Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

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Craft beer and intoxication: What doesn’t add up

Here’s a question that I posed to myself after talking to a few friends this weekend.

Craft beer, on a whole, is a bit more expensive than macro beer, but also tends to have, on average, a higher Alcohol by Volume (ABV) per bottle or can as well. So, if you do the math, is it economically better to buy macro beer at volume to achieve the same amount of intoxication, or to drink fewer, higher ABV beers?

This may seem like a ridiculous question to ask – most craft beer drinkers that I know don’t drink only to get intoxicated, and most are not drinking craft beer for any kind of drunken economic advantage. But i realized that I’ve never actually checked it out for myself… so I decided to follow through a little experiment to see what I’d actually come up with – just in case I ever had to make the argument someday.

So let’s take an “average” of 5 macro light lagers:

  • Keystone Light – 4.2 % ABV
  • Coors Light – 5% ABV
  • Bud Light – 4.2 % ABV
  • MGD 64 – 3% ABV
  • Natural Ice – 5.9% ABV

These average out to be 4.5% ABV

I’m also going to take five similar craft beers – let’s say a few popular IPAs.

  • Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA – 6% ABV
  • Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA – 7.2% ABV
  • Green Flash West Coast IPA – 7.3% ABV
  • Stone IPA – 6.9% ABV
  • 21st Amendment Brew Free or Die IPA – 7%

These average out to be 6.9% ABV

And as a third group – a set of five “imperial” or high ABV beers:

  • Russian River – Pliny the Younger – 11% ABV
  • Stone – Russian Imperial Stout – 10.5% ABV
  • Dogfish Head – 120 Minute IPA – 18% ABV
  • Brew Dog – Tokyo – 12% ABV
  • Sierra Nevada – Bigfoot – 9.6% ABV

These average out to 12.2% ABV

So in review, we have:

  • Macro average: 4.46%
  • Craft IPA average: 6.9%
  • “Imperial” craft beer average: 12.2%

Now, I know that “imperial” beers can vary wildly between 8-10% and anywhere to 55% ABV, but I tried to pick a few well-known representative samples, and I feel I can say with some certainty that once something is in the 12% range it would be considered by me to be a higher-alcohol beer.

For the sake of argument, I am also going to even out a few things. First, I know that not all of these beers are available by six packs, for example, but I am going to make a few assumptions. *Price information is provided by BevMo.

For the “macro” beers, I am going to use a 12 pack of 12 oz cans as a starting point. which costs $10.99 and contains a total of 144 oz of beer.

So 144oz times 4.5% = 6.48 oz of “alcohol” in the 12-pack
$10.99 = 6.48 oz so that’s about $1.70 per ounce of alcohol.

For the “craft IPA” beers I am going to use a 6 pack of 12 oz bottles as a starting point, which costs $11.49 (average of the five costs above)

So 72 oz times 6.9% = 4.97 oz of “alcohol” in the 6-pack
$11.45 = 4.97 oz so that’s about $1.77 per ounce of alcohol Corrected: $2.30
(Thanks for noticing this!)

For the “imperial” beers I am going to start with a 22oz bottle, which costs about $10.00 (conservative estimate – imperials vary WILDLY on price)
So that’s 22 oz times 12.22% = 2.68 oz of “alcohol” in the bottle
$10.00 = 2.68 oz that’s about $3.70 per ounce of alcohol

So firstly, the idea that drinking extremely high ABV beers are somehow a cheaper way toget drunk is false. It doesn’t matter what size bottles you buy, the cost per oz of alcohol is clearly in the favor of the cheaper macro brews – who have gotten that price point based on volume. In the first example above, there isn’t a huge price differential in craft and micro (7 cents?) so I also decided to look further.Though there’s a difference (especially with my math corrected) I did decide to turn around and still think about the realities of volume as well.

So let’s take the same three scenarios and play with the numbers some more and let’s talk about volumes.

How much of each beer type would it take to get to the same amt of alcohol?

If I had to pick a target “drunk level” for this problem it would probably be about 5 oz of alcohol (this is totally arbitrary, but stick with me here…)

In the “macro” category, I’d have to drink 9 and a quater “macro” beers to get the 5 oz of alcohol. That’s a total of 111 oz of fluid. And, if you divide it out, 9.25 beers is a little bit less than the total purchase price of $10.99 – it turns out I have to drink $8.47 worth of my investment to get to this level.

In the “craft” category, I’d have to drink about a 6 pack to get 5 oz of alcohol.That’s a little better for my bladder at only 72 oz of fluid, though, after drinking the 6 pack I’ve now used up my $11.45 purchase.

In the “imperial” category, I’d have to drink a little shy of 2 full bomber bottles – a total of 44 oz of fluid. I would have to spend $20.00 to do this. Less trips to the bathroom, but more expensive by far.

Now, looking back for a moment, clearly a pattern emerges. The most “eifficient” way to get intoxicated seems to be by sticking to cheap macro beers with low ABVs. Why is this ironic, you ask?

In the state of Mississippi, there is a law in place that states that no beer above 5% ABV can be sold. Proponents of this ban argue that bringing in higher ABV beers could lead to binge-drinking or more problems with intoxication. I’d say that anyone looking for that “quick drunk” fix is probably more likely to pick more-water-than-beer and cheap-as-possible swill (which is the only beer available to them currently) than a high-test beer due to its added expense and more complex flavors. Even in a “free” market scenario (allowing all types of beer to be sold) if someone’s intentions are to get smashed on beer, then the choice (economically speaking) is obvious. Truly, this law’s only effect is to prevent craft beer enthusiasts from doing what we’re all proud to do with beer – to enjoy it responsibly.

Want to learn more about this law and what’s being done about it? Check out “Raise Your Pints,” a grassroots organization attempting to fight the archaic craft beer law that’s stifling the tastes of those who appreciate what craft beer is meant for – and know that high-gravity beers are meant to be savored, not slammed. Their mission is “to promote and enhance craft beer culture in Mississippi by working to lift the ban on high-gravity beer; clarify the status of homebrewing as a legal, fun, and wholesome hobby; promote Mississippi’s beer, brewpub, and brewing industries and small businesses; and work to broaden the appreciation of craft beer for all Mississippians.”

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1 Comment

  1. Hi,

    I used to by macro beers and drink til I was drunk. That was until I grew up and discovered craft beer in 2005 (at the time, it was Fat Tire Amber Ale). I moved to MA in 2007 and its been 95% craft beer for me since moving. I still occasionally buy PBR/Narragansett/Miller Lite because there is a time and place for that.

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