I started the day with a little shout to Twitter this morning regarding North Carolina not getting any Bell’s Batch 9000 in bottles. The reason being that North Carolina requires the ABV (alcohol by volume) to be printed on any beer over 6.0% abv. The brewery’s southeastern rep replied to inquiries stating:
“To wait for the beer to finish fermenting to get the finished abv then have the packaging produced then submit the label to the TTB for approval was really not an option. It would have taken too much time to wait for the beer to finish fermenting, get the packing produced, and hope there would be no problems with TTB label approval.”
In other words, the brewery didn’t want to wait on the product for a final ABV measurement and had the labeling printed and readied while the beer was in the tanks. Further, it was suggested that NC needs changes to the labeling requirements. That, I agree with, but not in the sense that these folks are talking about. They’re saying ABV should not be a requirement, because it isn’t in some states. The truth is, Batch 9000 finished with a final gravity of 12.5% abv, according to BeerAdvocate. That’s a full 2.5% below the legal limit cap in North Carolina. Clearly, someone had a clue that the beer would make it under—just not the exact ABV, but the law says the beer’s printed alcohol by volume must be within .20% of what it is. (Batches will always vary slightly.)
You can’t fault Bell’s for wanting to streamline the bottling process. Tank time is a precious commodity in the craft beer world and as the old saying goes, time is money. However, as someone who promotes and sells a lot their product, it feels like a slap in the face to know that Bell’s purposely excluded this product from our market. While no one has said as much, the fact that labels were printed with no ABV on them, immediately excludes the product from NC. And before everyone gets riled-up, let me state for the record: 1) I’m not bashing Bell’s, the brewery (other than being a miffed retailer over the sales losses of a beer I could move, and quickly); 2) Bell’s is a well-run machine of consistency; and 3) I love most, if not all, of their beers.
What this whole thing is, is a greater problem with “truth in labeling.” You hear that term a lot these days over MSG, wine, even vitamins. I think there should be uniform labeling requirements for beer across the board. A consistent packaging method for both the producer and consumer. I have never understood the arguments for why beer should be different. I just went into our wine cabinet and pulled out at least nine different bottles of wine from California, Argentina, France and Italy. Every single one of those has an ABV printed on it. Not only does this tell me how strong the beverage is that I’m drinking—it lets me decide whether or not I should have it. Beer has the most varied ABV’s in its craft, from kinderbier (with none or barely detectable ABV) to BrewDog’s newest, Sink the Bismarck at 41.0% abv. To not have this information printed on the label seems irresponsible at best.
I opened up questions to other folks, who mostly agreed with me. And there are other reasons to include health-related information on the labels. Some people need it for diabetes, gluten-free diets, caloric counts, etc. Be advised, there are some breweries, such as Dogfish Head and Rogue that do print this information on their website as well as this handy guide. But none of these really help you in a situation where you’re not immediately hooked into the web. Here are some comments from other beer drinkers:
@mikegeorger: @bruisinales Should be something like this on either the bottle or packaging http://twitpic.com/153jlw
@mygothlaundry: @bruisinales They should have calories on there too as well as ABV. I wanna know when 2 beers should be my entire daily intake.
@beercentric: @bruisinales Excellent point. Myself, being diabetic and managing love of beer and need of insulin, that number is important!
@cutefont: @bruisinales I think the abv should be on the label. Drives me nuts when its not. I like to know it. Makes a difference to me
@hookedonwinter: @bruisinales I like when a brewery lists as much information as possible. OG, FG, hops, grains, everything!
@ruinationpress: @bruisinales @hookedonwinter should be easy to measure FG and THEN print labels…quality first, not sales .#commonsense
Really, there seems to be no excuse as to why truth in labeling is not a big issue for this industry. “Organic” labels have been redone, there are other FDA requirements for certain things. Is there really any reason we can’t get an ABV printed label on every beer? And maybe some of that other stuff above while we’re at it?