Water down Budweiser? How would you know?

Lawsuits claim Anheuser-Busch InBev is overstating the alcohol content of its brews, but their already low potency gives the company a huge margin for error.

By Jason Notte Feb 27, 2013 2:17PM

Image: Beer (© Corbis)A bunch of folks are suing Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD), claiming the alcohol content of beer brands including Budweiser and Bud Light are watered down from what the company puts on the label. Just one quick question for the plaintiffs: How could you tell?


According to Bloomberg, suits have been filed in Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Jersey, Ohio and Colorado alleging that A-B InBev regularly adds extra water to its finished beers to knock down their alcohol volume below stated amounts. Philadelphia suit filers Thomas and Gerald Greenberg are claiming intimate knowledge of the product, based on their purchase of four cases of Budweiser or more each week for four years. Drinker Brian Wilson, who is suing in federal court in New Jersey, cops to buying a case of Michelob Ultra per month. 


The Greenbergs allege that A-B InBev began using alcohol-measuring instruments known as Anton Paar meters that can measure the alcohol content (known as ABV) in malt beverages to within hundredths of one percent and that it uses those meters to shave the alcohol content. An attorney in California says adding water cuts the stated ABV by 3% to 8%.


Even if both claims are true, however, the already low alcohol content of AB's products may dilute the plaintiffs' case a bit.


The difference between the case against AB and the recent uproar over reduced alcohol content in Maker's Mark is that Beam (BEAM) made it clear it was reducing its bourbon's potency. AB made no such announcement. But the problem is that a 3% to 8% deviation in a 5% ABV beer like Budweiser or 4.2% ABV Michelob Ultra may still fall within the legal margin of error set by the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau


While Twitter users responded to the news with quips feigning surprise and equating Budweiser to Poland Spring, commenters on beer ratings and review site BeerAdvocate were pulling laws and doing the math. Subpart H, section § 7.71, paragraph c of the federal law applying to the labeling and advertising of malt beverages reads as follows:

Tolerances. (1) For malt beverages containing 0.5 percent or more alcohol by volume, a tolerance of 0.3 percent will be permitted, either above or below the stated percentage of alcohol. Any malt beverage which is labeled as containing 0.5 percent or more alcohol by volume may not contain less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume, regardless of any tolerance.


Under that rule, 5% ABV Budweiser can have alcohol content as low as 4.7%. Michelob Light could legally drop to a near-beer 3.9% ABV. In the U.K. and in America's craft beer community, beer below 4% ABV is considered "session beer" because it lets drinkers have more than one in a session without becoming severely impaired. It's still a bad idea to drink a couple and try to drive, but you can carry on coherent conversation and not get drowsy.


One would think that would be a plus for AB beers often sold in 30-packs, but the Maker's Mark example suggests that consumers are in no mood to pay for a product that's even a fraction less than what they're used to getting. If AB flirted with beer beneath the government's margin for error, the backlash could be more upsetting than the company's Clydesdale Super Bowl commercial.


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Mar 1, 2013 2:34PM
Well the allegation against Bud watering down beer are serious... But I prefer Boxer Lagers thoughts on it BEST COMMERCIAL EVER

Feb 28, 2013 2:19PM
If you don't like the current Bud, go and buy another brand, there are hundreds to choose from.  Why tie up the courts with this kind of stupid lawsuit unless $$ is what you are really after.
Feb 27, 2013 8:52PM
i drink independent brews. most other mainstream beers are flavored water, including budweiser. ninkasi is my personal favorite.
Feb 27, 2013 8:51PM
I don't dring Bud simply because it is a very weak and tasteless beer that gives me a headache.  I would be happy to see Bud fold - get this terrible product off the market.  
Feb 27, 2013 8:49PM
miller lite....did u say miller lite...really!
Feb 27, 2013 8:09PM
Anyone who drinks Bud should be ripped off. With all the great beers, why waste your money on piss beer.
Feb 27, 2013 6:49PM
Feb 27, 2013 6:42PM
Pabst Blue Ribbon is better beer than Bud, and cheaper too.
Feb 27, 2013 6:40PM
you think those clydsdales are just for advertising? they are for the flaver.
Feb 27, 2013 6:14PM
It taste like piss because all the union folks are pissing in it. blame it on low wages and no benifits. Boycott bud
Feb 27, 2013 6:10PM

I am union and I will never buy or drink the pig swill......But new yorkers an people from jersey swear by it.....no wonder there idiots.

Feb 27, 2013 6:04PM
I don't know why they would need a "Born On" date.  Does water go "Skunky" if it sets on the shelf to long?
Feb 27, 2013 5:59PM
Its a rice beer for god's sake......it's like ketstone and thunderbird...crap.....
Feb 27, 2013 5:49PM
To me Budweiser always tasted like dishwater anyway. That's why I drink Miller Lite or Samuel Adams. Both have a real beer taste, especially Samuel Adams.
Feb 27, 2013 5:48PM

I haven't bought a Budweiser product in years. We call that piss beer.

With all the great micro-breweries and all the wonderful IPA's out there why would anybody

that crap? Coors, Miller Bud...it's all garbage.

Feb 27, 2013 4:47PM
Never liked Bud....never will.  Horse piss.
Feb 27, 2013 4:46PM
Forget about it and call it Obamabeer!
Feb 27, 2013 4:35PM
Feb 27, 2013 4:30PM
Wasn't it just last month it slipped out that AB was now buying cheaper ingredients? After 25 years of Bud Light I have changed brands to a smaller and better brewer!
Feb 27, 2013 4:24PM

Bud is like making love in a canoe - F-ing close to water.

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