Brewing Guide
» How is alcohol strength measured?
» Why is beer stronger in Canada than the U.S.
» How are "ale", "malt liquor", and "barleywine" related to strength?
» What is the Reinheitsgebot?
» What about the new "Draught-flow"?
» What is "Real Ale"?
» What is CAMRA?
» What are the categories of brewers/breweries?
» What is a "brewpub"?

How is alcohol strength measured?
Most of the world measures alcohol as a percent of volume (abv). In the U.S., alcohol in beer is measured by weight (abw). Since alcohol weighs roughly 20% less than water, abw measures appear 20% less than abv measures for the same amount of alcohol. In Europe, beer strength tends to be measured on the basis of the fermentables in the wort.

Until recently, Britain used OG (original gravity), which is 1000 times the ratio of the wort gravity to that of water. Thus a beer with an OG of 1040 was 4% more dense than water, the density coming from dissolved sugars. You can generally take one tenth of the last two digits to estimate the percentage alcohol by volume once the dissolved sugars are fermented. In the example used, the abv would be approximately 4% (40/10 = 4%) Currently, British beer is being taxed on its actual %ABV rather that the older OG so you'll often find both displayed.

Continental Europe tends to uses degrees Plato. In general, the degrees Plato are about one quarter the last two digits of the OG figure. Hence, in our example above, the beer would be 10 degrees Plato. To get the expected alcohol by volume, divide the degrees Plato by 2.5.
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Why is beer stronger in Canada than the U.S.?
This is just folklore that results from the way alcoholic strength is measured. The alcohol content of mainstream U.S. beers is measured as a percent of weight (abw). Canadian beers (and most other countries) measure percent alcohol by volume (abv). A typical Canadian beer of 5% (abv) will be about the same strength as a typical U.S. beer at 4% (abw).
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How are "ale", "malt liquor", and "barleywine" related to strength?
The U.S. regulations about the labelling of beer products were antiquated, but they are changing rapidly. When Prohibition ended, a statute was enacted that prohibited the alcohol content from appearing on beer labels unless required by state law. Nor could they use words like "strong", "full strength", or "high proof". Coors recently challenged this law in court and has won their lower court battles. It is now pending a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, some states have regulations that require certain beers to be labelled using other terms that are supposed denote strength without violating the above statute. Consequently some beers are labeled ales, even if they are lagers, due simply to their strength. Texas is one example of this usage. Similarly, "malt liquor" is the appellation attached to strong beers in other states, such as Georgia. Barley wines are strong beers, typically at strengths comparable to wines (8% alcohol by volume and over). However, this is not just an arbitrary term for strength but the actual name of the beer style as well.

In April 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Coors' favor regarding the placement of alcohol percentages on beer labels. Some of Coors' beer labels now include this figure and other brewers are following suit.
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What is the Reinheitsgebot?
This is the German (originally, Bavarian) purity law that restricts the ingredients that can be used to make beer to being water, barley malt, hops, and yeast. In the 1516 version of the law, only water, malt and hops were mentioned, because yeast was not isolated until the 19th century by Louis Pasteur. The Reinheitsgebot is actually part of a larger document called the "Biersteuergesetz" or "Beer Tax Law" which defined what beer was and how it should be taxed according to strength.

"Rein" means clean or pure; "-heit" means "-ness"; so "Reinheit" means "cleanliness" or "purity".

In 1987, the Reinheitsgebot was repealed by the EC as part of the opening up of the European market. Many German breweries elected to uphold the Reinheitsgebot in their brewing anyway out of respect for their craft and heritage.

The full text of the Reinheitsgebot, as it existed before 1987, is available via anonymous ftp in English or German from the archives (see later).
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What about the new "Draught-flow" (tm) system (AKA the "widget" or "smoothifier")?
This device has recently appeared in canned beers in an attempt to mimic the taste and appearance of a true draught beer. It employs a small plastic bladder filled with a mix of nitrogen and beer at the bottom of the can. When the can is opened, the mixture is forced out through small holes in the bladder causing considerable turbulence at the bottom of the can. This results in a thick, foaming head of creamy bubbles. While not real ale (see next), this process does mimic the serving of beer through "swan necks" or "sparklers" and is the subject of much debate.
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What is "Real Ale"?
"Real Ale is a name for draught (or bottled) beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide"....from CAMRA's handbook.
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What is CAMRA?
CAMRA is the CAMpaign for Real Ale. It was founded in the early 1970s in Great Britain to preserve Britain's beer traditions. It is used in marketing courses as one of the most successful consumer movements of all time. It is now concerning itself with the preservation of beer, the British pub, and brewing traditions worldwide.

Anyone can join CAMRA by writing to:

Campaign for Real Ale
230 Hatfield Rd., St Albans
Herts AL1 4LW, UK.

Or, you can use Visa/MC and join by phone: 44-1727-867201

Check out the CAMRA WWW site at <URL:>
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What are the categories of brewers/breweries?
According to the Institute of Brewing there are four categories as follows:

Large Brewers - Production in excess of 500,000 barrels/year
Regional Brewers - Production between 15,000 and 500,000 bbl/yr
Microbrewers - Production less than 15,000 bbl/yr
Brewpubs - Production for onsite consumption only

In addition you may see/hear the term pico-brewer which is used to describe brewers so small that distribution is limited to pubs and bars in their immediate area. To complicate matters their are contract brewers. These companies develop a recipe and then "buy" excess capacity at a large brewery to have their beer made for them. They, then, market and distribute the finished product. Some of these can be quite large. The Boston Beer Co., which brews the Sam Adams line, is a good example of a large contract brewer.

To give you a better perspective here are some examples with 1993 production figures (barrels per year):

Large Brewers:
Anheuser-Busch - 93,000,000
Miller - 49,000,000
Coors - 25,000,000

Regional Brewers:
Boston Beer - 450,000
Sierra Nevada - 104,325
Anchor - 92,000
Pete's - 74,000

Summit - 10,500
Celis - 10,500
Yakima(Grant's) - 8,000

Wynkoop - 4,200
Gordon Biersch (No. 3) - 2,700
Great Lakes - 2,700
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What is a brewpub?
A brewpub is, generally, a combination brewery/restaurant. The beer is made on-premises for consumption by the restaurant patrons. Various regulations govern the ratio of beer/food sales to prevent breweries from serving token food items while selling mostly beer. Very common in Europe and the source of a growing industry in the North America.
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