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Forty Proof Beer

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Once upon a time, the federal government prohibited the disclosure of alcohol content on malt beverage labels. The rationale was to protect public health by discouraging brewers from competing in “strength wars,” to sell more product. It took years of persistence by Coors Brewing Company and a ruling from the Supreme Court in 1995 to persuade TTB (then ATF) to allow the practice.

Did the strength wars ever materialize, once the rules changed? Among the major brewers, not really. In fact, we noted that there is war of a different kind — increasingly lighter beers (in alcohol and caloric content) from Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors.

But the craft beer movement appears to have its own strength war.  “Extreme beers” — beers with intense flavors and alcohol contents at three, four or even five times the amounts in a typical American lager — help small brewers stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace. And yes, they have many more calories too.

Boston Beer Company offers one of the strongest beers available for sale in the United States, with their Utopias, at 24% alc./vol. and a whopping 732 calories per 12 ounce serving (as per Skilnik).

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery’s 2002 release of World Wide Stout is listed at 23.04% alc./vol. and has approximately 666 calories per 12 ounce serving.

Although the offerings from Boston Beer and Dogfish Head top 20% alc./vol., the labels do not disclose the actual alcohol content. Sonoran Brewing Company’s Sonoran 200 is not so coy. It weighs in at 19.37% alc./vol. and has the highest alcohol content we’ve seen listed on a TTB-approved beer label. No caloric content details are readily available, but one might reasonably expect this 13.2 ounce bottle to be roughly equivalent to a Big Mac (at a scant 576 calories).

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