A glass of whiskey is often the perfect drink at the end of a busy week, and is considered to be the height of good taste when it comes to drinking an alcoholic beverage.
Whether you’re celebrating a new business partnership or simply wanting a warm and delicious nightcap before bed, whiskey is the most popular choice in a number of situations.
But, despite its versatility, how much of a risk does whiskey present when it’s close to an open flame? Is the popular liquor flammable?
This guide will take an in-depth look at the flammability of whiskey, including its chemical make-up, the flashpoint of whiskey, and the difference between cask whiskey and bottled whiskey.
What Makes A Liquid Flammable?
Firstly, it’s important to establish exactly what makes a liquid flammable. Flammability is defined as the ease of which things can catch fire, with a liquid generally considered to be flammable if it catches fire below 100℉ or around 38℃.
The temperature at which a liquid such as an alcoholic beverage catches fire is known as the “flashpoint”. This can vary from drink to drink depending on the alcoholic percentage. The flashpoint of pure ethanol (the alcohol found in alcoholic drinks) is 55℉ or 13℃.
However, the flashpoint of most drinking alcohol is significantly higher than this. Furthermore, in order to get a drink to catch fire at its flashpoint temperature, you’ll need a source of ignition - usually either a flame or a spark.
Chemical Make-Up Of Whiskey
As hard liquors go, whiskey is one of the most complex. It’s made in a time-consuming seven-step process, including preparation, mashing, fermenting, distilling, aging, and finally bottling.
The whiskey-making process involves malt and nearly any grain as the base quantity while extra compounds are also added at different stages. These additional compounds may leach out of the barrel when the liquor is aging.
As a result, it’s difficult to provide a definitive list of what, exactly, is in whiskey because every type of whiskey is different. To make matters even more complex, there are also American “whiskeys” which aren’t whiskeys by the standard international definition.
However, as a general rule, whiskey is made up of alcohol and water, as well as aldehydes, esters, whiskey lactones, and phenolic compounds with other random compounds.
This huge variance in chemical composition makes it challenging to provide an answer regarding the true flammability of whiskey.
It’s worth noting, however, that because most of these additional chemicals only exist in very small quantities, whiskey can be treated as a blend of ethanol and water, and the other chemicals can largely be ignored.
Can Whiskey Catch Fire?
While cask strength whiskey has a higher alcohol content (usually around 52-66%) and is typically flammable, regular bottled whiskey isn’t. This is because the latter is diluted to a lower alcohol percentage.
Bottled whiskey is usually slightly diluted or mixed with other whiskeys. This combination is a process known as “blending”, and helps to reduce the overall alcohol percentage to around 40% alcohol by volume (ABV).
As a result of its high alcohol content, cask whiskey tends to burn incredibly easily, and once alight, its flame is difficult to be extinguished.
So, if you ever find yourself surrounded by casks of whiskey that are on fire, it’s recommended to immediately evacuate the area and hit the fire alarm and sprinkler activation on your way out of danger.
Bottled whiskey, on the other hand, typically has a proof rating of about 80 which is 40% ABV. Therefore it doesn’t burn anywhere near as well as cask whiskey. It can still catch fire, but only briefly, because the amount of water in bottled whiskey will quickly overwhelm any flame.
Is Whiskey Considered A Flammable Liquid?
Whiskey is defined by most shipping companies as a flammable liquid. However, as mentioned above, it’s not technically flammable at bottle strength (80 proof or 40% ABV).
It’s worth noting here that shipping companies consider almost all alcoholic products to be flammable, even beer which is typically around 4-7% ABV. So, it’s hardly surprising that all whiskey, even the weakest ones, are classed as potentially flammable liquids.
From a chemical point of view, whiskey that’s below 100 proof (50% ABV), isn’t flammable, but can be combustible. The self-extinguishing quality of whiskeys with a high water content means they just won’t burn.
Is 100 Proof Whiskey Flammable?
Any type of 100 proof liquor (50% ABV) is considered to be flammable. It’s at this concentration (50% ABV and above) when the water in the whiskey is no longer capable of extinguishing the flame when the liquor catches fire.
So, if you’ve ever seen a tray of flaming shots in a bar, the base spirit will always be one of 50% ABV or more.
The Flashpoint Of Whiskey
This depends on the alcohol content of the whiskey. Most whiskeys at 80 proof (40% ABV) have a flashpoint of 79℉ or 26℃. While this temperature is enough for the liquid to catch fire momentarily, the high water content in 40% ABV whiskey will quickly extinguish the flame.
Different Types Of Whiskey
Jameson - Like most bottled whiskeys, Jameson whiskeys aren’t flammable. They may catch fire at the right temperature, but this won’t be sustained as the water content will extinguish itself.
While the standard Jameson offering is only 80 proof (40% ABV), Jameson makes a high number of different whiskeys and it may be possible that their aged products carry a little more alcohol and are, in fact, flammable.
Bourbon - Bourbon and other American whiskeys such as Jack Daniels and Rye, aren’t technically whiskey in the same way as their Scotch or Irish counterparts.
Despite this, Bourbon whiskeys are considered equally flammable, although once again, the majority of Bourbon will be at 80 proof or less. As a result, they too aren’t capable of carrying a flame for any significant length of time.
Johnnie Walker - This whiskey isn’t technically flammable due to its 40% ABV and high water content. However, as with Jameson whiskey, there are many different versions of Johnnie Walker, so some may be much stronger, and therefore, flammable.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Setting Alcohol On Fire Make It Stronger?
One of the most common reasons people set their alcoholic drinks on fire is to alter the flavor. Burning alcohol will lower the liquid content in the beverage you’re drinking, subsequently creating a richer and tastier drink once condensed.
So, setting your alcohol on fire can sometimes produce a beneficial warmth; boosting the flavor and warming the drink up for you.
Does Jack Daniels Whiskey Catch Fire?
Like many whiskeys, Jack Daniels has a 40% ABV (80 proof). Therefore, this whiskey can indeed catch fire, but not for a sustained period of time. This is because the high water content will quickly extinguish any flames.
What’s The Strongest Whiskey?
Bruichladdich X4 quadrupled whiskey is considered the most alcoholic single malt whiskey in the world. It has a remarkable 92% ABV (184 proof) and should be consumed very slowly.
In terms of its flammability, with such a high alcohol strength and only a very minimal water content, this Whiskey is incredibly flammable and will catch fire as soon as it’s ignited, and for a sustained period of time.