A pilot survey into the alcohol levels of packaged beer has raised concerns, with only 20 per cent of samples returning results within acceptable levels of variance from the figure on the label.
The study by a Queensland health district last year saw staff purchase 25 beers produced by a number of craft breweries in south-east Queensland through retail channels. These samples were tested to compare the ABV stated on the label against the actual levels.
Just five of the 25 samples had an analysed ABV that was accurate to within acceptable variance of what was on the label.
Seventeen samples had an analysed alcohol level more than 0.3% ABV above what was claimed, with three samples having an ABV outside the acceptable level of variance below what was stated on the label.
Under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code a statement of the alcohol content is required on the label of an alcoholic beverage that contains more than 1.15% alcohol by volume.
For beer, cider and perry the statement must be accurate to within 0.3% alcohol by volume.
Of the samples tested, five samples – or twenty per cent – exceeded the volume declared on the label by more than 0.9% ABV, while two were more than 1.0% lower than the volumes stated on the label.
While the ABV testing results are limited to one Queensland health district, Brews News understands the same issue has been raised in informal studies and sampling conducted nationally.
The ABV testing results align with a 2019 Queensland Health study that found issues with the alcohol volumes of fermented soft drinks such as kombucha.
The results raise a number of concerns for brewers, aside from flagging potential issues with production control, including facing increased scrutiny from the Australian Tax Office.
The Australian Tax Office requires brewers to test the alcoholic strength of the product they produce for accurate calculation of excise payments.
Brewers also risk opening themselves to product liability action as a result of the potentially dramatic impact large variance in alcohol can have on consumers.
According to a BAC approximation guide an 85 kilogram male who consumes two cans (375ml) of 4.8% ABV beer in the first hour of drinking would consume 2.8 standard drinks and reach a BAC of .036.
The same male consuming the same volume of a 5.7% beer would consume 3.38 standard drinks and reach a BAC .059%.
The difference is even more pronounced with female drinkers with a 65kg female consuming the same products would reach a BAC of approximately .06 and .079 respectively.
Five of the beers tested equalled or exceeded this variance, including one beer with a 3.4% ABV on the label returning a 4.3% abv when tested.
Brews News understands this was a pilot study and that further, more extensive testing will be undertaken in the coming months.
A range of testing options is available to brewers unable to test their own products internally including external laboratories. Queensland breweries have access to the new BrewLab facility, established under that state’s Craft Beer Strategy.