It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, I can't tell you how many e-mails I received telling me I kick you butt every month in
this column. Oh, just teasing big guy. But I'm not teasing about my anger at beer labels. I
want information not catchy phrases and silly pictures.
Look, the federal government requires that all food products have clearer labeling regarding
allergens, ingredients, nutritional information, calories but that doesn't apply to beer. Most
labels of US beer don't even mention its alcoholic strength. That's wrong. How come we don't
see a "serving facts" panel, which would list the number of calories, carbohydrates, fat and
protein for a standard serving size, on beers? Some in the beer industry claim it would be a
costly burden, especially for smaller breweries, to put all this on an additional back label.
Did you ever read a wine label? It tells me if their product contains sulphates or if they used
shellfish or dairy-based fining agents. Some might reasonably ask why beer is so different
To be honest I'm most incensed there is no requirement for stating the ABV of the beer. Now
Bill, I realize there have been several craft beer oriented groups over the years that have
lobbied to have the ABV on labels. They have yet to succeed. Look, I think knowing a beer's
ABV is an important part of making an informed choice on what beer to have. I applaud the
many beer bars who now voluntarily put the alcohol levels on their beer menus. If they can do
it so can the rest of the brewing industry.
Originally there was much opposition as it was felt that ABV listings would lead to more
drunkenness and alcohol related problems because beer drinkers would seek out only the
stronger brews. As a craft beer drinker I take that argument as an insult. Of course there may
be some of that but clearly the overwhelming majority of us just want information.
In the UK the ABV must be shown for all beer sold and all alcohol in general. I'm for the
change. I'd love to see a bottling date too. It continues to mystify me that all craft brewers don't
put it on the label in plain language. Stale, old beer will only hurt their reputations and future
Admittedly some macro breweries do give you born on dates and ABV numbers but if we had
comprehensive labeling can you imagine the embarrassment if they had to state many of their
(secret) ingredients (stabilizer, enzymes, coloring, chemically modified ingredients) on the
And on a very different note I want our readers to know about our discussion on buying a lady
a beer at a bar. I was going to save this for next month but you got me a bit riled up yesterday
at lunch so here goes. Look Bill, I've been to lots of bars in my time, and met a lot of great
people. I mean really, most guys are just out for a few after work brews. As a craft
beer drinker I realized that you can learn a lot about someone by the drinks they order.
For example guys that order Coors Light seem a little less manly than guys who order a
Bigfoot Ale. I mean come on, what is the use of drinking diet beer, especially if you have ten or
twelve of them? It kind of defeats the purpose after a point.
A guy that orders an Orval or Rodenbach Grand Cru is showing some good taste, you just
have to watch for over snobiness. Everyone can see you are drinking an interesting beer in a
fancy glass, you don't have to announce it to the crowd. I hear a lot of ladies say how they
don't want to meet the creep at the bar. I say watch what he drinks and you might learn a lot
about him without even speaking to him. Then take it from there. He may be a creep, and you
may be a creepette, perfect match!
Hey, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next month.
First I'll handle your label problems and then straighten you out about buying a lady a drink in a
bar. Gina, you've gone nuts over a label no one really reads, kiddo. The Alcohol and Tobacco
Tax and Trade Bureau implements and enforces a broad range provisions to ensure that alcohol
products are created, labeled, and marketed in accordance with Federal laws and regulations.
So know it's not some whim or clueless character handling it.
You're right, there is no requirement to print the alcoholic content (unless you wish to). The
things that are required on the labels is volume (net ounces), location of the brewery, name of
the company, the health warning statement, and the type of beer (IPA, stout, etc.). You're also
right about neat slogans and attractive images on labels. But Gina, that's only a marketing
element; aft all, the brewer is selling beer.
Instead of worrying about what should be on a label how about looking at the bad stuff the
government keeps off the label. You are aren't allowed to make false statements,say anything
bad about a competitor's product or put obscene or tasteless writing or images on the label. You
can't use the label to mislead consumers with manipulated information from tests, standards or
other analytical data. or make confusing guarantees. Not bad, right Gina?
In the past the government actually forbid brewers from listing their products' alcohol content.
The restrictions were ended when Coors fought the law to the Supreme Court and won. Today,
brewers are increasingly adding alcoholic strength to their labels, but as you correctly said there
is no law that says they have to, and many do not unless they think it will help sales.
My overall take is that beer is a changing industry that requires a new approach to regulation. No
longer is the beer market wholly comprised of sub-5% malt beverages. The craft industry has
made beer climb towards the ranks of spirits. Beer is no longer only consumed in heavy
quantities, but can also be enjoyed one bottle at a time, over a lengthy period of time and that
experienced can be enhanced by knowing as much about the beer as possible. As Gordon
Gekko said in the first (and best) Wall Street movie, the most important thing is information!
Now on to your rant about buying a lady a drink. I agree that you can tell a lot about a person by
the drinks they order and how they drink them. If I see a lady order a glass of wine and a glass of
water, I figure she's probably waiting for someone to show up. Biding her time with a few sips of
water in between. I don't bother paying much attention at that point.
If I see a lady order a Coors Light or other swill I figure she's got no taste and probably doesn't
like beer much anyway. If I see a lady order a Rochefort or Chimay I figure this girls got taste.
She knows what she wants and she's not waiting for anyone to get it. You won't catch her nursing
her drink and sipping water !
To me that's the time to strike up conversation and maybe offer to split a big bottle of something
special from the bottled beer list. Just try not to act like the creep no lady wants to meet at the
Hey, Gina, bet I get more e-mails saying I won this round than you do! See you next month..