Drink Calories

by Rhett Williams

These days there is arguably too much focus on calorie counting and not enough focus on healthy lifestyle. Consuming high-calorie foods in moderation and getting consistent exercise are keys to good health. Food product companies and fast-food restaurants alike are focusing on calorie content in their advertising, slowly turning quality and moderation into forgotten ideals. Beer, wine, and spirit companies also jumped on the dietary bandwagon over the last decade, releasing "skinny" products, "lite" products, and so forth. Vodka producers in particular push this agenda, touting lower calorie content than other spirits. The unfortunate outcome of this trend is that products advertising lower calories are usually lower quality, feeding only the shifting consumer dietary needs. Focusing so much on these details removes the purpose of consuming these beverages in the first place: enjoying their quality. As mentioned earlier, alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation anyway, so do the calories really add up? While I don't want to contribute to calorie-obsession, I couldn't help being curious about alcoholic drinks for the sake of debate. Is there that much of a difference between beer, wine, and cocktails when serving sizes are taken into account?

First, let's look at some simple details. A calorie is a unit of measurement of energy, where 1 calorie is the amount of energy needed to increase the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. The 'food calorie' (Cal) is actually a kilocalorie (1000 calories) and is the measurement of the energy we obtain from consuming food. According to Health Canada, the average low-activity male between the age of 19 and 30 requires a daily caloric intake of about 2700 and high-active males require about 3000, while the average low-activity female between 19 and 30 requires about 2100 and high-active about 2350. Alcohol is very high in calories per gram at 7, with carbohydrates (sugar) at 4. This means that high proof and high sugar products will contain the most calories. For example, a port wine will have almost triple the amount of a dry riesling, and a very sweet liqueur will have considerably more calories than anything else.

First is a list of caloric content standardized to the same volume (100 ml, or approximately 3.3814 oz). Each of these beverages are not consumed in the same volume. You have a pint of beer, a glass of wine, a small glass of fortified wine, a shot of spirit, and so on. The results calculated to average consumption volumes are listed in the second chart.

This information is found essentially as follows: serving size x alcohol percentage x 7 = alcohol calories, added to sugar level x serving size x 4 = carbohydrate calories. Because products can't be generalized (all white wines don't contain the same calories, for example) the average of each product is given as a range. A final note is that the majority of spirits seem to have very similar calorie content, if not identical, but there is some research that shows whiskies made from a malt may have more calories by volume.

  • Light Beer                    ….....................................27-39 cal / 100 ml
  • Stout*                          ….....................................30 cal / 100 ml
  • Lager                           ….....................................39-54 cal / 100 ml
  • Ale/IPA                        ….....................................46-64 cal / 100 ml
  • Light White Wine**       ….....................................54-78 cal / 100 ml
  • Belgian Beer                ….....................................57-85 cal / 100 ml
  • Avg Sparkling Wine***….....................................70-90 cal / 100 ml
  • Imperial IPA                  ….....................................73-101 cal / 100 ml
  • Avg Red Wine****        ….....................................105-123 cal / 100 ml
  • Sherry                         ….....................................136 cal / 100 ml
  • Vermouth                    ….....................................152 cal / 100 ml
  • Port                              ….....................................180 cal / 100 ml
  • Avg Spirit                    ….....................................222 cal / 100 ml
  • Dessert Wine              ….....................................150-293 cal / 100 ml
  • Liqueur*****                 ….....................................325 cal / 100 ml

Not surprisingly, low calorie "lite" beers (which contain very little of what actually constitutes beer) are the lowest, while sweeter beverages are the highest. Spirits are very high on the list due to alcohol content, and liqueurs are the worst of the bunch with high alcohol and sugar contents (and keep in mind that cream liqueurs also contain fat).

Below is a chart of calorie content adjusted to serving size. I have also included cocktails this time: the Martini is made extra dry with negligible amounts of vermouth and 2 oz of gin, the Manhattan is made with 2 oz of whiskey and 1 oz of vermouth, and the Sour is made with 1.5 oz of spirit, 0.75 oz of fresh lemon juice, and 1 oz of simple syrup (1:1).

  • Spirit Single                ….....................................66 cal (1 oz)
  • Light Beer                    ….....................................95-139 cal (12 oz)
  • Light White Wine         ….....................................95-139 (6 oz)
  • Stout                            ….....................................106 cal (12 oz)
  • Sherry                         ….....................................121 cal (3 oz)
  • Avg Sparkling Wine     ….....................................125-160 cal (6 oz)
  • Spirit Double                ….....................................132 cal (2 oz)
  • Martini              ….....................................132 cal
  • Sour                            ….....................................140 cal
  • Lager                           ….....................................140-191 cal (12 oz)
  • Port                              ….....................................160 cal (3 oz)
  • Ale/IPA                        ….....................................163-228 cal (12 oz)
  • Avg Red Wine             ….....................................187-219 cal (6 oz)
  • Liqueur Double            ….....................................193 cal (2 oz)
  • Belgian Beer                ….....................................201-303 cal (12 oz)
  • Manhattan                   ….....................................220 cal
  • Dessert Wine              ….....................................220-260 cal (3 oz)
  • Imperial IPA                  ….....................................260-360 cal (12 oz)

A quick look at the top of that list begs the question why one would bother with a "lite" beer when sipping a spirit or having a glass of quality white wine yields similar calories but are much more enjoyable experiences. The Manhattan, for a sweet cocktail, is quite high on the list, but due to alcohol content most drinkers are unlikely to have more than two, while drinking more than two glasses of wine or sleeves of beer is feasible and would lead to similar caloric intake.

Do the calories really add up? Drinking an ounce of spirit calculates to less than 3% of the daily suggested caloric intake for a low-activity individual, a Martini about 5%, a glass of red wine or a pint of ale about 8%, and a Manhattan about 9%. Are these high numbers? Are they worth it? To put it in perspective, the typical cheeseburger is almost 400 calories, or almost two Manhattans. The average slice of pepperoni pizza contains about 180 calories, or a pint of ale. Your average latte can contain between 300 and 500 calories, equal to doing more than five shots of whiskey. It’s a confusing issue that many alcohol companies are pushing flavoured and sweetened drinks that thereby contain more calories (over 200 per serving), yet the message is also lower your calorie intake. The lowest calorie drink option is sipping straight alcohol, but palates have been trained to dislike the taste of straight spirits because they’re so accustomed to drinks that mask it! The “skinny” flavoured drink options are making the issue worse. Let this be a further lesson to anyone who doesn’t yet enjoy the taste of a great spirit.

Either way, if I was counting, I'd skip my latte today to save some space for nice wine or a couple cocktails.


  • *Stout = Guiness is used as a typical stout value
  • **Light White Wine = typical range for a light-bodied North American white (Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc)
  • ***Avg Sparkling Wine = typical range for a Brut
  • ****Avg Red Wine = typical range for a North American full-bodied wine (Zinfandel, Cabernet, Shiraz)
  • *****Liqueur = typical value for a cream liqueur



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