Pitt study finds Americans drinking more craft beers with higher alcohol content

·2 min read

Jul. 2—Americans are drinking less beer overall, but more craft beer with higher alcohol content, University of Pittsburgh research shows.

At Coal Country Brewing in Ebensburg, owner Mike Kutchman said people like craft beer not necessarily for its high alcohol content but for its quality.

"They like a higher quality beer with handcrafted local ingredients," Kutchman said. "Our beers are farm-to-table beers, so people are more interested in that as opposed to mass-produced stuff."

Pitt researchers documented Americans' change in beer purchases over the past decade by analyzing Nielsen Consumer Panel surveys of about 35,000 to 60,000 American households.

Anthony Fabio, an associate professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health, led the two-year project with Mary Schiff, graduate student in Pitt Public Health's Department of Epidemiology.

"What surprised me about the findings was the idea of society self-regulating," Fabio said. "Beers are not just a standard drink anymore. So the idea is that instead of always drinking four cans of beer, we were able to self-regulate."

Federal health authorities have long addressed the importance of understanding that a "standard drink" contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in 12 ounces of regular, 5% alcohol beer. But higher alcohol content beers contain 8% or more alcohol.

So while four bottles of regular beer equals four standard drinks, four bottles of an India Pale Ale could be 6 1/2 regular beers, Schiff said in a press release.

"That's why it's important to know how many standard drinks you consume," Schiff said.

Pitt researchers found that in 2004, 9.6% of household beer consumed was of higher alcohol content; in 2014, that grew to 21.6%. Meanwhile, the number of 12-ounce beers each household purchased annually decreased from 169 in 2004 to 150 in 2014.

The study, published online and in a coming issue of the journal Substance Use & Misuse, is the first to examine trends not only in the volume of beer purchased, but also the "beer specific" alcohol content, researchers said in a press release.

The change in the nation's beer consumption reflects the rise in popularity of craft breweries and the acquisition of such breweries by large-scale industry and investment companies, Fabio said.

Consumption of higher-alcohol content beer grew notably starting in 2011, the study shows.

"Way back, 20 years ago, craft breweries started popping up, and people liked the beer," Fabio said. "As that kept growing, large beer companies started to buy craft breweries. Before that, it was not easy to get craft beer."

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