Dark Vs. Light Liquor: Which One Is Better For You?

different bottles and glasses of alcoholic drinks isolated on a white background

You might have heard from your family members or friends who don’t drink a certain color liquor because they say it’s better for them. For example, “I don’t drink dark liquor because it makes me sick.” Is that really true? Can one color liquor be better for you than another color? Here’s the truth.

Darker liquors contain “congeners,” a substance which is made during the fermentation process. They contain several chemicals, which include acetone, a chemical which your body doesn’t particularly enjoy. Drinks like whiskey, rum, and some wines can contain much higher amounts of congeners. How much, exactly? On average, whiskey can contain several times the amount of congeners as the same amount of vodka. The only exception to low congeners in clear liquors is tequila.

Liquors that are high in congeners include:

  • Brandy
  • Whiskey
  • Red Wine
  • Rum
  • Tequila
  • Some cordials, including Irish Cream

Liquors that are low in congeners include:

  • Vodka
  • Gin
  • White wine
  • Clear or white rums
  • High quality white whiskey (White lightning, “moonshine”) made at a professional distillery

Close-up view of bottle and glass standing of vodka isolated on black

The body reacts to these organic molecules in a variety of ways. In one study, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, when participants drank equal amounts of alcohol in either vodka or bourbon forms, 33 percent of bourbon drinkers reported next-day pain, while only 3 percent of vodka drinkers complained of hangovers.

Why the difference? Because bourbon typically packs 37 times the congeners contained in vodka, explains lead researcher explains Damaris J. Rohsenow, Ph.D., associate director of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University. But the science is murky: Some congeners are cleared from the body before hangovers set in and some whiskey congeners, particularly butanol, are believed to protect the stomach lining from damage, meaning they may actually fend-off hangover-related nausea, Rohsenow says.

How the body reacts to congeners, be it good or bad, depends on the individual, says Stuart J Finkelstein, M.D., a California-based internal medicine and addiction medicine specialist. “Some people tell me they can drink clear alcohol without a hangover and others say the opposite. It’s entirely due to individual body metabolism.”

Is There A Difference Between Calories And Carbs
According to Liquor.com, a single gram of alcohol contains seven calories, so the higher the alcohol content, the more calories, explains dietician Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.S.D., assistant professor of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Central Washington University and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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For instance, a 1.5-ounce shot of an 86-proof whiskey contains 105 calories, while an 80-proof vodka or gin contains 97. It’s not much of a difference, but you get the idea.

Just remember, whiskey does have a higher level of antioxidants than clear liquors, Pritchett says. Whiskey is…