Ways to test for alcohol in drinks

Written by rosemary gemmell
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Ways to test for alcohol in drinks
Scientific methods can detect alcohol in drinks. (Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

The presence and strength of alcohol in drinks is usually noted by the proof quality on the label of a bottle. The simplest and quickest method of discerning alcohol in drinks without such a label is to sniff the contents. A good sense of taste can also alert a drinker to alcohol, but this might be disguised by other contents. The only fool-proof way to test for alcohol is to use scientific or shop-bought aids.

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Hydrometer

Mainly used by professionals and home brewers, a hydrometer is a scientific instrument consisting of a glass cylinder and thin, bulbous-ended measuring tool used to gauge the alcohol content in drinks such as beer and wine. The level of alcohol is measured by its density, as alcohol is less dense than water. According to Wine Works, the hydrometer measures the amount of sugar in the liquid and should be used throughout the fermentation process. After taking the first specific gravity reading by placing the hydrometer in water as a starting point, the readings will gradually lower as the sugar present in the liquid changes to alcohol. When fermentation is complete, the final reading will show the alcoholic content of the drink.

Ways to test for alcohol in drinks
Fermentation of sugar produces alcohol. (Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Test strips

Individual test strips are an easy and relatively quick way to detect the presence of alcohol in drinks and were originally used for testing alcohol on saliva after a drink was consumed. Each strip is normally wrapped in foil, making it easy for drinkers to carry a few of them safely in a bag, wallet or pocket. The strips are especially effective for testing what might appear to be a soft, non-alcoholic drink. To test any kind of drink, simply dip the unpackaged strip into the liquid. According to Drugs and Alcohol, a special pad on the test strip will change colour if alcohol is present.

Ways to test for alcohol in drinks
Dip a test strip in a drink to detect alcohol. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

LED ice cubes

A new gadget made to detect alcohol in drinks is now attracting attention from The Daily Mail and other world newspapers. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab researcher Dhairya Dand, has developed a set of three LED ice cubes made from gelatin which can be dropped together into a glass of liquid. Implanted with infrared transmitters and LED lights, the colour of the ice cubes will change through green and orange to red according to the strength of alcohol present in a drink. These are particularly popular with teenagers to use at parties, as the cubes can be used to flash in time to music.

Ways to test for alcohol in drinks
LED ice cubes will change colour in alcohol. (John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Senses

When none of the above is available, the only way to test drinks for alcohol content is by using the senses, although this can be less reliable. Look at the label on a bottle of drink to check for the volume of alcohol content, normally shown as a proof percentage. Smell the drink and taste a sip to discern the presence of alcohol.

Ways to test for alcohol in drinks
Alcohol can be detected by taste and smell. (PhotoObjects.net/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

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