If you drink beer on a regular basis, you’ve probably noticed a big difference between the beer you drink and the food you eat. The food has a government-mandated label that lays out its nutrients and calorie content, but your beer could be just fizzy bacon grease, for all you know. That’s about to change, but don’t be fooled. It’s not being checked by anybody other than the brewery itself.
Why? The labels aren’t legally mandated, but rather voluntary. The Beer Institute, a lobbying group for brewers that covers 81 percent of the beer brewed in America, has announced its members have agreed to slap labels on their products. The labels will fit federal standards, despite the fact they don’t have to, and will list ingredients, calories, carbohydrates, fat, and protein. The alcohol by volume, or alcohol by weight depending on the state where you live, will be more prominent, and you’ll also be getting a freshness label.
Beer has never needed a nutritional label because it’s not generally under the authority of the FDA, but rather the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. This is due in part to the fact that alcohol has traditionally been taxed by the government much differently than food, as in we nearly had our first civil war over booze. FDA inspectors quite reasonably don’t like getting shot at, and happily stuck a law enforcement agency with the job of dealing with moonshiners.
But the FDA’s rules do apply to restaurant menus, which will have to start listing their calorie counts next to everything, beer included, next year. So in order to be served, the caloric value has to be tested, so clearly brewers thought they’d just get the most out of it anyway. They may also be planning for the future, as it seems unlikely the TTB won’t eventually decide looking up your brew’s calorie count shouldn’t be the province of BeerAdvocate.
That said, the labels are entirely voluntarily at the moment, and nobody is going to be checking anything beyond the calorie count all that closely. So keep that in mind as the labels pop up on your beer.