A call for the ABV to be listed on all beer labels

by Ziggy on April 6, 2013

I am a craft beer fanatic. Snob you might say. If given a choice between a light macro brew and water, I’ll go with the water because it tastes better (unless I haven’t had a drink in about a month, then I might give in and drink a watered down commercial “beer”, but only if it turns blue when cold and provides an etched swirl within the bottle to deliver beer to my mouth evenly and without haste). I absolutely love the craft brew industry. The personality, the stories, the great marketing, the David vs. Goliath stories and the scale of the whole situation, and most importantly, the fact that craft beers are bringing respect back to our American beer industry.

But there’s one thing I can’t stand within the industry. It’s something that happens seemingly at random and with no explanation. And it’s so amazingly simple and logical, it’s literally amazing to me that we’re even discussing this right now. What am I referring to you ask? ABV, or alcohol by volume. The vast majority of breweries list the percentage of alcohol in each of their brews, directly on the label or can art, but there are a few brewers that don’t with certain styles. Even more perplexing is that sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Certain styles they’ll list it, others they’ll just skip it.

Companies like Dogfish Head not only list the amount of alcohol on each of their beers, but they also provide special bottle caps in fluorescent colors and a “warning sign” design to let you know what you’re getting into. Dogfish Head has stated in their blog that this was an early attempt to prevent drinkers without moral compasses from swapping out cheaper bottles in their 6 pack with far more expensive, higher alcohol styles like 120 Minute IPA and World Wide Stout.

Decades ago this may not have ever been a consideration, but luckily for us the craft brew revolution hit and now you can find beers from a session like 3%, all the way up to an unbelievable 40% alcohol by volume, which is more like a distilled spirit than a beer. I recently purchased a double IPA and a barley wine and neither could inform me of the amount of alcohol in my brew.

Now I’m no lightweight, but I fully expect a Double IPA to be at least 7% or more on a conservative estimate, and the Barley Wine? Damn, that should be at least into the double digits. That’s a pretty high amount of alcohol, and an inexperienced drinker could quickly get himself into trouble without knowing what he was drinking. But how would he know? He or she might taste that the beer has a bit more burn than usual, but depending on ingredients, methods of brewing and overall skill of the brewer, some high alcohol beers can taste strikingly similar to their lower alcohol counterparts.

Now I’m certainly not suggesting any silly legislation that would require it, but I’m really perplexed that in an industry that’s as highly regulated as the booze business, that some laws are not already on the books requiring some clear labeling as to the amount of alcohol you’re about to consume.

When my brewery opens you can guarantee every single beer that ever goes out our doors will have an ABV rating on it. I would really like to know why certain breweries skip out on this part? Does anyone have any ideas or theories as to why they might look over this seemingly important stat on their beer? I liken it to purchasing a brand new car but having to guesstimate the horsepower the motor is pumping out. Okay so that’s a bit of a stretch, but still, wouldn’t you rather every brewery just tell you straight up how much kick is in the battle you’re about to enjoy?

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