Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: When Are Brewers Crossing the Line?

Sometimes you do things because they need doing. Sometimes you do them simply because you can.

In the case of the Boston Beer Co., maker of the Samuel Adams brand … well, you make the call.

The brewer has released an updated version of its biennial beer Utopias, at $150 a bottle and 27 percent alcohol. It is the highest-alcohol beer on the market, and is banned in 13 states. It’s not the sort of brew someone chugs down while watching a game on TV or while barbecuing. It comes in a specially-designed bottle familiar to purchasers of upscale whiskies and is meant for occasional sipping, the company says.

However, the fact that so many states still limit the alcohol level for beer shows the controversy remains alive.

Several states, such as West Virginia and Alabama, recently modified regulations to allow higher-alcohol brews, and several other state legislatures are considering following suit. In most cases, revenue-strapped states are looking for almost any new source of funds, and better-selling alcoholic drinks are a natural target.

It’s not strictly a domestic debate, though. Take the latest beer news from the United Kingdom.

“Everything in moderation, including moderation itself. What logically follows is that you must, from time, have excess. This beer is for those times.”
If you put that statement on your label, it should be no surprise it will anger many people.

That’s what happened to BrewDog’s Tokyo*, the strongest beer sold in the United Kingdom. Last week (December 4), it was banned from sale for promoting excessive drinking.

Tokyo* – the asterisk in the name is just for kicks – has an alcoholic content of 18.2 percent, roughly quadruple that of the average beers sold in the U.K. but one-third less than the powerful Samuel Adams version.

The Portman Group, the U.K. alcohol industry watchdog, said the beer breached its code on alcohol packaging. Portman CEO David Poley said: “It’s obviously unwise for any company to urge consumers to drink to excess. We won’t allow irresponsible marketing whether it’s for a big brand or a niche product.”
And Charity Alcohol Focus Scotland complained about the message on the label as well as its alcohol level.

BrewDog is located in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Its oak-aged imperial stout has been on sale since July at รบ10 (about $16 U.S.) for each 330ml bottle. Only 3,000 bottles were produced. Like the Boston Beer officials, BrewDog officers say they made the brew for the small niche of connoisseurs who would be willing to pay that much for a beer, and not for mass-market consumption.

(William M. Dowd covers the global beverage world online at