Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

Tag: ABV

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.”

Craft Beer BAC Calculator

Happy New Year’s all! For the first “Feature Friday” post I want to point all you soon-to-be-revellers to a very useful website. I wrote an article a little while back about the myth that having one beer is the same as having a shot of liquor or glass of wine in alcohol content, and how craft beer drinkers need to be aware of the ABVs of the brews they’re drinking when out and about. It’s important to stay safe, and knowledge is really your best defense.

So today’s tool comes from the really useful resource of (run by the Brewers Association). There is a page on this site that is a craft beer ABV to BAC calculator – meaning that you can put in a few variables and find out what your estimated Blood Alcohol Content would be after consuming a few, say 9% ABV craft beers at New Years. After you’ve imput a few scenarios it’s pretty easy to figure out in your head, but it’s really fun to play with. Check it out and Happy New Years!

Craft Beer Blood Alcohol Calculator

Craft Beer Blood Alcohol Calculator

Craft Beer Blood Alcohol Calculator:
Shortened URL:

To read the original Hop Pressarticle: The Beer Babe does the math – what craft ABV %s can mean for drinking and driving

When One Drink is More Than One Drink – ABV and DUI


I went to a defensive driving course a few months ago as a requirement for one of my jobs. I wasn’t surprised, but the video that they played was from about 1985 (complete with yellow suits with hideous shoulder pads – yikes!) and that I had seen it several times before in other trainings. As it should be, there was a section of the course on drinking and driving.

The slide that was shown at the training had the all-too-familiar “1beer=1wine=1shot” memory trick, so that you could count on your BAC (blood-alcohol content) going up by .02 BAC with each of those, and lasting for about an hour in your metabolism. And, that after several of the same kind of drink, you could still do a rough calculation in your head about what you’d consumed in one night, and make your determination about whether or not you are able to make decisions, or drive home safely. There’s a little math, but it isn’t too bad.

So, for example, we’ll take Joe, the college drinker.

If Joe has 3 “light” beers (the typical .02 BAC increase for each x 3 = .06 BAC) when he shows up and then plays a videogame for two hours (-.04 BAC), he’s only have about one beer left in his system and would be well under the legal limit to drive home (.02 BAC). However, if Joe drinks 5 beers in an hour (.02 x 5) and then drives home immediately, his BAC of .10 would be over the limit in all 50 states and dangerous.

drunk-drivingThose scenarios are pretty straightforward. In the end, its all about time, and quantity. This is very simple, and for years was a useful “mental check” of whether or not driving home was advisable. But, this calculation is can be dangerously wrong if you’re drinking pretty much anything other than Coors/Bud (which come in at 4.2% ABV for Bud Light and Coors Light respectively). Most of my craft beer drinking friends don’t pause to consider how wrong this rule is.

For example, the average beer from Red Hook Brewery is 5.7% ABV, Sam Adams (not including Utopias) is 6.25%, and Stone Brewing is a whopping 6.9% ABV on average [1].

So if we do a few more calculations, this variation could begin to cause a huge problem:

If a beer is 5% ABV, each drink will raise the BAC about .024

If a beer is 6% ABV, each drink will raise the BAC about .028

If a beer is 7% ABV, each drink will raise the BAC about .033

What does that equate to?

If Joe suddenly turns into a craft beer lover, and drinks 3 craft beers in a night, then plays a video game for two hours (same as in the previous scenario) if he’s drinking a 7% ABV (that’s .033 x 3 = .099 BAC) he’ll start off with a .099 BAC, and after two hours be down to a blood alcohol content of .059– which is not a great number.

At .05% BAC or more, “impairment occurs consistently in eye movements, glare resistance, visual perception, reaction time, certain types of steering tasks, information processing and other aspects of psychomotor performance” [2].

If you do the math, a small variation in ABV can have a huge effect overall on sobriety – especially as far as beer is concerned. Additionally, extreme beers, Belgian beers and others can have ABVs in excess of 9%. Which, in our scenario with Joe, would give him a BAC of .088 after 3 9% ABV drinks and two hours – he’s surpassing the legal limit for drunk driving in 50 states.

So why bring this up? This holiday season there are lots of reasons to celebrate, and lots of great holiday beers to be had. But I thought it was important to share my revelation with you that I had in the back of an otherwise unremarkable driver’s education class. The 1beer=1shot=1wine rule should be stricken from the record, because it is no longer applicable to most beer available. Please be careful this holiday season when making drinking and driving decisions, especially all of you craft beer fans out there.

Happy Holidays!

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén