How Much Alcohol is in Beer?
Social drinking can be a swell time, but no one wants to become that guy or girl — you know, the one who lets it get away from him or her. To stop yourself from getting sloppy at the upcoming going-away party, crawfish boil or night out with friends, you need to know how powerful each drink is. Like your favorite brew, for example. How much alcohol is in beer anyway?
That’s a tricky question because the answer is: it depends. Read on to learn more about how much alcohol is in beer, as well as some helpful guidance that will ensure you have a great time without getting too far beyond tipsy.
What the Government Considers ‘One’ Drink
How much alcohol is in beer? It depends, of course, but we do have access to helpful averages and other measures as used by the government and awareness groups.
For example, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that a “regular” beer contains about 5% alcohol, and that “one” regular beer is about 12 ounces.
For reference, a glass of wine is 5 ounces, and it contains on average about 12% alcohol. A shot of a distilled spirit is 1.5 ounces, and it contains about 40% alcohol.
I have this pet peeve, though. On television shows and in movies, characters too often walk up to the bar and order a “beer.” If you do that in real life, the bartender will look at your strangely and ask, “What kind?”
I can only assume that television shows and movies make beers generic when they can’t sell the product placement rights. But there’s no such thing as just a “beer.” There are different kinds — and those different kinds come with different levels of alcohol.
Quick Guide: Beer Alcohol Content List
As you can probably guess, the lighter the beer is, the less alcohol it’s likely to contain.
For example, pilsners are about the lightest beer you can find. And what’s a pilsner you’ve probably heard of? It’s the original light beer: Miller Lite. You may remember the tastes-great-less-filling ads for Miller Lite way back in the day. If you don’t, here’s a reminder:
On the other end of the spectrum are stout beers, which can have up to 10% alcohol by volume. Guinness Extra Stout is a good mainstream example of a stout. It contains 7.5% alcohol by volume, which is almost twice that of a Miller Lite.
Here’s a rundown of different types of beer and the alcohol content you can expect:
- Pilsner: 3–6% (Like Miller Lite, which is 4.2%)
- Lager: 4–5% (Like Budweiser, which is 5%)
- Porter: 4–5% (Like Yuengling Porter, which is 4.8%)
- Ale: 5–6% (Like Bass, which is 5%)
- IPA: 6–7% (Like Lagunitas IPA, which is 6.2%)
- Stout: 5–10% (Like Guinness, which is 7.5%)
Beer and Alcohol: A Quick Case Study
One of my favorite places to spend a beautiful afternoon is on the patio at Austin Beerworks, which is a local brewery in, you guessed it, Austin, TX.
I was there on a recent Sunday afternoon. The bartender was sliding a modest-looking beer across the counter to a paying customer when she added: “Be careful, there’s 10% alcohol by volume in that.”
Whoa, that’s a serious beer.
It was the Heavy Machinery Double IPA, as Austin Beerworks calls it. And this just goes to show that you really never know how much alcohol is in a beer — unless you look or ask.
Austin Beerworks has a selection of pretty standard beers that are always available:
- The Peacemaker (An ale with 5%)
- The Pearl-Snap (A pilsner with 5.3%)
- The Flavor Country (An ale with 5.9%)
- The Fire Eagle (An IPA with 6.8%)
But the gang at Austin Beerworks has a lot of fun with their seasonal and specialty brews, and that’s where you see the range of ABV stretch out. Here’s what they have available right now:
- The Bloodwork Orange (An IPA with 7%)
- The Gold Fist (An ale with 9%)
- The Heisenberg (A kristallweizen with 4.5%)
- La Verdad (A lager with 4.5%)
In June, they offer the Eihorn — that contains only 3% alcohol. You can drink Einhorns all day. Gold Fists? Not so much.
Which Beer is Best for the Occasion?
It’s a good thing to have a broad taste for beer. That is, you should be just as happy drinking pilsner as you would be kicking back on an IPA or a stout. That way, there’s always a perfect beer for the occasion. For example, here’s a look at ideal beers for different occasions:
- Spending the day at a beach or music festival: Pilsner
- Celebrating at one of your close friend’s weddings: Lager
- Grabbing a couple beers after work with colleagues: IPA
- Meeting a friend for a drink on a cold January night: Stout
The point is, don’t let it get away from you. If you’re going to be drinking all day (like at a music festival), go with lower ABV. If you’re going to be drinking all night (like at a wedding), stick with something in the middle. If you’re only having a couple (like at happy hour with co-workers), you might as well make it worth your while. And, when you’re only having one, that’s when it’s OK to go to the high end of the spectrum.
Final Thoughts on How Much Alcohol is in Beer
I should have added above: You can find beer that has zero alcohol. Beers like Odouls (and Coors Cutter back in the day) offer the taste of beer without any of the alcohol. If you like beer but don’t want the alcohol, find a no-alcohol brew that you like.
Also, you may find that beer’s alcohol content varies from state to state. For example, beer in Oklahoma contains no more than 3.2% alcohol, which is regulated by a law that will no longer be in effect come October 2018.
Do you have a favorite beer? If so, let us know about it (and its ABV) using the comments section below. Or, you can always send us a direct message using our contact page.
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