28 February 2013

AB-InBev Accused of Watering Down Beer

"American beer is a like making love in a canoe. It’s fucking close to water.”
-Hegelian Philosophy Professor First Bruce of the University of Woolamaloo 
(Monty Python’s Eric Idle Live at the Hollywood Bowl)

Beer drinkers in California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have filed a class action lawsuit against AB-InBev for watering down their beer significantly below the advertised ABV on the label. The suit is based on the statements of former AB-InBev employees, but the plaintiffs have not analyzed Budweiser, Michelob, Michelob Ultra, Bud Ice, Bud Light Platinum, Hurricane High Gravity Lager, King Cobra, Busch Ice, Natural Ice and Bud Light Lime (named in the suit).

Two thoughts come to mind, so bear with me.

First:

As I understand the Bud Light brewing process, it is brewed with a high gravity wort. After fermentation, water is added to the beer to get it to the target ABV. I think I learned about this when brewing Charlie Papazian's Quarterbock, from The Homebrewer's Companion.  Basically, I brewed a regular batch of doppelbock, and at kegging, transferred a gallon of the high gravity beer to three gallons of water, yielding me a beer around 2% abv. It would not surprise me to learn that they brewed all their beers to higher gravities. (I don't recall if Charlie mentioned Miller Lite being brewed that way, though. I can't confirm because my brewing books are packed away in storage for the time being.)

I don't think this is what the plaintiffs are arguing though. It sounds like they are suggesting that AB is adding even more water to get below the ABV on the label.

Second:

I know that in Texas, in order for a brewery to get label approval, samples of the beer must be sent to the TABC for testing. Every time the Budweiser label is changed, it has to be tested. While it might be possible to send the undiluted beer to TABC for testing, I would think it would be impractical to do it for every one of the 10 named brands. I'm sure it's the same in other states, and the legal consequences if they were caught would be substantial.

Having said that, recently it was found that restaurants in 21 states were mislabeling fish. Last year, meat companies were accused of putting "pink slime" in pre-packaged ground meat to increase profits. The Feds recently indicted four board members of a Georgia peanut company for selling tainted food. And over in Europe, a Romanian company is accused of adding horse meat to ground meat. So it isn't outside of the realm of possibility. Corporations have long put profits before customers. Why should AB-InBev be any different?

Update: Beer Pulse has reported that White Labs has tested samples and found that the ABV varied only by a few hundreths of a percent, backing up AB-InBev's claims.

Update: CNN has tested ABInbev samples, and has found variations from .06-.15 between the label and actual ABV. Still just a few hundreths of a percentage point.

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posted by Jeff Holt at 08:00

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