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

Beer

ABV

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

Beer

ABV

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.

  • Mitch

    It tends to actually be due to people drinking garbage light beer in the US. Coors Light, Bud Light, Miller Light…the list goes on. It you drink the normal garbage American beers like say Bud it is the same % no matter which side of the border you buy it on.

  • Mitch

    Check your facts Chris. Canadians absolutely did command battles during WWII. There were a number of Canadian Generals who led various campaigns during the war.

  • Mitch

    Fax! The beer of drunks and bums.

  • wil hall

    This
    fellow got it all wrong..This had nothing to do with Strong vs weak
    ,but good “tasting beer” as opposed to incredibly shitty ones.. ;) (Y)

  • colleen

    so it was a German immigrant in america that created budweiser bon to know everybody is correct le.

  • colleen

    i guess it just takes us less to get drunk off it ;) maybe cuz our cans are more full? or the fact that we dont want to waste our 24 case of beer. :P

  • colleen

    i agree :)

  • colleen

    typical american response. still jealous that we burned their precious ‘white house’ oh and that Lora seacord is a canadian hero.

  • colleen

    idk ive seen a lot of big ones up here in the snowy white north

  • colleen

    excuse me, but we did burn down the white house as stated above with help from the British, and naive guides. as for the french, i don’t know what you have learned but the British fought the french in Quebec and won fair and square. and this is why to this day french and English in Canada are at odds with each other. they(french canadiens) still cant get over the fact that they lost. also would it make more sense for the British to bring troops from England or recruit from Canada? cost wise im thing the latter. (dont forget about the freed slaves from you guys. they were given freedom and land if they joined up with the british during your war for independance.)

  • Dan

    this guy don’t know what he is talking about just drink 10 canadian beers and then drink 10 american beers(not on the same day of course) and you will find out which beer is stronger. Plus my cousins come over from the states and they even say canadian beer is stronger.

  • true

    well the average of both is CAD – 5.0 USA – 4.7 so… thats stronger beer

  • true

    Canada wasn’t Canada back then though, we were a colony

    woah… 2 years late

  • David Clinton

    USA beer = Panter Piss

  • Adam Aucoin

    i’ve done a lot of travelling in the United States and Canada for work and I’d have to say that the beer is just far more consistent in Canada. One state is normal then you get skunked cause you bought a 24 at a 7/11 in another state where they can only sell the unleaded stuff in the corner stores…

  • Mark

    Actually, this so-called myth that Canadian beer is stronger than American beer started much earlier than your list. In the 1960′s and 70′s beer such as O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock was 6.2%, and this was considered normal.

    https://www.google.ca/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAcQjRw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fradarenterprizes.com%2F%3Ftag%3Dthe-california-roll%26paged%3D2&ei=6BJ8VMSlNMLjoASitIHIDQ&bvm=bv.80642063,d.cGU&psig=AFQjCNGSnX8BalUb4JgWbbMPlPVRGe7iXg&ust=1417503725283110

  • Mark
  • StoneAge

    Being a brewmaster myself. (35 years – 20 professionally – still home brew) I can’t say many of the commercial beers out there are beer. Most of them are low alcohol rice wine with a bit of colouring in them. :-). Yup – there’s the “u” in Colour. (Canadian :-) – They are about the same in alcohol content. The standard US beer USED to be 3.2 % by weight. For Pabst, Bud, Coors etc. 3.2% by weight / .79336 = 4.033% by volume. Unless the US has stepped it up a notch, then I’d say the same as our LIGHT beers. Tecnically too a “beer” that is 25.6% (weight OR volume) is a Barley Wine. Anything over 6.5%/V in Canada is no longer a beer either – it is a malt liquor. to 12% then get’s the distinction of a barley wine.
    In Germany you cannot call it beer unless it has ONLY Water, Barley malt, hops and yeast. Sadly – North American beers DO NOT fit this bill. Why? cost.

    Go to a craft brew and look for this – it’s not only a better beer (with usually more alcohol) but there is less chance of it containing GMO’s.

    Great article.

  • Mark Roundell

    It may not be stronger but it tastes better. I drink mostly craft brews now since most mass produced beers taste weak. The american brews may not have less alcohol but most of them taste like crap. That’s a fact for y’all.

  • lpoollady

    None of these mass produced beers are any good anyway – both countries have amazing independent breweries who can compete with any country in the world, including each other! BC has a huge selection of amazing beers!
    Does it matter what the alcoholic strength is (only if you are trying to get totally blitzed!!!!!!).

  • tyler

    Americans measure the alcohol percent by % weight,whereas Canadians measure it by % volume. Alcohol is lighter than water therefore 5% alcohol by weight is less than 5% alcohol by volume. Therefore Canadian beers have a higher alcohol content.