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Overproof? Don’t Overthink It.

September 04, 2020

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Kimberely Hasselbrink

How to make the most of navy-strength gin, overproof rum and more.

Everyone’s got a story. The trash can full of “punch” at a house party sophomore year of college. Drive-through Cokes turned lethal in a poorly lit cul-de-sac junior year of high school. Spring Break, in its entirety. Overproof spirits, not yet referred to as such in those salad days, were once simply synonymous with two things: Everclear or Bacardi 151. Flavor profile was not a consideration; potency was. They simply got the job done, and fast. 

In a moment like the one we’re in, let’s face it: Overproof has a nicer ring to it than low-proof. Historically, “overproof” was applied to any spirit that was bottled above the standard 50 percent ABV, or 100 proof. (That standard in the U.S. is now typically 40 percent ABV and 80 proof, but the line drawn previously still stands.) Today, as our tastes for drinks skew ever bolder, so have our spirits, leading to a resurgence of overproof rums and a bourbon market driven by a “more is more” mentality. But even now, with our heightened fluency in spirits and cocktails, why and when to use overproof rum, navy-strength gin or a high-proof, cask-strength bourbon isn’t universally understood.

Overproof Rum

Your Guide to the New Golden Age of Overproof Rum

In "Spirit Guide," Wayne Curtis demystifies the ever-shifting spirits landscape one bottle at a time. This round: the new wave of overproof rum.

Wray and Ting Highball Cocktail Recipe

How Wray & Ting Became the Unofficial Drink of Jamaica

The combination of overproof rum and grapefruit soda has become a phenomenon in Jamaica—and beyond.

rum fire

There Is No Rum Like Rum Fire

This oddball, overproof bottling from a lauded Jamaican distillery has hooked bartenders everywhere—hokey label and all.

The general rule is simple: Don’t overthink it. Overproof spirits are effective as modifiers in drinks that lean on nuance, like the Kingston Negroni or Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour. In the latter, a 3/4-ounce pour of barrel-strength bourbon dries the drink out, giving it the balance it has historically lacked. But do not fear overproof spirits as your base. Even in drinks like the Whiskey Sour or the Fitty-Fitty Martini, an overproof spirit adds both mouthfeel and a flavor profile whose contours are easier to identify. 

If you need further proof of the virtues of overproof spirits, look no further than tiki. In tropical drinks, overproof rum is as much a vehicle for flavor as it is for texture, cutting a clear path through citrus juices and syrups while adding a rich, almost oily, quality to cocktails that prefer the volume up. Navy-strength gin, which must be bottled above 57 percent alcohol, is likewise a fixture in tiki drinks like the Saturn and the Double-Barrel Winchester, while overproof whiskey has become a useful tool in modern tropical drinks like Erick Castro’s Iron Ranger. And let us not forget the float. If anyone is kind enough to ask you if you’d like a shot of overproof rum to crown your Piña Colada, the answer is “yes.”

sarah morrissey old fashioned

Deacon Blues

In her spin on an Old-Fashioned Sarah Morrissey opts for the smoky hint of mezcal alongside overproof bourbon as the base.

Amaretto Sour Cocktail Recipe

Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour

This update calls on overproof bourbon for added backbone and balance.

kingston soundsystem

Kingston Soundsystem

A loose riff on the Jungle Bird, this reggae-inspired drink calls on a blend of rums and swaps in Suze for Campari.