Whiskey is one of the most popular spirits in the United States and its popularity keeps on rising every year. Infact, between 2010 and 2020, sales volume of whiskey in the US rose by around 55%!
However, as well as being one of the classiest and most sophisticated drinks in any bar, there’s always a chance it could pose a fire risk.
It’s pretty common knowledge that pure alcohol is a flammable substance and certain alcoholic drinks can pose a serious threat of causing fires around open flames.
In certain circumstances, whiskey is flammable and should be treated with caution around open flames. However, once it has been processed, bottled, and sold to you in a store or at a bar, it is no longer considered flammable and poses far less risk of causing a fire.
Today, we’re going to talk about what exactly whiskey is, what properties it has that can make it flammable and determine which brands pose the greatest threat of being flammable and causing fires.
How is whiskey made?
Different types of whiskeys are made with different combinations of ingredients and slightly different processes but for our purposes, we’ll be going over the general whiskey making process.
The first step involves mixing the core ingredients to form a base. These ingredients include grains, water, yeast, and a few other additives that can change from brand to brand.
Then, this base is left to ferment for 1-2 weeks, in which time will break down to produce a natural alcohol known as ethanol.
Next, the mixture is strained to remove the liquids from the solids. This liquid is then distilled, collected, and sorted by the parts of the produced ethanol that are suitable for whiskey production and those that are to be used for other alcoholic drinks.
The next, and potentially most important stage, is aging the whiskey. Whiskey producers will often advertise their product based on how long it has been aged for, implying that a longer age produces a better drink.
The aging process normally lasts at least 2 years but many manufacturers opt to leave it for longer.
Finally, the whiskey is diluted with filtered water to establish the alcoholic volume the producer wants to achieve and it is then bottled and shipped off to stores, bars, and restaurants.
It’s important to note that the aging process is done using specialized barrels that can produce different aging methods and flavors for different producers.
This means that once the whiskey has been bottled, the aging process will not continue, as glass bottles don’t have the same properties as these wooden barrels.
What makes whiskey flammable?
Interestingly, it isn’t the whiskey itself that’s flammable, but rather the vapors that are produced by the alcohol in the liquid. It’s a combination of this and the ambient temperature around the whiskey that will determine whether or not it will catch fire easily.
Naturally, this means that a whiskey with a higher alcohol content will be more flammable and the same is true if the air around the whiskey is warmer.
Most whiskeys have an ABV (alcohol by volume) of around 40% (or 80 proof) and thus are not considered flammable. At this level of alcohol content, it’s very unlikely that the whiskey would start any serious fire or burn for a long period of time when a flame is nearby.
However, it is still possible that if you hold an open flame over the whiskey, the vapor would ignite and some damage might be done. So, whatever you do, don’t intentionally try to set fire to your whiskey!
It is still possible to buy ‘cask strength’ whiskey today, which is sold at an ABV of around 50% (100 proof). It’s called cask strength because this is closer to the ABV of whiskey when it’s still aging in its barrel.
During the aging process, whiskey will have a much higher alcoholic content level than it will once bottled. This is one reason why whiskey producers have to be extra careful about open flames around their barrels. One catching fire could spell disaster for the whole factory!
Of course, this means that ‘cask strength’ whiskey will be more flammable than regular bottled whiskey. The vapors emitted by ‘cask strength’ drinks are strong enough to ignite if any open flame gets too close to it.
However, the other variable we talked about, air temperature, can negate the effects of a high alcohol content level. For example, pretty much any whiskey drink would be difficult to ignite in a cold room or outside, during winter.
As a general rule with any spirit alcohol, you should always try to keep things away from open flames or sparks. The only exception would be with flaming shots, which use the principles of alcohol vapor to ignite vapor in a controlled manner.
However, unless you feel confident enough in your own ability to do this, you should really leave it to a bartender to make these for you. Of course, many avid whiskey drinkers would consider a flaming whiskey shot absolute insanity and a waste of a good liquor!
Different types of whiskey and their flammability
Now that we’ve established why some whiskeys are more flammable than others, let’s apply that knowledge to some of the most popular brands on the market.
McDowell’s (42.8% ABV) - This is a brand that originated in India and is now manufactured by United Spirits Limited, part of the Diageo family. While this whiskey does have a slightly higher alcohol content level than the average of 40%, it is still not high enough to be considered dangerously flammable.
Jack Daniel’s (40% ABV) - A household name for anyone living in the United States, Jack Daniel’s is the country’s most popular whiskey producer. The average alcohol content of these drinks mean they won’t be dangerously flammable.
Jim Beam (40% ABV) - Similar to Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam is a very well known and popular whiskey in the United States. It also carries a standard alcohol content, meaning it won’t pose much of a fire hazard.
Jameson (40% ABV) - This Irish whiskey is popular all over the world and is often regarded as a less fancy option. It also carries a normal alcohol content level, making it safe around open flames.
As you can probably tell, the most popular whiskey drinks in the world all have an ABV of around 40%, with little variation. This means that the average bottle you might pick up from the shelf of a supermarket will not be flammable.
However, if you’re shopping at a liquor store or even a specialist whiskey store distillery, you might find a lot of ‘cask strength’ whiskeys that can have an ABV as high as 60%.
In general, you should regard any spirit with an ABV higher than 50% as flammable and you should treat it with a little extra caution than you would with a regular bottle.
Frequently Asked Questions
At what point is alcohol flammable?
The rule for whiskey is the same for absolutely any type of alcoholic drink. That is, anything above a 50% ABV or 100 proof. These drinks should be treated with extra caution and open flames or sparks should be kept well away from them.
Is Jack Daniel’s flammable?
Jack Daniel’s is not flammable. This is because it has an alcohol content level of around 40% ABV or 80 proof. In order for a whiskey to be considered flammable, it must have an ABV higher than 50% or 100 proof.
Now you should know everything you need to know about why whiskey is flammable.
If you’re a casual whiskey drinker and tend to only buy it at the supermarket or order it in a bar, there’s a good chance that you’ll never encounter a flammable whiskey.
However, if you’re a more frequent whiskey drinker and enjoy looking for different varieties and shopping at distilleries, you might want to check the ABV of your drinks and make sure you store them safely, away from any dangerous flames or sparks.