Nutrition Labels for Beer

nutrition labelI met a guy the other night at a Brickskeller beer tasting who works at the Beer Institute. He told me there is a proposed federal regulation that would require nutrition labels for beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages.

I just found a McLatchy Newspapers story confirming it. The labels would list calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, percent of alcohol by volume, and “Serving Facts.”

I like the idea. The Beer Institute doesn’t. They say: “The alcohol content in most beers is in a very narrow range, and consumers are generally aware of that fact.”

Sorry Beer Institute, as much as I love the fact that there is something called the Beer Institute (I even used your library while I was doing research for my book — thank you very much for that!) your argument on this is lame. The beers in my world range from as low as 4.3% (or so) to as much as 20% ABV. I can go to the Dogfish Head alehouse in Gaithersburg, MD not far from my house and choose from beers such as the 4.3% Lawnmower Light, 7.2% Indian Brown, 9% Imperial IPA, or 11% Immort Ale – more than twice the alcoholic content of the Lawnmower Light.

From what I understand, the regulation would not require that vitamins and minerals be included on the label. The guy from the Beer Institute says it would actually be prohibited because “they” don’t want people to know anything that might suggest that beer is good for you. I believe him. Treasury Department officials were quoted in the McLatchy article saying that the proposed label “could provide a constant, low-cost reminder that alcohol consumption adds generally empty, discretionary calories to the diet.”

Liquor Nutrition LabelAnd if you look at the label (left) proposed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), you’d think that all a beer contains is calories and alcohol. CSPI has long espoused the dangers of alcohol and is what many beer supporters would refer to as a neo-prohibitionist organization. I like some of the work they do, including this awesome table of alcohol industry donations to members of congress, but their overall attitude toward alcohol is that it is ruining America.

One thing I don’t like about the proposed regulation is that when it passes (there is little chance it won’t) it will affect small brewers disproportionately. The costs of measuring these nutritional contents and redesigning labels will hurt them more than it hurts big brewers. Perhaps that’s why Diageo actually launched a campaign in support of the rule while small brewers seem to be generally opposed.

Speaking of nutrition labels, I like the one used for International Buy Nothing Day.

Nothing Nutrition

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22 Responses to Nutrition Labels for Beer

  1. People have NO idea how much alcohol is in their beer. They assume all beers are exactly 5% ABV, just like they think all wines are exactly 12% ABV. They don’t know to look for it on the label or to taste for it in the beer. Every time I serve a friend some Victory Golden Monkey, they’re shocked when I tell them it’s around 10% ABV.

  2. Stacy Nelson says:

    Somehow, the idea of a nutrition label on a beer does not bother me as much as it does for a wine or fine alcohol bottle. Beer makers have been for decades aware of nutritional trends and have consistently come out with products that match, such as ‘Light’ or ‘Low Carb’. There are already some beers that have this information listed. But if the issue is to expose the alcohol content, wine labels already have such an element included.

    I think your point about harming the local producers is valid. I can’t imaging the costs to the individual brewer or vintner let alone the fact that the labels are just plain ugly. Would you want to spend $100 on a wine with a nutrition label on it (not that I would spend that much on a bottle in the first place… just an example).

    -Stacy Nelson,
    The Original Wino

  3. beeractivist says:

    TheGreenMiles – that sneaky monkey.

    Stacy Nelson – In the U.S. wine is not actually required to include ABV. Wines with ABV between 7-14% (i.e. most wine) is allowed to be labeled “table wine” or “light wine” without including the specific ABV. My understanding is that the forthcoming regulation will require alcohol content expressed as ABV, as well as all the other nutritional info I listed above, such as protein. I don’t think the nutrition label will prevent people from buying expensive wine. Wine is already required to carry the scary “GOVERNMENT WARNING” label which must be in bold and all caps, and that doesn’t seem to have stopped anyone from buying them!

  4. Stacy Nelson says:

    True and very valid at that. However there’s something to be said for aesthetics in the game of marketing because truly well designed labels do sell better than home printed ones.

    The truly egregious fact that the smaller wineries, which are generally not that profitable to begin with, will be forced into a potentially expensive redesign of their labels, Really not that difficult if it’s a manner of slapping on a Government Warning style label. So o,k,, we’ll move on from that.

    It will also be financially easier for the larger shops to get the measurements for their labels. I can only assume that in the beer world, craft beers will be hit in the same manner.

    What it comes down to really is if this kind of consumer needs to know is necessary? Do I honestly envision that people approach their alcohol consumption with the same zeal that they do their nutritional intake? I can see the listing of alcohol content and sugar levels perhaps. But more than that I have to deem it superfluous.

    -Stacy Nelson,
    The Original Wino

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  6. John Thompson says:

    If this information can fit on individual packets of artificial sweetner, then I think it can fit rather nicely on the coner of any back or front label. These folks just have to stop whining. It makes them look like they have something to hide. Just plain stupid if you ask me.

  7. Mirco says:

    I am wondering whether nutition labels on beer bottles really show or or make the consumer fully aware of ALL ingredients that that brand of beer contain? I dont want to have any GE contamination in my beers, so i just wanna make sure, whether the beer of my choice is clean or not!!!
    Mirco

  8. beeractivist says:

    Mirco,

    I share your concern about GMOs. Click on the Organic/GMO category over in the right hand column of this page to read some of the articles I’ve posted about GMOs and beer. I also covered this issue to some degree in my book, Fermenting Revolution. Click the book cover in the right column over there to read more about it.

    Reread the posting though and you’ll see that the nutrition labels discussed therein are only proposed – they don’t exist currently at all let alone include GMO info.

    Cheers,
    Chris

  9. Billy Jean says:

    If you need a quick label done check out this site

    http://www.beerlabelbuilder.com/

  10. [...] reads. Nutrition Labels for Beer Beer Activist Beer and liquor brawl over nutritional labels – Samuel Loewenberg – Politico.com [...]

  11. Kev Macs says:

    Hey, I say it’s about time!

    Almost Every other product being ingested by humans has labels on it saying nutritional value or lack their of.

    I would love to see how many Calories, Carbs, Sugar and % of Alc. are in ALL alcohol products in North America.

  12. DrinkWithKnowledge says:

    The comments listed above are a great example for the lack of perspective us north american suffer from. Most developed countries in the world require that ANY substance consumed by living creatures has an ingredient list. I honestly care less about the “calories and carbs” as much as what the beer is actually made of. I would rather consume 100 calories in honey than 0 calories in aspartame, or 50 grams of carb from wheat than modified corn starch.
    Just as I would never eat wonderbread because of the disgusting list of unpronouncable ingredients, I will also stay away from Coors/Miller/Bud etc. Because I suspect the list is just as long and just as ugly. And that, is exactly the reason they havent enforced labeling with alcohol yet in our lovely developed nation.

  13. Manuel says:

    I would much rather see an ingredient list on the bottles! Big brewers like Bud and Labbatts are getting away with selling synthetic beer made with corn syrup and hop extracts rather than pure and basic ingredients!
    I think people would support micro breweries a lot more if they knew what was in their cheap watery beer.

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