How Much Booze Is in that Booze?

If you’re going to put “serving facts” labels on booze bottles, the one thing that would make sense to include is the alcohol content per serving, right?

Not according to federal regulators, who, after 30 years of debate, have just proposed mandating labels that would list carbohydrates, calories, and protein and fat content—but not the amount of alcohol per drink.

It’s the outcome of a long war between hard-liquor distillers and brewers, who have not been able to agree on equivalent serving sizes. The distilled-spirits industry, which would like to counter the perception that liquor is more intoxicating than beer or wine, wants to adopt the U.S. Dietary Guidelines beverage serving standards: 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits, all of which are presumed to have the same alcoholic content. It’s even come up with a concept for a little graphic: a beer bottle, a wineglass, and a shot glass all lined up, separated by equal signs.

Jeff Becker, president of the trade group Beer Institute, disagrees, saying, “This is about marketing advantages to sell their product. If the public believes having a beer is the same as having a martini, we are in big trouble.”

Consumer advocacy groups are split. Knowing the amount of alcohol in each drink is the consumer’s “top priority,” says C. Everett Koop’s Shape Up America! organization. Koop comes down on the side of the distillers’ formula. The Center for Science in the Public Interest wants alcohol content listed, but doesn’t favor the serving size equivalency proposed by the distillers.

Andy Crouch’s BeerScribe.com column has a good rundown of the history of the dispute.

And what do you think? Public comment on the proposed labeling is open until January 28.