January is here, and the time to undo the indulgences of the holidays is upon us. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you’ll need to do without your daily dram—although if you’re really economizing, this might be a good time to shelve your barrel-proof bourbons and opt for something a little lower in alcohol.
Whiskey is among the most diet-friendly alcoholic drinks there is, at least in terms of a calorie-to-booze ratio. A one and a half ounce shot of 86 proof whiskey contains just 105 calories. One 12-ounce bottle of craft beer that contains about the same amount of alcohol? You’re looking at double the calories.
Why is whiskey so low-calorie? Because, unlike beer and wine, it contains no sugar, no fat, and no carbohydrates. The distillation process strips all of these components from the final product, reducing it to nothing but water, alcohol, and a host of congeners that give the whiskey its flavor and aroma.
(Update: Paul Hughes reminded me that charred or toasted barrels do, in fact, contain simple sugars, which are transferred to the whiskey during aging. Sugar concentrations increase as the whiskey spends more time in the barrel, but even at the upper end of extraction, the sugar content of whiskey is still quite small – less than one calorie’s worth per bottle of 80-proof whiskey.)
That means that the calories in whiskey come almost entirely from alcohol, which contains about seven calories per gram. That makes alcohol higher in calories than protein and carbs, but lower in calories than fat. This means the exact calorie content of your whiskey depends on the proof of your spirit, and as the proof goes up, so do your calories.
A 100-proof whiskey contains about 122 calories in a 1.5 ounce pour, while one of those barrel-proof monsters (say, the 140 proof Elijah Craig Barrel Proof) contains more than 170 calories in a 1.5 ounce pour, about as much as in an equivalent amount of heavy cream.
If you’re curious about the calorie content of your favorite whiskey, you can use this alcohol by volume calculator. Just enter the proof and the amount you like to drink, and then multiply the number of grams of alcohol by seven for a rough total.
Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...