Why Whiskey Is So High in Calories & What to Do About It


The amount of whiskey poured for one drink is quite small and yet it contains a relatively large number of calories. This was an issue for me because I like whiskey, but I don’t like calories. That’s why I wanted to find out why whiskey is so high in calories and what I could do about it.

Whiskey is high in calories because it contains alcohol which has seven calories per gram – almost twice the number of most of the other sources of calories. It’s also because whiskey is a distilled spirit, so it contains a lot of alcohol – with seven calories per gram.

Let’s go into that in more detail.

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Whiskey Is High in Calories

Whiskey bottle and glasses next to nutrition label with calories circled

In case you think I’m making a big deal out of this, I want to compare the number of calories in whiskey with the number of calories in other regularly consumed foods and drinks.

Portion SizeNumber of Calories
Glass of whiskey2fl oz131 – 222
Cup of coffee6fl oz1
Slice of white bread25g66
Serving of pasta57g75
Glass of coca cola8fl oz88
Serving of tuna85g112
Serving of vanilla ice cream66g137
Portion of meat100g143
Medium sized baked potato173g161

As you can see from the table above, a relatively small 2fl oz glass of whiskey (which is the standard neat pour) has between 131 and 222 calories. This is more calories than a slice of bread, a serving of pasta, and even a glass of coca cola. And it’s about the same number of calories as a portion of meat, a medium sized baked potato and incredibly, a serving of vanilla ice cream!

How can such a small amount of whiskey contain the same amount of calories as things that are much bigger and much heavier? Here’s how.

Why There Are So Many Calories in Whiskey

The reason why there are so many calories in whiskey is because it contains the source of calories with the second largest number of calories per gram – alcohol. It’s also because whiskey is a distilled spirit, so it contains a large amount of (7 calories per gram) alcohol.

There are actually four sources of calories, and each source contains a certain number of calories per gram as you can see in the following table.

SourceNumber of Calories Per Gram
Proteins4
Carbohydrates4
Alcohol7
Fats9

As you can see, proteins and carbs contain about half the number of calories per gram than alcohol and fats, so it starts to make sense that a smaller amount of whiskey can have a similar number of calories to foods and drinks with carbs and proteins.

Not only that but part of the whiskey making process is to increase the amount of alcohol it contains. When the sugars of grains are fermented, they become alcohol – but only 5% – 10%ABV. When that is then distilled – meaning concentrated, it becomes 65% – 95%ABV. Whiskey is eventually bottled at a lower ABV but as it’s between 40% – 68%ABV that’s still quite high.

That means even with the relatively small standard neat pour of 2fl oz, you’ll have a lot of alcohol and therefore a lot of calories. In a 40%ABV whiskey that means 18.67g of alcohol and 131 calories. And if the ABV of your whiskey is higher, the grams of alcohol will be higher too as will be the number of calories.

The following table shows the grams of alcohol and the number of calories for common whiskey ABVs.

ABVGrams of AlcoholNumber of Calories
40%18.67g131
43%20.07g141
45%21g147
46%21.47g150
47%21.93g154
50%23.33g163
55%25.67g180
60%28g196
65%30.33g212
68%31.73g222

This is why whiskey is so high in calories.

What To Do About the High Number of Calories in Whiskey

While you obviously can’t reduce the number of calories in whiskey, there are several things you can do to reduce your intake of calories when drinking whiskey.

1. Drink Lower ABV Whiskeys

One thing you can do is drink lower ABV whiskeys. As you can see from the previous table above, a glass of 40%ABV whiskey is more than 30 calories less than a glass of 50%ABV whiskey and almost half the number of calories of a glass of 68%ABV whiskey.

2. Reduce The Size of Your Drink

A glass with a small amount of whiskey and a glass with a large amount of whiskey

Another thing you can do is to reduce the size of your drink. The following table shows the number of calories in a 1fl oz and 1.5fl oz drink for common whiskey ABVs.

Number of Calories In 1fl ozNumber of Calories In 1.5fl oz
40%6598
43%70105
45%74110
46%75113
47%77115
50%82123
55%90135
60%98147
65%106159
68%111167

Obviously, reducing the size of your drink by half to 1fl oz will halve the number of calories you consume, but even reducing the size of your drink to 1.5fl oz will make a significant difference. A 1.5fl oz drink of 40%ABV is more than 30 calories less than a 2fl oz drink of the same whiskey, and a 1.5fl oz drink of 68%ABV is almost 60 calories less than a 2fl oz drink of the same whiskey.

3. Drink Good Quality Whiskey

The last thing you can do about the high number of calories in whiskey is to drink a good-quality whiskey. Now this may sound counter intuitive because a good-quality whiskey is usually drunk neat with a 2fl oz pour for a more substantial drink, whereas lower-quality whiskeys are usually drunk in smaller 1fl oz or 1.5fl oz shots. Also, if it’s a good-quality whiskey there’s a strong chance you’ll want to drink more of it.

However, since drinking whiskey neat takes longer than drinking whiskey shots – you need time to detect the aromas and flavors of the whiskey and time to savor them, you’ll probably have fewer neat drinks than you would have had shots, and end up drinking less (but better quality) whiskey overall.

Whiskey Is Not as High in Calories as Beer & Wine

It’s worth remembering that although whiskey is high in calories relative to some other foods and drinks, it’s not high in calories relative to other alcoholic drinks. Whiskey has the same number of calories as other distilled spirits, but less calories than beer and wine.

That’s because the same distillation process that condenses the alcohol and increases the ABV of whiskey, also removes any of the other sources of calories (mostly carbs) from the ingredients. Since beer and wine aren’t distilled other sources of calories won’t be removed.

And although whiskey has a far higher ABV than beer and wine, so you would think that having a second (and lower) source of calories wouldn’t give beer and wine more calories overall, since the standard drink size for each type of alcoholic drink is adjusted to ensure that each has the same amount of alcohol (14g), it does. The following table shows what I mean.

ABVDrink SizeGrams of AlcoholCalories
Beer5%12fl oz14156
Wine12%5fl oz14125
Whiskey40%1.5fl oz1498

This table shows the standard (US) drink size for beer, wine and whiskey. As you can see, the higher the ABV the smaller the size of the drink which ensures that each standard drink has the same number of grams of alcohol.

With 7 calories per gram of alcohol, every standard alcoholic drink will have at least 98 calories, and with no other sources of calories that will be the number of calories in a standard whiskey. But a standard beer and wine has 25 and 50 calories more respectively because other sources of calories weren’t removed like they were for whiskey.

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Josh Mitchell

I'm Josh Mitchell. I love whiskey and am working on increasing my whiskey tasting abilities and my collection.

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