To help individuals understand how much alcohol they are consuming, businesses and establishments must use standard bottles, bottles, and cans volume measurements when selling intoxicating liquor. These strict measures ensure that different types of alcoholic drinks are always sold in the same quantities in each country, although they vary across the world.
The majority of countries use the metric system, which means that the standard unit for drinks to be sold in is millimeters. However, there are some exceptions, such as beer and cider in the UK, which are sold in pints.
In this article, we'll take a look at the legal measures that different alcoholic drinks can be sold in the United Kingdom. We'll also look at the legal limits of pure alcohol in European countries and how you can calculate the units of alcohol in both shop-bought and homemade drinks.
Spirits were commonly served in 25ml measurements in years gone by, but many pubs now sell spirits in 50ml measurements. Port, sherry, and other types of fortified wine are also sold in 50ml or 70ml measures. It's important that establishments maintain the same standard measure, which means that there cannot be two or more types of measurement for the same type of alcoholic drink on the same premises.
There are different measurement rules for selling other types of alcohol, depending on whether you are using a glass or a bottle. However, the following drinks don't have specified quantities:
- sparkling wine
- yellow wine
- spirits (other than gin, rum, vodka and whisky)
The following table lists the measurements for different types of alcohol that are served in glasses:
|Still wine||125ml, 175ml, multiples of 125ml and 175ml|
|Port, sherry or other fortified wine||50ml, 70ml, multiples of 50ml or 70ml|
|Gin, rum, vodka and whisky||Either 25ml and multiples of 25ml, or 35ml and multiples of 35ml (not both on the same premises)|
|Draught beer and cider||Third, half, two-thirds of a pint and multiples of half a pint|
The table below shows the measurements for alcoholic drinks that are served in bottles and boxes:
|Still wine||100, 187, 250, 375, 500, 750, 1000, 1500|
|Sparkling wine||125, 200, 375, 750, 1500|
|Fortified wine||100, 200, 375, 500, 750, 1000, 1500|
|Spirit drinks||100, 200, 350, 500, 700, 1000, 1500, 1750, 2000|
Packaged alcohol in any volume can be sold if it's below the minimum or above the maximum amount allowed for specific quantities. The table below shows the specified minimum and maximum amounts for various types of alcohol:
|Alcohol||Minimum (ml)||Maximum (ml)|
The only alcoholic products that you can sell in imperial measures in the UK are draught beer or cider, which are sold by the pint. The imperial measurement can be displayed next to the metric measurement, but it cannot be designed to draw more attention than the metric measurement.
Beer and cider can only be sold in quantities of one-third of a pint, half a pint, or multiples of half a pint. This applies to non-alcoholic versions of these beverages too.
These measurements are only in place in England, Wales, and Scotland, as Northern Ireland has different rules.
Units are a way to help keep track of how much alcohol someone is drinking in the UK. They are used to express the quantity of pure alcohol that is in each drink. Alcoholic drinks have labels that state the standard measure alcohol by volume (ABV) that they contain. ABV is the measure of pure alcohol as a percentage of the volume of the drink.
A single unit is equal to 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol, which is the amount that most adults can process in an hour. After this hour, there should be little or no alcohol left in the adult's blood. However, this can vary from one person to the next, which is why some people have a better tolerance to alcohol than others. It's a good idea to learn your limits so that you know how much alcohol you can safely consume.
The number of units in a beverage will depend on the alcohol strength, as well as the size of the drink. A low-strength pint of lager could have two units, whereas a strong pint of lager could have three units, for example.
It's advised that adults don't drink any more than 14 units of alcohol a week on a regular basis. If you do drink this limit, you should ideally make sure that the units are spread over three or more days. 14 units are equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine.
Many European countries have a 'national standard drink', which is equivalent to the unit measures that are used in the UK. They are used to demonstrate how much pure alcohol is in any alcoholic beverage. A single unit in the UK is 8g, which is the lowest limit of any of the European countries.
The table below shows how many grams of alcohol are in the national standard drink of each European country, bar Bulgaria and Slovakia, which did not provide data.
|Country||Number of grams (g)|
Alcohol units can be calculated by multiplying the total volume of the beverage (in ml) by its ABV and then dividing that answer by 1,000. The formula is as follows:
- strength (ABV) x volume (ml) ÷ 1,000 = units
A pint is equivalent to 568ml, so if you had a strong lager with a label that says ABV 5.2%, the equation would be:
- 5.2 (%) x 568 (ml) ÷ 1,000 = 2.95 units
The table below shows how many units of alcohol there are in different types of drinks:
|Type of drink||Number of alcohol units|
|Single small shot of spirits* (25ml, ABV 40%)||1 unit|
|Alcopop (275ml, ABV 5.5%)||1.5 units|
|Small glass of red/white/rosé wine (125ml, ABV 12%)||1.5 units|
|Bottle of lager/beer/cider (330ml, ABV 5%)||1.7 units|
|Can of lager/beer/cider (440ml, ABV 5.5%)||2.4 units|
|Pint of lower-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%)||2 units|
|Standard glass of red/white/rosé wine (175ml, ABV 12%)||2.1 units|
|Pint of higher-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 5.2%)||3 units|
|Large glass of red/white/rosé wine (250ml, ABV 12%)||3 units|
|Bottle of red, white, or rosé wine (750ml, ABV 13.5%)||10 units|
*Gin, rum, vodka, whisky, tequila, and sambuca
You can use a basic method to help you measure the alcohol content in drinks that you have brewed at home. It requires the use of an instrument called a hydrometer. This is a small weighted tube that features a numerical scale on its side. You need to submerge the hydrometer into a container that has a single measure of your alcoholic drink in it. The amount that the tube sinks into the container will depend on the density of the liquid. You will be able to read the exact amount by consulting the scale on the side of the hydrometer.
Fermentation will change the density of the liquid because the sugar will convert to alcohol. The hydrometer will float more before fermentation takes place as the liquid will be denser. Once the sugars have been converted to alcohol, the liquid will be less dense, and the hydrometer will sink more.
To calculate the ABV of the liquid, you will need to take two measurements – one before the liquid has been fermented and one after it has occurred. It's important to remember that there are other factors that can affect the liquid's density, such as temperature, so you need to carefully control the conditions of the room when you take both readings.
You can use the following formula to calculate the alcohol content in the drink, where OG is Original Gravity (before fermentation), and FG is Final Gravity (after fermentation).
- ABV = (OG – FG) x 131.25
While the previous formula is fairly easy to remember, the following is an advanced formula that provides more accurate results:
- ABV = (76.08*(OG-FG)/(1.775-OG))*(FG/0.794)
There are certain weights and measures for food and beverages that businesses have to abide by when selling goods. Different types of alcoholic drinks will have different classifications of what a single measure is. For example, a single measure of still wine could be a measurement of 125ml or 175ml, while fortified wines must be sold in measurements of 50ml and 70ml.
There are traditional exceptions that mean beer and cider can be sold in pints, although these drinks must also feature the measurement in metric units. One pint is equal to 568ml.
One unit of alcohol is equal to 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol. This is the lowest measurement of the standard national drinks in Europe. Other countries, such as Finland and Denmark, have standard drink measurements of 12g, while Austria has the highest measurement at 20g.
It's recommended that adults have no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, which should be spread over three or more days. Most adults can fully or nearly process one unit of alcohol in their blood within an hour, although this varies. It's a good idea to learn your limits when it comes to alcohol consumption so that you don't drink excessive amounts of alcohol that your body will struggle to process.