Beer Fact Friday: What’s ABV?

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Four Peaks Golden Lager can

Welcome to another Beer Fact Friday, friends. The topic this week is one that’s close to our hearts. Let’s talk about alcohol.

The abbreviation ABV stands for “Alcohol By Volume,” the standard measurement of alcohol content found in a beer. Specifically, ABV is the percentage volume of alcohol per 100 mL of beer. The average strength of most beers is 5-7% alcohol by volume (ABV). However, the actual range of strength in beer is far wider than that. Our lowest-ABV beer, Gilt Lifter (coming in cans soon!), is just 3.4% ABV; our most recent batch of Sirius Black came in at a whopping 13.8%.

Understanding where that alcohol comes from requires a little knowledge about how beer is made. Here are the very brief Cliff Notes: Brewers combine water with malted grain in order to extract the grain’s sugars and create a sweet liquid called wort. When yeast are added to the wort, they consume the sugars and convert them into carbon dioxide and sweet, sweet alcohol.

The amount of sugar available for the yeast to digest—and the degree to which they’re able to digest it—determines the amount of alcohol the yeast are ultimately able to produce. Brewers can create beers with a high alcohol content simply by brewing with extra malt (which results in more sugar for the yeast to ferment), but they also have the ability early in the brewing process to determine which of the sugars in their wort will actually be fermentable. Many sugars are too complex for yeast to eat; these end up in the finished beer, adding body and sweetness.

While ABV is the accepted measurement of alcohol content in beer, it’s not the only one that exists. Some states regulate and tax beer according to alcohol by weight (ABW), which is the percentage of alcohol measured against a beer’s weight, rather than by its volume. At low levels, alcohol by weight is about 4/5 the alcohol by volume. So, a beer that comes in at 3.2% ABW is about 4% ABV.

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