Units and calories in spirits
How many units of alcohol and calories are there in spirits? Use our simple guide to find out.
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All spirits – including vodka, gin, rum, whisky, brandy – are strong alcoholic drinks.
To keep health risks from alcohol low, if you choose to drink spirits, it’s important to stick to the UK Chief Medical Officers' low risk drinking guidelines. That means no more than 14 units a week, spread over three or more days, with several drink-free days - and no bingeing.
Drinking alcohol also causes at least seven types of cancer, including breast, bowel, mouth and throat cancers.1 The risk of developing these types of cancer starts to increase even at low levels of drinking - so the less you drink, the more you reduce your risk.
Checking a spirit’s ABV (alcohol by volume) tells you what percentage of the drink is made up of alcohol. The higher the percentage, the more alcohol there is - for example, half of a 50% ABV whisky is pure alcohol.
Standard spirits are often around 35-40% ABV, but some can be much stronger. It’s important to check - you’ll find the ABV on the side of the bottle, or ask at the bar.
Spirits need to meet a minimum alcoholic strength to be allowed to use certain names.2,3 Brandy must be at least 36% ABV; gin, rum and vodka are a minimum of 37.5% ABV; and all whisky/ whiskey is at least 40% ABV.
A good way to keep track of how much you’re drinking is to know how many units of alcohol are in your drink. One unit of alcohol is 10ml (ten millilitres) of pure alcohol – and the number of units you are drinking depends on the drink’s size and strength.
in a 25ml measure
units in a 35ml measure
in a double measure (50ml)
Pubs and bars used to commonly serve spirits in 25ml measures - that’s about one unit of alcohol per measure. But these days many pubs and bars have switched to 35ml or 50ml measures – meaning you might be having a lot more alcohol without realising.
If you drink a spirit as part of a mixed drink or a cocktail, there can be several measures of spirit included – even if it doesn’t taste particularly strong. And if you drink at home, a good way to avoid accidentally pouring too much and limit how many units of alcohol you have is by using a measuring cup.
Alcohol contains around seven calories a gram, almost as many as pure fat. This means that because spirits contain lots of alcohol, they’re high in calories too.
A 25ml measure of standard spirits will contain around 50-60 calories, depending on the type of drink. But if you’re drinking at home and pouring ‘by eye’, it’s easy to accidentally pour a larger measure, which will mean more calories (and more alcohol).
And if you’re having a mixed drink, like a gin and tonic, or a cocktail, the calories in your drink don’t just come from the alcohol. A double gin and tonic can contain around 150 calories.4
There are now many alcohol-free alternatives available to standard spirits. These can be a good choice if you’re counting calories as part of your healthy diet, or a weight loss programme, because they are legally required to show nutrition information (unlike standard spirits).5,6
To stay on track, try these tips:
Stick to single measures of spirits. Avoid measuring spirits by eye – it's easy to over-pour. Why not order the unit measure cup from our online shop?
Although spirits used to be commonly served in 25ml measures, many pubs and bars now serve them in 35ml or even 50ml measures. Ask before you buy so you can keep track of how much you are drinking.
Drinking any kind of alcoholic shots will take you over the low risk guidelines very quickly, so best to avoid them.
If you drink regularly, your body starts to build up a tolerance to alcohol. This is one of the reasons the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines recommend having several drink free days each week, as well as not drinking more than 14 units per week.
If you choose to drink, recording exactly what you’ve drunk during the week will tell you whether you're keeping within the low risk drinking guidelines. Our free MyDrinkaware app is perfect for tracking your drinks when you’re out and about.
 Gapstur et al., 2021, Alcohol and Cancer: Existing Knowledge and Evidence Gaps Across the Cancer Continuum. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2021 Nov 2; cebp.0934.2021. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-21-0934
 Department of Health and Social Care. Health and Care Bill: food information for consumers – powers to amend retained EU law. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-and-care-bill-factsheets/health-and-care-bill-food-information-for-consumers-powers-to-amend-retained-eu-law [Accessed 7 December 2022]
Last Reviewed: 16th February 2023
Next Review due: 16th February 2026