Canadian beer vs. American beer: The alcohol content battle

Beer — By on January 13, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Where does this beer myth come from?

American beer used to use alcohol by weight to denote the alcohol content in beer.  Some areas still use alcohol by weight, but there has been an effort to convert to alcohol by volume in the past decade.  Alcohol by volume is a better metric.

Alcohol by volume is the percentage of the liquid which is alcohol.  For example if you had 100 ml which contained 4 ml of alcohol, the alcohol by volume is 4%.  Alcohol by weight measures the mass of a substance in a mixture as a percentage of the mass of the entire mixture.  So if you had 100 grams which contained 4 grams of alcohol, the alcohol by weight is 4%.  It looks like the two are the same, but they are not.

You get into trouble comparing ABV and ABW because is alcohol weighs less than water.  Alcohol is less dense, about 4/5 as dense as water.  The density of alcohol is 0.79336.  Alcohol by volume is the alcohol by weight times the density.

ABV = ABW * 0.79336

This means if your beer is 4% ABV, the beer is only 3.17% ABW.  Since Canadian beers use ABV and American beers were using ABW, many thought Canadian beers were stronger.  The myth persists to this day, even though American beers are starting to use the same metric.

Another reason is you are allowed to market the alcohol strength in Canada, but not in the United States.  You cannot advertise “this beer will get you drunk” due to alcohol laws, nor can you promote your brand based on the alcohol content.  Different states even have different regulations on how strong the beer can be.  These help contribute to the “Canadian beer is stronger” myth.

Is Canadian beer stronger than American beer? No.

The beer alcohol content list

I’m sure there are many out there who still are not convinced.  I’ve written an alcohol myth list where I stated Canadian beers are not stronger than American beers, but I still had many people write me to tell me I was wrong.

So here’s the list of beers and their alcohol content.  Most of the beers in the world vary from 4% to 6% ABV, with almost all beers having an alcohol content close to 5%.  There are beers which go as high as 25.6% ABV (Samuel Adams Utopias – American).  For this list, I’m focusing just on the macro beers.  Obviously anything from Avery is going to be stronger than Labatts.  Craft beers all tend to be slightly higher in alcohol.

American Beers



Budweiser 5.0
Bud Dry 5.0
Bud Light 4.2
Bud Ice 5.5
Bud Ice Light 4.1
Bud Select 4.3
Busch 4.6
Busch Light 4.2
Busch Ice 5.9
Coors Original 5.0
Coors Light 4.5
Coors Extra Gold 5.0
Keystone 4.4
Keystone Light 4.2
Keystone Ice 5.9
Old Milwaukee 5.0
Pabst 5.0

Canadian Beers



Carling Black Label 4.7
Grizzly Canadian Lager 5.4
Hamilton 4.5
Labatt Blue 5.0
Labatt Blue Light 4.0
Labatt Bleue Dry 6.1
Labatt Extra Dry 5.5
Labatt 50 5.0
Labatt Ice 5.6
Labatt Sterling 4.0
Labatt Wildcat 4.9
Moosehead 5.0
Molson Canadian 5.0
Molson Dry 5.5
Molson Export 4.9
O’Keefe Canadian Beer 4.9
Old Style Pilsner 5.0

I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer!

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  • Naterz

    Where the fuck is the Kokanee?!? =p

  • Danny Kline

    Man, yall discussing foreign politics on a beer website? Geesh lol… Welp, since you put it that way, how about you get your boiled bacon, syrup sipping, bark eating ass on this boat and put my uniform on since you think yall would be soo much better at it.. And for the record, I’m an American who prefers Labatt over all. Not for the sheer fact that it’s Canadian. but because it’s just a good beer. We’re allies, we live right next door. If you think you know anything about the art of war and homeland enemies, please I invite you to take a trip to Ukraine. Have a nice day now :)

  • Not

    “Alcohol by volume is a better metric.”

    Well that’s quite a subjective statement to throw out there without substatiating.
    They are both perfectly good metrics. Either might require very slight temperature corrections (about .1% for a 4% beer from freezing to a scortching summer day) depending on how you used the information. In principle either could be defined for established conditions (I doubt anyone care’s that much) and either tells you how many alcohol molecules is in your can. There is nothing “better” about one or the other. Old article, but still a wrong statement.

  • Not

    4.811764705882353, like all those digits actually mean anything… lol. You think anyone has equipment that measures alcohol content that precisely? Do you think the alcohol content is even stable to that many decimals for more than, I don’t know, a second? No need to provide the more accurate version because it’s not more accurate. The funny thing is (assuming you meant to say “for american beers”) you then compare 4.81…. to 5. The value 4.81 is consistent with 5. It is not consistent with 5.00 but it is consistent with 5.

  • Not

    Good beer is not served super cold. Obviously you wouldn’t care.

  • Jeff

    Actually, Budweiser originally comes from the Budweiss region, which is in Germany. So, Nomad is certainly much closer to being accurate than you are. Had you honestly never considered that Budweiser is a decidedly German-sounding name?

  • Ken

    They both have the same European genes but Americans are more obese

  • Ken

    When I was a teenager American beer was 3%, you had to be 21, and they still couldn’t handle it.

  • Ken

    BC BUD, World Renowned as primo smoke. 2 tokes and your day is done

  • BillB

    Of course, a discussion of Canadian vs American beer has to devolve into an argument about the War of 1812. :D

  • bhaggen

    Although Budweiser’s roots are German, you’d be imprisoned if you served it in Germany.