There is an old saying that when measuring the alcohol content of various beverages, “one shot of whiskey equals one glass of wine equals one glass of beer.
” The problem with this saying is that it is inaccurate, as different alcoholic beverages within the same type contain varying amounts of alcohol by volume. When discussing beer alcohol content, not only does the percentage of actual alcohol vary from brand to brand, but the classification of whether a beer is a lager, an ale, or any of a large array of types depends upon the amount of that content. In the U. S. , that classification can even vary from state to state, so that a lager in one state may be an ale in another. Having an idea of how much alcohol is in beer can help the consumer make intelligent choices not only in what to drink, but in when to drink it or even whether to drink at all.
In the U.
S. , unlike the rest of the world, beer alcohol content is measured not by volume, but by weight. Thus, when the term “three-two beer” is used, what is meant is a beer in which 3.
2% of the weight is actually alcohol. In a standard 12-ounce glass, this equates to roughly 4% alcohol content by volume, or less than half an ounce. While this may not seem like much, consider that beers range in content from less than half a percent by volume in alcohol content to as much as (though rare) 55% by volume. As a general rule of thumb, in the U. S. , for a beer to be classified as a lager—the typical beer known to most Americans—it must fall within a 4. 5 to 4. 7% by volume range or 3. 6 to 3. 8% by weight. Anything less than 4% by volume is considered a “light beer” while anything over is considered a “malt liquor. ”
Oddly, many beers in countries well known for the quantity of beer consumed there are not as strong as they are perceived to be by Americans. In Britain, many lagers are less than 3. 9% alcohol by volume, while the strongest stouts come in at only 4% by volume, putting them in the range of American “three-two” beers. In Germany, the beer alcohol content varies by area, but seems to follow the same general rule of thumb, with their alcohol content classifying them not as “beer” in the U. S. , but as “malt liquor. ” One thing to note is that when discussing imported beers, if the word beer itself is not on the label, the beverage will contain more alcohol than its domestic equivalent, and the consumer will need to do some research to find out what the actual alcohol content is. Another thing to note is that premium American ales will also contain more alcohol by volume than will standard ales, and again, some research may need to be done to discover the actual alcohol content.
For the consumer who would like to know exactly how much alcohol is in a specific beer, there are resources online that will help him figure out which brands are the highest or lowest in content. Knowing the laws of his state and jurisdiction will also help him in making an educated guess about the basic range of the beer alcohol content of the brands available.