is a highly concentrated source of calories at 7 calories per gram.
Beyond calories, vodka contains no significant amounts of nutrients, such as fiber, protein, vitamins, or minerals, which are often found in beers. This is why many people refer to vodka and other types of alcohol as sources of “empty” calories.
Do You Get Drunk Quicker Drinking Shots vs Beer?
We all have buddies who say I’m fine on beer but once I hit the whiskey or tequila I get drunk very quickly. We have already seen a beer has the same amount of alcohol as a standard shot, so why do so many people assume a beer is not as strong as spirits?
It comes down to the actual physical volume of the drink and the way we drink them.
A pint or even a 12 oz serving of beer in a glass will normally take longer to consume. Our body chemistry can break down and absorb 0.016 blood alcohol content (BAC) per hour. This translates as roughly one standard drink an hour, so one beer or one shot per hour.
You will be within legal BAC limits if you employ the “one drink an hour rule”.
It might seem easier to only drink one beer an hour, although I can struggle with that, whereas shots are often drunk much more rapidly.
We have all been in the bar where a round of tequila slammers are quickly slammed and then followed up with another round, and another, and another…Often you can end up slamming 5 or more tequilas in an adrenaline fused 10 minutes or so.
I have some buddies who can chug a beer as quickly as I can slam a tequila but it’s unlikely they would chug five beers that quickly in such a short time.
Many people, especially youngsters, often mistakenly believe beer has less alcohol than other alcoholic beverages and, as a result, don’t track the amount they drink which can lead to dangerous behavior like drunk driving and serious injury
Different Types of Shots
Although we tend to have talked mainly about vodka or whiskey as a shot and having the same amount of alcohol as a 12 oz regular beer, any spirit which has an ABV of around 40% will be the same as a beer.
The rumors that tequila, Jaegarmeister, or Schnapps will get you drunk quicker have no scientific or medically evidential truth.
It’s purely down to the rituals associated with these drinks which tend to be slammed or shot down without a mixer in quick succession. Four shots of whisky are the same as four regular beers in just the same ways as four shots of vodka.
Even four shots of tequila should only have the same effect on your sobriety as four shots of vodka. It all comes down to the ABV and that simple formula of volume divided by the ABV to work out the alcoholic content of your drink.
Even cocktail “shots”, where a mini cocktail is squeezed into a tiny 1.5 oz shot glass, will still only have the same alcohol content as a regular serving of beer. For example, a B52 just uses 1/3 of a regular shot of the three components so it still only has an ABV of around 40% of a 1.5 oz serving.
The most well-known “shot” cocktails include:
- Sangrita Shot
- Jelly Bean
- Blow Job
- Slippery Nipple
NOTE: Some of the above shooters use spirits or aperitifs with much lower alcohol levels than regular 80-proof spirits such as the Midori in a Grass Hopper which only has an ABV of 20%. Although the difference in the quantities used may be minute, the resulting shot will have less alcohol content than a beer.
Beer vs Shots – The Conclusion
So in answer to the question of whether a beer equals a shot, yes it does, as long as we are talking about a 12 oz serving of a regular beer with an ABV of around 5 % and an 80-proof spirit with an ABV of 40%.
However, just watch which beer you are drinking as some beers, like a Hazy IPA from Stone, may not taste stronger but they can hit 10 % ABV.
Drinking a shot won’t get you any more drunk than a beer, but the amount you drink in a shorter time might. Likewise, drinking more beer won’t keep you sober, even if you try spreading it out.
If you need to stay sober to drive or for any other important reason there is now a good selection of non-alcoholic beers and alcohol-free beers on the market you could enjoy, and you can check out the best here. (link to best non-alcoholic beers article)
I’m not suggesting you give up on the alcohol altogether (oooh no, I could never do that) but slipping the odd non-alcoholic beer in-between regular beers could help your body to absorb the alcohol of other beers and shots and keep your BAC within legal levels.
Ultimately, please drink responsibly while enjoying yourself, and stay safe out there.
Is One Shot Equal to One Beer FAQs
How Many Shots Equal 1 Beer?
As a rule of thumb one 12 oz beer with a 5% ABV is equivalent to one 1.48 oz serving of an 80 proof 40% ABV spirit or shot.
Is It Possible To Get Drunk From Just One Beer?
Absolutely. Although a standard beer contains only 0.6 oz of alcohol, which is under the 1 oz of alcohol processed by the liver in an hour, drinking a higher ABV beer with just 13% ABV increases that level to 2 oz of alcohol.
Pour yourself a boozier beer like an Imperial IPA and drink it too quickly and you will soon feel drunk and definitely be over the legal limit if stopped on the way home.
Is a Shot Stronger Than Beer?
No, although it may have a stronger ABV when you divide the volume by alcohol it should have the same alcohol content and strength. Obviously, exceptions apply like some of the Polish vodkas or Absynthes but a standard 40% ABV spirit is no stronger than a 12 oz serving of your favorite domestic beer.
Is a Shot of Whiskey Equal to a Can of Beer?
Yes, a standard 1.48 oz shot of 40% whiskey is equal in alcohol content to a 12 oz can of 5% ABV beer. maybe not equal in taste some would argue but definitely equal in the amount of alcohol it contains.
How Many Beers Are 4 Shots?
4. Do I really need to say anymore?
How Many Beers Make 100 Shots?
If we are talking in terms of alcohol content, then obviously it would be 100 using our current formula. But if you are talking physical volume of the beer then it would take just under 12.5 bottles of standard beer to fill 100 shot glasses. But why would you?
One phenomenon which has been sweeping across frat bars for many decades is the power hour where you drink a shot of beer every minute for one hour. To fill 60-shot glasses with beer would use 7.5 12 oz bottles, which would be equivalent to 7.5 standard drinks an hour – definitely binge drinking!
How Many Beers Equal a Vodka Bottle?
Working on the basis of a regular vodka bottle being 750 ml (25.4 oz) it contains roughly 17 shots so you would need 17 12-ounce bottles of beer at 5 % ABV to match it.