Barley Mowat 

Alcohol in Craft Beer

with 16 comments

Stunning revelation time: beer has alcohol in it. I’m sure that you’re shocked to learn this, as I am. To be fair, though, we couldn’t be expected to know this, as it’s not like anyone in the industry goes out of their way to fess up. Bottle descriptions will tell you what types of hops are in the beer, and where they were grown. Some will list the grain bill. Most will talk about yeast and give you tasting notes, but none direct your attention to the small number at the bottom.

So I’ll do it. Beer has alcohol in it. Booze. Grog. Happy juice. Enabling fluid. Whatever you want to call it, it’s in beer, and every time you drink beer, you’re drinking alcohol. A lot of alcohol. In craft beer circles, no one wants to talk about this. It has become the elephant in the room.


And the elephant is drunk.
Seriously, though, how fucked is this train schedule?

Okay, fine. Maybe you’re smart and already knew this. Maybe you’re even are aware that, as fun as alcohol can be, it can be dangerous in large quantities. Perhaps you even know that Health Canada recommends drinking less than 15 beers a week, and you abide by that rule. (10 for women–for simplicity’s sake I’ll focus on men in this article, sorry ladies, but the numbers for women are 2/3 those of men)

Those 15 beers are divided nicely into 3 beers a day. What’s that? 3 beers a day means 21 a week? Well, folks, Health Canada recommends, gasp, not drinking every day. In fact, at least two days a week should be alcohol free, and you should definitely avoid downing more than 4 in a sitting.


4 while standing, though is just fine.
(The top one is for ballast)

“Okay, okay, fine,” you say, “I rarely drink five pints in a night anyways. For the sake of health, I guess I’ll skip Sunday and Wednesday, but every other day I’ll stop off at the bar and have my three pints of Fat Tug, call it a day, and go home to continue my newly healthy, long life.” Not so fast, skippy.

Here’s the kicker: Those 15 beers up there are cans of 5% ABV macro lager. Craft beer is a different beast entirely, and as the ABV wars have escalated the average alcohol content slowly over the years, craft beer drinkers have decidedly not adapted their drinking habits. Judging by the constant stream of Untappd checkins from people I follow, the craft beererati seem to be consuming about the same volumes of beer as their macro drinking counter-parts, and often even more.


Mostly because our six packs have bigger bottles.
Buy this cool holder on etsy

Fat Tug, served in pints, breaks those guidelines in two important ways. First, a proper pint is a lot bigger than a can (67% bigger, in fact), and it’s a lot boozier as well (+40%). Factor those two things in and that 20oz pint of Fat Tug you’re sipping on becomes 2.3 standard drinks. Those three pints you were going to have? 6.9 drinks, or over a six pack of regular beer. That means you can only have one pint, my friend.

Some of you just scoffed at this. “Sure, but those guidelines are for wimps.” Maybe. Maybe not; consider this: compare “I’ll stop by the pub for a few pints” with “I’m gonna slam a six pack with a whiskey chaser.” One is the sort of thing said by a craft beer aficionado, and the other by a smelly skid row alcoholic on welfare Wednesday. Both people, though, are drinking the same amount of alcohol.

Let me say it again: those three pints of IPA are the booze equivalent of seven beers. Seven. Unless you’re 20 and it’s Friday, seven beers is not the best idea. Do it every day after work and you’re seriously flirting with alcoholism. Add a pint at lunch and you’re suddenly on Betty Ford’s Christmas card list. This doesn’t even include pulling a shift at your favourite pub on Friday and Saturday nights.

And that’s Fat Tug, which at 7% ABV is hardly the reigning heavy weight of local brews. Other IPAs are 8% or more, and non-IPA styles like Belgian Strongs are frequently in the 9%+ range. Local Imperial Stouts crest 10% and one example clocks in at a whopping 14.6%. That 14.6% stout, sold in a 650ml bomber, contains 5.7 standard drinks: more than a whole bottle of most wines. Health Canada recommends keeping any single evening to 4 drinks or under, meaning that drinking a bottle of Imperial Stout by yourself would make a doctor frown–opening a second one afterwards is right out.


