Red Lodge, Montana

Re-Defining Beer in Montana

Our state government is changing the meaning of the word “beer,” and I support them. A surprising thing, as I’m generally not a big fan of government legislation affecting the way I drink, but in this case, they’re actually toning down the law and providing us with more personal freedom.

House Bill 400 (cleverly titled “An Act Revising The Alcohol Content Of Beer”) is known by many as the “high-alcohol beer act.” Indeed, its primary purpose is to change the definition of beer from “up to 7% alcohol by weight” to “up to 14% alcohol by volume.”

“FOURTEEN PERCENT?” I hear you cry. “That’s not beer!” Well, let me explain.

One of the keys to this bill is that it changes measurement from % alcohol by weight (ABW) to % alcohol by volume (ABV), which brings us in line with everyone else.

Since alcohol is lighter than water, the ABW runs lower than the ABV. Draught Guinness, for example, is 4.0% ABV, which is equivalent to about 3.2% ABW.

We’re used to beers in the 4% to 6% range, which is less than half of a typical wine. Budweiser runs about 5.0% and Bud Light about 4.2%. Yes, you read that right. Bud Light has more alcohol (and more calories) than Guinness Draught.

A typical pale ale or porter might come in between 5% and 6% ABV, and an IPA (India Pale Ale) would be closer to 7%.

So what’s the big deal about this bill?

Anchor Old FoghornIf we can already drink IPAs at 7% ABV, then why do we need HB400? Because there’s a whole world of beer out there you can’t buy and enjoy in Montana, and styles that our local breweries can’t produce.

Last month, I mentioned Anchor’s Old Foghorn and Sam Adams Old Fezziwig. These are classic examples of the barleywine style, which we can’t buy here because their alcohol content runs as high as 10%. That may sound like a big beer, but Sam Adams also makes a Triple Bock that comes in at an astounding 171/2% ABV (we still won’t be able to buy that one)!

People who enjoy this kind of brew aren’t drinking to get drunk. You really only need one or two Bell’s Expedition Stouts, Stone Brewing Double Bastard Ales, or Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ales (all about 10% ABV) per evening. If you want to get smashed, it’s cheaper to slurp down a 12-pack of Bud or a fifth of cheap gin.

This bill is about freedom to brew and enjoy what we wish.

HB400 has already passed the House, and is before the Senate as I write this. Assuming it passes into law, Sam Hoffman at Red Lodge Ales says the first thing he’ll do is make a double IPA, hopped to the gills and probably carrying an 8% to 9% alcohol content.

I can’t wait!

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Categorised in: Food & Drink, Government