The amount of calories in beers can vary wildly. While a Michelob Ultra boasts a mere 95 calories, the same 12-ounce serving of Sam Adams Boston Lager will set you back 175 calories (two beers I chose because the brands actually list the calories on their website). Granted, those two brews will look and taste significantly different, but that’s the issue: Beer comes in all sorts of different styles with different nutritional breakdowns.
Typically, breweries didn’t care about these details; unlike food products, brewers aren’t required to disclose (or even know) this information. But starting this May, a new FDA regulation goes into effect requiring restaurant chains with 20 or more units to list nutritional info for all their menu items – drinks, even alcoholic ones, included. Suddenly, small brewers who may have scored an account at somewhere like the Yard House will have to know their beers’ nutritional facts or risk getting bumped. Many brewers who were against the new regulation have argued that paying to test for this information would be prohibitively expensive for their small operations.
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But the Brewers Association, a trade group for craft breweries, stepped in and negotiated a compromise. According to Brewbound, the BA’s CEO Bob Pease convinced the FDA to let his organization publish a database that allows brewers to calculate a beer’s nutritional info without outside testing. That nutritional database was officially released last Friday.
“Using a robust analytical testing program, BA built a style-based database to provide average values for nutrients included in FDA Menu Labeling Requirements,” the BA writes. As a result, if a beer fits into one of about 40 predetermined styles and is brewed with “common” ingredients, the database can spit out its “average nutrient values” – including the big ones like calories and carbohydrates, as well as “lesser nutrients,” namely total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, dietary fiber, sugars, and protein.
Of course, if a beer doesn’t fit into one of the listed styles or uses any “unusual” ingredients (defined by the BA as” fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, nuts, meats, coffee, etc,”), the database won’t cut it. It also doesn’t work for beers with post-fermentation additions or that have been barrel-aged. In those cases, beers would still have to be sent off for analysis, though according to Brewbound, the well-known San Diego company White Labs Inc offers a testing package for as little as $635 – a cost that probably should break the bank.
Regardless, the good news is that, thanks to this newly released database, the odds that you’ll still be able to find your favorite local beer at restaurant chains has likely gone up. However, whether you actually want to know how many calories are in your favorite local beer… well, that’s a different topic entirely.