Unless you share. Then it’s cool; doctors are notorious drunks.

So what is a standard drink? It’s about 17ml of pure alcohol. Since that’s not super helpful by itself, I’ve done the math for you, for a few local brews.

Beer ABV Package Size Drinks in Package Appropriate Serving
Driftwood Fat Tug 7% 650ml 2.7 270ml (9.5oz)
Howe Sound Woolly Bugger 11% 341ml 2.2 155ml (5.5oz)
Phillips Hoperation 8% 650ml 3.0 213ml (7.5oz)
CC Imperial IPA 9% 650ml 3.4 191ml (6.7oz)
Driftwood Singularity 14.6% 650ml 5.7 115ml (4.0oz)

Well, crap. What do we do about this? Demand that beer be sold in tiny, tiny bottles? Nope. We just need to be more aware of the amount of alcohol we’re consistently cramming down our pie holes. When you walk into a bar you need to realize that in the vast majority of cases a pint is not an appropriate serving size for craft beer, unless you plan on making it your only drink of the evening.


And no cheating with the definition of “pint” ya rummy. It’s 20oz or nothing.

Be aware of what you’re consuming, and what’s in it. Try higher ABV beers in smaller sizes (the Alibi has both 10oz or 6oz sizes for just such a reason, in addition to reducing the size of their “large” glass for high ABV beers). At home, exercise some restraint and don’t drink the whole bottle. Crazy, I know, but open beer will last until tomorrow if you cap it (I’ll do some research on this and report back later).

Treat the higher ABV beers with the respect they deserve. These are painstakingly produced and deserve to be sipped and savoured. You should drink them on a timeline closer to a glass of wine than a can of shit lager, letting the flavours open up as the fluid warms and interacts with the air.

As well, if you want more than one pint of beer, try more of the increasingly popular sessional releases that are coming out from local breweries. These guys typically come in below 5%, meaning you can have more than one, or have the same amount and consume less booze. Phillips and Central City have India Session Ales, and sessional beers are increasingly on the menu at Brassneck (although, note that a 20oz pint of 4% session beer still is about 1.3 standard drinks).

Monitor how much and how often you drink. This one might seem a bit extreme on first reading, but no one consciously chooses to become an alcoholic. They just wake up that way one day. What’s worse is that it’s usually a few years later that they actually realize it, and a few more before they admit it to others.

In short, be an adult, and remember that while the drink in your hand is lovingly made in small batches, using quality ingredients, and costs a lot to buy, it’s still a drink.

Written by chuck

February 26th, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Beer and You

16 Responses to 'Alcohol in Craft Beer'

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  1. For further reading, here’s the article that @jantweats found, which inspired this post: http://beergraphs.com/bb/344-high-functioning-craft-beer-and-alcohol/

    chuck

    26 Feb 14 at 15:04

  2. This is something people don’t know?

    Everyone I know is quite aware of the amount of alcohol in craft brews.

    Jono

    26 Feb 14 at 15:40

  3. So I’m an alcoholic then? Shit.

    Chris Richardson

    26 Feb 14 at 16:59

  4. While almost everyone in the craft beer community knows about the higher alcohol content commonly found in our local favourites, there are a lot of people who don’t. This is one of the objectives of CAMRA’s FUSS campaign.

    People can learn more about why serving sizes are important at http://camravancouver.ca/advocacy/fuss/

    Scott

    26 Feb 14 at 17:05

  5. There is no doubt that a huge amount of ‘craft beer enthusiasts’ are simply (fairly mild) cases of alcoholism. The sentiment that ‘craft beer makes being an alcoholic cool’ is painfully true and Untappd only makes things worse (though more transparent).

