I have a couple of comments on my recent article On Vanity about the per capita drinking rate of early nineteenth century America. According to their calculations, people would only be drinking three ounces of pure alcohol per diem if the per capita rate of drinking were 18 gallons of pure alcohol. And if everyone from the age of fifteen onwards only drank only three ounces of alcohol per diem, it strikes one as crazy that any sort of Temperance movement would start.
So, I decided to examine how 18 gallons of pure alcohol would translate across the spectrum of beer, wine, and hard liquor (most probably rye whiskey, rum, or gin at that time) in terms of bottles and cases. Now, look closely at my math and see whether I’m correct in my calculations. My specialty is Classical languages after all, not mathematics. But if I am right, early Americans must really have been having a good time!
Standards of Measurement
Bottle of liquor = 750 ml or .75 liters
Bottle of wine = 750 ml or .75 liters
Bottle of beer = 12 fl. oz.
Case of beer = 24 bottles
ABV of liquor = 40%
ABV of wine = 12%
ABV of beer = 5%
How Many Bottles of Liquor are Needed to Reach 18 Gallons of Pure Alcohol?
Let’s start with the proportion 40/100 = 18/X. The part on the left, 40/100, refers to the average ABV of 40% we see on most bottles of liquor. The number 18 on the right refers to the eighteen gallons of pure alcohol which make up 40% of the volume of liquor in gallons. The variable x denotes the total volume of liquor. Here are the following steps I take:
40/100 = 18/x is cross-multiplied in order to get:
40x = 1800. Then divide both sides by 40 to get the value of x:
x = 45 gallons of rye whiskey (let’s call it rye whiskey)
Yet, rye whiskey is presently served in .75 l bottles. So, let’s convert 45 gallons to liters, which this site tells me is 170.34 liters. How many bottles is that? To get the answer, we need to divide this number by .75.
170.34/.75 = 227 bottles of rye whiskey
That sounds like a ton doesn’t it? At the time, people were often given bottles of liquor instead of money in payment for their labor. And how many bottles does this translate to per week?
227/52 = 4.37 bottles of rye whiskey per week.
You can be sure that many Americans were basically downing a bottle a day! But, most tended to spread out their drinking: restorative doses during the day, to celebrate meeting new people, to conclude business deals, aperitif, digestif, and nightcap before bed. That all adds up!
How Many Bottles of Wine Are Needed to Reach 18 Gallons of Pure Alcohol?
In the early nineteenth century America, liquor and beer were more popular than wine, but for the sake of curiosity, let’s apply the same calculations to wine.
12/100 = 18/x
12x = 1800
x = 150 gallons of wine
150 gallons of wine = 567.81 liters of wine
567.81/.75 = 757 bottles of wine
757/52 = 14 1/2 bottles per week or two bottles a day!
How Many Bottles of Beer Needed to Reach 18 Gallons of Pure Alcohol?
At this point in time, people would regularly drink beer for breakfast. I will not need to convert my figures to the metric system because bottles are usually sold in 12 oz. bottles, unless they are imported from Europe. (Curiously, European brewers use larger tall bottles (25.4 fl. oz vs. 24 or 22 fl. oz.) and smaller regular bottles (11.2 fl. vs. 12 fl. oz.) than American brewers. Go figure.) Here are my calculations:
5/100 = 18/x
5x = 1800
x = 360 gallons of beer (That’s almost a gallon of beer per day!!!)
Now, to get how many fluid ounces of beer, we need to multiply 360 by 128, since a gallon holds 128 fluid ounces.
360 x 128 = 46, 080 fluid ounces of beer
46, 080/12 = 3,840 bottles of beer or 160 cases
160/52 = 3.08 cases per week
While these figures can be admired, I suggest that none of my dear reader try to imitate an early 19th century American in this regard or they won’t reading my blog anymore–or anything besides liquor labels for that matter! Once again, check my calculations and tell me if I erred in any way. By the way, the current per capita drinking rate for Americans (taken from people 21 years or age or older) is 8.6 liters or 2.27 gallons of pure alcohol per capita. A much more healthy amount!