Popular culture has a habit of making alcohol look like a highly dangerous and flammable substance, especially hard liquor. People are always lighting it on fire to drink, using it as fuel in a fire, or causing pyrotechnics by throwing glasses of whiskey into a fire. It is all very dramatic, but is it accurate?
Alcohol is flammable. However, the flammability of alcohol and its dangers depend on its proof and its form. There is a difference between isopropyl and ethanol, with the latter being drinkable alcohol. Typically, alcohol that is 80 proof or higher (ABV of 40% or above) is flammable.
Even then, not all ethanol-based products burn the same way. Because of this, we need to look closer at what proof alcohol is flammable, what this means for the drinks in your cabinet, and what to watch out for with isopropyl.
What Proof Alcohol Is Flammable?
When we talk about the potency of alcohol and the risks of combustion, we have to look at two different figures. There are two systems in the United States when selling alcohol.
The first is the ABV rating, which is a percentage of alcohol by volume. This is what you are probably most used to when determining how strong something is.
For example, you may decide to go for a 7% beer rather than your typical 4% one for a change. Then there is the proof, which is always two times the number on the ABV.
You might not see this so much on consumer drinks, but it is an important tool in the industry.
It takes a high alcohol content for a drink to become flammable and a safety risk. We’re looking at options that are 80 proof and higher, which means an ABV of 40% and above.
This is typically found in hard liquor drinks like spirits.
With this in mind, it is important to go through some of the more common forms of alcoholic drinks and their flammability risks.
After all, we don’t want to find that our favorite drink is a bigger problem than we imagined.
Is Beer Flammable?
Let’s start with beer, as it is one of the most popular drinks at bars and at home. The rule about hard liquor and a high proof of alcohol means that beer is not flammable.
It doesn’t matter if you are keen on a craft beer with a higher percentage or a potent home brew, it still isn’t going to be strong enough to be flammable.
Typically, beer has an ABV of just 4% and 7%., unless it is a non-alcoholic version. This equates to around 8 or 14 proof, so nowhere near the level of ethanol in those hard liquor options.
So, you aren’t going to be able to light beer on fire, and there is no risk of storing crates of it in your basement. A bigger risk comes when beer is in kegs, as you will see below.
Is Wine Flammable?
Wine is another popular choice for a weekend or evening drink.
Again, the alcohol content here is so low that you aren’t going to have any issues with it becoming combustible.
Values can vary greatly from around 5 to 16% ABV, which means a high of 32 proof. So, you can spill a glass and open it near a fireplace without having to worry.
Can Beer Or Wine Kegs Explode?
It is possible that both beer and wine kegs could explode through high pressure or temperature changes in a fire.
There are plenty of stories of fires starting in cellars in bars – either due to carelessness or electrical faults. There are also freak accidents where kegs have exploded at parties.
This is especially dangerous as these metal canisters will send out shrapnel. Wine barrels in storage are also combustible due to their material, even if the wine isn’t.
Is Vodka Flammable?
Now we are getting into the territory of hard liquor and flammable alcohol.
There is a rule in the United States that all vodka must be at least 80 proof or 40% ABV. Therefore, vodka is flammable.
This means that you can ignite vodka and it will provide a steady burn until all the alcohol has been used up.
As a result, you need to be more careful when drinking and storing it. A shot is going to be more dangerous than a mixer.
Is Whisky Flammable?
Whiskey is in similar territory to vodka as most bottles are around 40% ABV or 80 proof. This means that it can burn in contact with fire, and a large whiskey collection could accelerate a fire.
So, while those scenes with the whiskey in the fireplace may be exaggerated, they aren’t completely unrealistic.
Flammable hard liquor certainly has its uses when handled with care. For example, we can use it in cooking to set fire to a dish and improve the flavor.
In some restaurants, this can be a grand spectacle where waiters set fire to desserts on serving them as a little dinner theater.
Usually, the forms of alcohol used in these dishes are brandy and rum. These are drinks already used to add flavor so won’t spoil a meal.
Anything with wine in a sauce or beer in a batter isn’t going to catch fire in the same way.
Then there are flaming shots.
This is another form of theater that is a good way to bring in business, especially with younger drinkers on spring break. There is no harm in this as long as the flames are fully extinguished before drinking the shot.
Fire Risks In Alcohol Distilleries And Breweries.
So far, we have talked about flammable and non-flammable drinkable alcohol on a small scale. But, what about large-scale storage and production.
There are plenty of stories about explosions and fires related to stills in distilleries. These aren’t just a risk in unlicensed operations for moonshine.
The vapors from stills in any set-up can react with oxygen as a means of ignition. It just takes one open flame or an electrical spark.
On top of that, those working in the beer brewing industry need to be careful with byproducts. There is a lot of dust produced when handling the hops and grain for beer, either in the silos or in the brewery.
In worst-case scenarios, these can form clouds that react with sparks and oxygen to create dust explosions.
How Does Isopropyl Alcohol Differ From Ethanol?
So far, we have only talked about drinking alcohol, which means that everything has contained ethanol. There is another form of alcohol we use that isn’t safe to drink, and that is isopropyl alcohol.
A crucial distinction between them is that isopropyl is highly flammable and dangerous. We can use it with care in cleaning products and rubbing alcohol.
But, it will burn in contact with a spark or flame. Containers of isopropyl alcohol can also explode, and even the vapors are highly combustible.
Is Alcoholic Hand Sanitizer Flammable?
I want to finish this guide with a few other queries about combustible alcohol and alcoholic products.
This one is a great question because so many of us will have alcohol-based sanitizers in our bathrooms.
These products end to contain a high percentage of either ethanol or isopropyl – high enough that they can burn in a fire. This means you need to be careful using them around open flames and storing them.
What Makes Molotov Cocktails So Explosive?
The name Molotov Cocktail sounds as though there must be alcohol involved. While it would be possible to use a bottle of a high-proof spirit, that would also be costly and likely inaccessible.
Instead, these are often petrol bombs, with gasoline used as the fuel inside an old bottle or canister.
Users then put a rag in the top, light it on fire, and propel it toward their enemies.
On contact, the bottle shatters, and the flaming fuel spreads.
Can You Blow Out A Candle With Alcohol On Your Breath?
Finally, there is the concern that you can’t blow out a candle when you have been drinking hard liquor because of alcohol on your breath.
There shouldn’t be enough alcohol on your breath to react with the flame and cause a problem. If you are that intoxicated, you shouldn’t be lighting candles in the first place.
To summarize, the flammability of alcohol largely depends on its proof. Anything above 80 proof will catch fire, which makes it suitable as a fuel, and for flambe.
Anything below that is not going to be potent enough to burn. This means that many hard liquors in your drinks cabinet are flammable, but beer and wine aren’t.
The exception to that rule comes when you have large barrels of beer and wine in storage, and while manufacturing them.
It is always a good idea to appreciate the percentage of any alcohol-based product at home and to use and store it responsibly.