    Personally I think my average of one beer a day (varies in size and ABV) is as high as I’m personally comfortable with. It’s just that I need to keep up with my beer buying habits. 😀

    Jason

    26 Feb 14 at 18:18

  6. Thank you for writing this article!!

    LJCaro

    26 Feb 14 at 19:42

  7. It’s something that has often bothered me about craft beer. I like buying fancy beers, and I cellar a lot of them, but I’m finding it difficult to actually drink any of my cellared beer, just because the bottle sizes (therefore alcohol content) are too large for a single sitting, even if shared with one other person.
    Howe Sound’s Wooly Bugger, trappist ales and a few others have it figured out, smaller bottles, smaller servings and then the beer doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. I dare anyone to drink a bottle of singularity on their own and tell me that they loved it as much on the last sip as they did on the first, I think that it’s just too much!
    I love big beers, I dislike being drunk, and I don’t think that I’m alone in this, I would imagine that there are a lot of craft beer aficionados out there that love the flavours, aromas and skill that goes into a brew, and the alcohol is just a side effect that is tolerated.

    Steve

    27 Feb 14 at 08:56

  8. All things being equal, I would absolutely love it if my craft beer had zero alcohol and zero calories. However, I am absolutely not willing to trade quality to achieve those goals.

    I like Steve’s comment that alcohol is just a side effect that is tolerated, at least for some of us.

    chuck

    27 Feb 14 at 09:29

  9. Good post. I’m also hugely in favour of smaller servings (bottles!) for strong beer. Linear pricing to encourage responsible consumption would be nice too.

    Nitpick: the calculation for Fat Tug seems to be off, it should be about 2.6 standard drinks.

    Tyler

    27 Feb 14 at 10:06

  10. @Tyler – Good catch. It’s actually 2.7 when rounded (650*.07/17.05).

    chuck

    27 Feb 14 at 10:19

  11. Good post, Chuck. The craft beer crowd generally ignores this topic while at the same time trying to tout the health benefits of beer. We definitely have to face the music that drinking more than the occasional beer is not good for you. Many tall glasses of boozy sugar isn’t going to help anyone’s quest for a long life.

    “The alcohol is just a side effect that is tolerated.”

    My relationship with beer is much, much different than this. I like going to bars, drinking with friends, and I’m not going to pretend that the inebriating effects of alcohol aren’t a big part of the fun.

    Jer

    27 Feb 14 at 14:20

  12. Great post. I’ve recently realized myself that I’m drinking more and more often just to keep up with all the latest releases, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. It’s a worrying side-effect of the craft beer boom in B.C.
    It’s a huge health worry, one that seems worse in the U.S. where craft beer is way more established — but that’s not to say B.C. will head that way too. I’d encourage everyone here to also read the post you linked to at the top of the comments.
    One thing I’ve wondered is whether breweries themselves should be held more responsible for not offering smaller bottle sizes. The onus is obviously on the drinker as to when he/she stops drinking, and the 650ml size is probably the most cost-effective method of packaging — but would releasing 341ml/355ml bottles really be so awful? Surely if breweries want their meticulously crafted 10% beer to be appreciated in the best possible way, this should include the serving size in which it is sold?

    Jan

    28 Feb 14 at 14:38

  13. Having exact serving sizes and ABVs of beers posted for all to see in restaurants and bars was something I brought up with John Yap during the CAMRA BC presentation during the liquor law review-consultation. It seems like a no-brainer for me for the government to jump on this idea of having things posted, like they do in the UK, as it looks good from a public safety-health promotion perspective, which the government is painfully aware of, and from a consumer point of view, which translates into votes which is ultimately the only thing politicians care about.
    Despite these upsides, with no obvious downside to the idea, the government and LCLB continue to ignore this problem.
    I don’t know how many times I have told servers and consumers the beer they are drinking is in fact not 5% but 7% or more and they are shocked, with the usual response “well, that explains a lot”…

    Paddy

    1 Mar 14 at 11:03

  14. One of my previous weekends was a stark reminder of this issue. I put back three 22oz bottles in a night at home, including an imperial stout and could barely walk up the stairs to bed after, not to mention a tad shaky the next morning. I really do want to see smaller bottles being offered and sold as singles more often.

    Terry

    3 Mar 14 at 08:30

  15. On these high ABV beers I have taken to splitting them over two sittings by gently pouring half into a smaller bottle and then using a wine saver. Not perfect solution but works ok.

    Damon

    4 Mar 14 at 12:58

  16. […] a previous article, I lamented the fact that craft beer contains alcohol. Lots of alcohol. So much alcohol, in fact, […]

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