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A Full Menu of Beer Options
by Travis Gibbons, Senior Director of Health Policy & Regulatory Affairs
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself—once again—in my favorite chain restaurant with the really good chicken wings. After perusing the menu, which I know by heart at this point, I turned my attention to the beer menu. Imagine my surprise when I saw something I had never encountered before: the calories and alcohol-by-volume (ABV) of each beer were listed next to the beer’s description. Huh.
It turns out Congress mandated all kinds of nutrition disclosures on restaurant menus about eight years ago, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) kept pushing back the compliance deadline, so they could get it just right. But whether they did or didn’t it doesn’t matter, because as of today (May 7, 2018), chain restaurants with 20 or more locations have to list the nutritional content of all “standard menu” items, including beers, wines, and hard liquors. Some seasonal, temporary offerings, and draft beers and custom cocktails that are considered “foods on display” and are therefore exempted, but everything that’s a regular offering has to be fully disclosed.
What was eye-opening to me were the cocktails. My particular establishment has two cocktails listed on the menu, one made with vodka and another with rum. Normally, we expect mixed drinks with hard liquor to have around 100 calories from the liquor, and maybe another 50 or so from the mixer. But whoa, was I surprised when these drinks had 400 and 570 calories respectively! I had no idea they could get up that high. I’ve even heard rumors some margaritas have as many as 1,200 calories…in one glass! That’s pretty incredible. But, I guess that’s the point of the menu labeling requirements: educating consumers about what they’re consuming.
That is why last August the Beer Institute filed comments with the FDA supporting that restaurants list the calories for each individual brand of beer, glass or bottle of wine, and each mixed drink made with hard liquor listed on an alcohol drink menu. It was a good move for consumers since the FDA adopted this recommendation as part of its final rule.
One of the bigger questions around the menu labeling requirements is the accuracy of the nutritional information disclosed. Does it need to be based in science or can it be pulled from the clear blue sky? The FDA has suggested in guidance documents that a “covered establishment” (such as a chain restaurant) should pull information from a number of sources, or “reasonable bases.” Fortunately for restaurants that have a standard beer menu, six U.S. brewers and importers have made that task easy.
As part of the beer industry’s commitment to consumer education and transparency, the Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (BVDI) is a pledge by Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, HEINEKEN USA, Constellation Brands Beer Division, Craft Brewers Alliance, and North American Brewers to disclose nutrition information on the beer label itself. By the end of 2020, these six brewers and importers will list calories, ABV, carbohydrates, fats and proteins on the labels of their bottles and cans of beer, and make ingredient lists and freshness dating available on either the product packaging or their websites. In the meantime, these brewers and importers will make that information available to their restaurant partners to ensure compliance with the FDA’s menu labeling requirements.
For more information about the BVDI and the brewer and importer commitments to transparency, please visit our website at https://www.beerinstitute.org/beer-policy/regulatory/voluntary-disclosure/.
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