Craft beer brewers’ range of alcohol contents poses quandary in preventing over-serving

By Danielle Nelson

*This article is posted on The Express Times website.


Craft beers’ average alcohol-by-volume is under 6 percent, said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo. (Express-Times File Photo )


All beers are not created equal.

That’s something to keep in mind when reaching into the Memorial Day picnic cooler, because the bottle or can you pull out could have the alcohol of two, or three, 4.2 percent alcohol-by-volume Miller Lites.

The end result can skew the traditional measure of one drink equaling one 12-ounce beer, one shot or one 5-ounce glass of wine.

It’s also something that bars and alcohol educators deal with year-round, as beer drinkers’ appetites fuel craft brewers’ production of higher-alcohol beverages.

Easton-based Weyerbacher Brewing Co., celebrating its 19th anniversary this year, has carved out a niche in the beer market with brews such as Merry Monks, Blithering Idiot, Insanity and Blasphemy, ranging anywhere from 9 percent to nearly 12 percent.

“This is not the kind of stuff that you watch the game with and have four of them because you won’t know who played or what your name is,” said Bill Bragg, manager of the visitor center at the brewery on South Side Easton.

Craft beers’ average ABV is under 6 percent, said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo. The biggest he’s seen that still meets the federal definition of beer is Samuel Adams Utopias, the most recent version of which clocked in at 28 percent.

“This perception that all craft beers are huge and gigantic beers … isn’t true,” he said. “But we do see a wide range.”

The association sees trends in both directions, toward experimenting with stronger styles and toward lower-alcohol concoctions known as session beers, Gatza said.

Preventing over-serving

At Weyerbacher, patrons can get six free 2.5-ounce samples, totaling about 15 ounces, per visit, Bragg said. The brewery prevents over-serving patrons by providing color-coded wristbands once the limit is reached. Its higher-alcohol brews are ideal for pairing with food such as pork or barbecue, which makes each of its beverages a “more flavorful, bolder type, interesting beer,” he said.

In an effort to educate employees of businesses such as restaurants, hotels and clubs on how to serve alcoholic beverages responsibly, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board created the Responsible Alcohol Management Program. Regardless of what patrons are drinking, the program teaches business owners and employees to detect an intoxicated person and, in turn, prevent from over-serving, spot minors and identify false IDs, and reduce alcohol-related incidents. Licensees are required to score 80 percent or higher on a test to be RAMP-certified.

Scott Anderson, owner of Strange Brew Tavern in Allentown, is RAMP-certified. Whenever the bar changes kegs, it updates the craft list and places beers’ alcohol content on the menu so patrons are aware of how much alcohol is in their drinks.

“We don’t want them to over-drink and think, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that was a strong beer,'” Anderson said. “If you are going to sit down and have three or four beers, you might be wary of doing a third beer if you knew it was a strong one.”

Along with the patrons being aware of their alcoholic intake, Anderson said, the employees are also aware of the content of each beer.

At Pearly Baker’s Alehouse in Easton, stronger beers on tap this past week included Smuttynose Brewing Co. Gravitation Quad (11.5 percent), Stone Brewing Co. Matt’s Burning Rosids (10.5 percent) and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery 90 Minute Double India Pale Ale (9 percent).

Manager Josh Vogel said that along with the employees being RAMP-certified, they are also trained to offer patrons a cup of water and a taxi to get home safely.

“We aren’t necessarily like the club bars, where people are going and just pounding shots,” Vogel said. “Our clientele tend to be little bit slower on that and hang out for a little while longer.”

Smaller pours

Beverages with a higher alcoholic content, Vogel said, tend to be served in a 12-ounce pour to “make sure they are not pounding those big beers.”

Across the Delaware River, in Phillipsburg, Free Bridge Wine & Spirits has carried beers from places such as Australia, Poland and New Zealand to name a few. Owner Patricia Kobble said her patrons normally sip on two to three glasses of beer throughout their visit at her business.

Kobble uses small, either 5-ounce or 8-ounce, glasses for higher alcoholic beers but also for rare and more expensive brews.

Steve Pappy, a patron of Free Bridge, said he enjoys hoppy India pale ales not because of their alcohol content.

“You don’t drink it to drink lots of it,” Pappy said. “You drink it usually because it has a heavier body to it, more flavorful beer.”

Jim Shanholtzer, also a regular at Free Bridge, said he has tried beers with alcohol content as high as 18 percent and 22 percent, but now he generally hovers in the ballpark of 7 percent to 10 percent. Shanholtzer said that when he has to drive home he limits himself to two beers over an extended amount of time, with a glass of water in between.

“I don’t want to get a ticket,” Shanholtzer said.

Regional Editor Kurt Bresswein contributed to this report.



Federal regulation requires wines containing 14 percent or more ABV to list alcohol content. Otherwise, labeling law is complicated.

The Treasury Department, which regulates alcohol, said last year that beer, wine and spirits companies can — but aren’t required to — use labels that include serving size, servings per container, calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat per serving. Such package labels had never before been approved.

Associated Press

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