If you’ve had any experience with alcohol and freezers — either of the intentional variety (watermelon granitas for a summer barbecue) or the unintentional (exploding cans of half-frozen beer) — you know that not all alcohols freeze in the same manner. Alcohol does freeze, but at a very wide range of temperatures. A bottle of vodka might emerge unharmed from a night in the freezer, for example, but a pack of wine coolers might wind up a sticky, slushy mess.
Every type of alcohol has its own freezing point, and that can change based on what it’s mixed with and what kind of container it’s in. You can’t stick a margarita and gin martini both into the freezer and expect them to come out the same way. The freezing point depends on the spirit’s proof, or alcoholic concentration, which is double its alcohol percentage. Vodka is usually about 80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol. Wine is usually around 24 proof, or 12 percent alcohol and grain alcohol is 190 proof — pretty darn close to pure alcohol.
The higher the proof of a given alcohol, the lower the freezing point — in other words, higher alcoholic concentration makes a spirit harder to freeze. The freezing point of most alcohol is far below what our puny home freezers can handle (they’re generally set at zero degrees Fahrenheit or -18 Celsius). A bottle of 190-proof Everclear has a freezing point of -173.2 F (-114 C), so it would come out well-chilled but still 100 percent liquid after a day in the freeze. Eighty-proof vodka freezes at -16.5 F (-27 C), so it’d also survive unfrozen.
But if you lower the alcohol content and raise the freezing point, you could end up with a freezer disaster if you don’t play your cards right (or a tasty frozen cocktail if you do). Wine is 85 to 90 percent water, so it freezes at about 20 F (-6.7 C) — the water freezes first at 32 F (zero C) and then the alcohol after that. It’ll be slushy for a while before it becomes solid. A word to the wise: Don’t freeze wine in the bottle. Water expands when it freezes, so the pressure could cause the bottle to crack and the cork to be pushed out. Beer, which is only about 10 proof and also mostly water, can cause a similar catastrophe. If you forget about a can or bottle in the freezer for a day or two, the water could expand enough to pop the bottle tops or explode the cans.
If you’re looking to use the freezer to create an alcoholic slushy or frozen drink, do yourself a favor and consult a recipe. (For instance, a recipe for slushy strawberry margaritas calls for four hours of freezing in a nonmetal freezer container, stirring the mixture halfway through). Knowing a little about freezing points will definitely help, but a blind experiment could involve a lot of trial and error. Finding a tried-and-true recipe could save you time and give you better frozen results.