Does Whiskey Contain Any Sugar?

Whether you drink Irish whiskey, scotch whiskey, rye whiskey, or bourbon, many people want to know, "Does whiskey have sugar?" The answer is yes ... and no. If you're monitoring your sugar intake for weight management or you're investigating the relationship between alcohol and diabetes, having the facts will help you make an educated decision about whether whiskey is dosed up with the sweet stuff. Like most foods, identifying the sugar content requires a bit of digging, and the results are somewhat inconsistent between types of whiskey.

In truth, whiskey does contain small amounts of sugar — so small it's almost immeasurable. Even the USDA lists the total sugars in whiskey as zero. OK then, so no sugar. However, when you dig a little deeper into whiskey production, a confident "no" is not entirely accurate since the ingredients and the process itself can inject sugar into whiskey. So which is it? Does whiskey contain sugar or not? Yes. But not really. Allow us to explain ...

Sugar in whiskey's ingredients

Whiskey is a distilled spirit that is made from grains. Depending on the location and style of beverage, wheat, barley, corn, and rye can be involved in the process. All of these grains contain starches, which are a form of sugar. During the mashing process, distillers use heat and water to draw the starches out of the grains and convert them into less complex sugars. Fermentation is the next step in the process. This is where those sugars feed yeast, and, in turn, yeast converts the sugar into alcohol. During this conversion, the yeast consumes most of the natural sugars. Next, the liquid undergoes distillation, during which alcohol is separated from any residual sugars, leaving them behind in the still. The amount of sugar left at the end of this process is negligible, yet a residual amount does remain.

To put it into real terms, an entire 750ml bottle of whiskey contains less than ¼ teaspoon of sugar, while a single 1½ ounce shot of whiskey has around .05 grams of the stuff.

Other sugar sources in whiskey

Not all whiskeys are created equal. However, they all spend time in oak barrels. The history of that barrel can affect the measure of sugar in the whiskey. While oak barrels mostly impart sweetness through flavors, like vanilla, if the barrel was previously used for a sweet wine, those sugars can end up in the whiskey. These are not sugars from the grains and are not added sugars. Instead, they are the result of the aging process that may or may not actually add sugars to the final product, depending on the barrel. Again, however, this quantity is minute.

So, in general, if you're quaffing whiskey neat, with a dash of water, or on the rocks, you can essentially say your drink is sugar-free. However, if you mix whiskey into your favorite smoked old fashioned, a rhubarb whiskey sour, or another drink, those juice, soda, and simple syrup additions crank up the sugar content. Also, watch out for flavored whiskeys, which often have added sugars bumping them into a category of whiskey-flavored beverages or a "whiskey liqueur." So, if you're avoiding sugar, stick with straight whiskey instead.