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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Beer is not as fattening as you think - and that's official


No, the number of calories in a pint has not somehow miraculously fallen, or found to be overstated.  But new research carried out by the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) has found that a significant majority of people in Britain believe there are more calories in beer than there really are.

When asked, 60 per cent of men overestimated the calories in a pint, and a whopping 74% of women did the same.

The fact that three out of four women believe beer is more calorific than it really is is surely a significant factor in the very low proportion of women who drink beer, and one that is easily remedied - hey, brewers, you could simply do an information campaign informing people of the truth rather than spending million on a patronising clear 'beer' in a bottle with pretty flowers on.

Revealing details of the research, the BBPA included some handy stats which you may want to share with weight-conscious friends down the pub:
  • A half pint (284ml) of 2.8% ABV bitter is 80 calories
  • A half pint (284ml) of 4% ABV lager is 96 calories
  • A 175ml glass of 12.5% red wine is 119 calories
  • A 175ml glass of 12.5% white wine is 131 calories
Yes, a pint is more than a glass of wine.  But at 220 calories for a pint of premium cask ale, that's really not too many (and the point is, it still remains much lower than most people think).  I once did WeightWatchers, and a pint of ale has the same points value as a naked baked potato with no filling, no butter, nothing.

I'm not sure there are many people who would describe a baked potato as fattening.  So why do people who drink beer get fat (because yes, some of them - me as a case in point - do)? Well, you wouldn't have a nice dinner and then go out afterwards and eat five or six baked potatoes, would you? 

It's all about moderation - the beer itself is not fattening, but eat or drink too much of anything and over time it will start to show.

And of course, the industry sanctioned lined - which also happens to be true - is that a bag of crisps almost doubles the calorific value of a round, while a packet of peanuts contains twice as many calories as a pint of beer.

On another note, you might have spotted the comparison above with a 2.8% pint of beer.  That's because the research (carried out by ComRes with a sample of over 2000 adults nationwide) also asked people if they would consider drinking a 2.8% beer as a refresher on a hot day.  This follows the new tax break that came in last year for beers of 2.8% or below as an effort to get people to moderate their alcohol consumption.   (Something we could all have welcomed if it wasn't being paid for by a tax hike on beers of over 7%, which hammers the craft beer industry and displays a total lack of understanding of the beer market).

A lot of drinkers - myself included - are sceptical about whether a beer can deliver flavour at 2.8%, and wonder why the limit wasn't set at 3.4% - not a huge difference in alcohol, but a massive one in terms of what a brewer can do.  (Trinity from Redemption Brewery at 3% ABV is a beer that some people drink because it's low ABV, but most drink in spite of its ABV - it's simply a wonderful beer; forget the alcohol.)  But the research shows that about a third of people - more women than men - are happy to give 2.8% a go.

That figure would surely have been higher if the limit had been a little more realistic, but that's what we're stuck with and many brewers are now rising to the challenge of making beer at 2.8% that's still worth drinking.  I'll be doing a blind tasting of a wide range of low ABV beers very soon, damning the bad and praising any we find that are worth a go.  I know craft beer is playing in high ABVs just now, but when you drink as much beer as I do, it's very nice indeed to have a low strength alternative.

And if it's lower in calories too, well, that does us no harm at all.

20 comments:

Kerry said...

I really enjoy (and regularly order) the Stiegl Radler they serve at the Draft House, which is 2.5% and delicious. I'm pretty sure that's a blend made after brewing, though, rather than one brewed at 2.5%.

Fiona Beckett said...

a point well worth making but I'm not sure it's not all about how much beer is consumed at a single time. It's the fact that many people (mainly men I suspect) will drink 2,3, 4 or more pints at a time that piles on the weight. Targetting women I think the comparison would be better made with a couple of glasses of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or rosé - both of which regularly hit 13/13.5%. In comparison a 330cl bottle of beer doesn't look too bad

py0 said...

"Radler" is the German word for "Shandy" - which probably explains the low ABV.

Jeff Pickthall said...

I was mightily impressed by Revolution's 3.4% "Ravenscroft" at the Craft Beer Co recently.

Kristy McCready said...

"The fact that three out of four women believe beer is more calorific than it really is is surely a significant factor in the very low proportion of women who drink beer, and one that is easily remedied - hey, brewers, you could simply do an information campaign informing people of the truth rather than spending million on a patronising clear 'beer' in a bottle with pretty flowers on."

To suggest that all ladies need to know is the impact on their waist line and they'd be converted to beer is either naive to how deep routed women's rejection of beer is or incredibly patronising - since I know you to be neither I'm surprised by such a statement.

Dispelling the "beer belly" myth is a great thing and something long overdue but that alone won't change women's perception of beer. Whilst the high calorie assumption is a rejection factor it's not the biggest - masculine image, poor packaging and bitter taste are all significantly bigger reasons women turn away from beer than calories. So actually addressing those (maybe with a clear beer with flowers on targeted specifically at women) is much more likely to convert non beer drinking women than pointing out the calories alone.

Adnam's Sole Star at 2.7% is the best example of a sub 2.8% I've tried so far (and I agree pushing the ABV duty break up to a more meaningful level is a good idea) with a taste that belies its lower ABV - delicious

idreamofbrewery said...

I liked this before I even read it

Alan said...

Exactly: "Well, you wouldn't have a nice dinner and then go out afterwards and eat five or six baked potatoes, would you?"

Not sure that a beer belly myth has been anything but affirmed. The only actual measure is the amount of calories consumed in a session and how many session one has in a week, month or year. Not sure pubs will ever be filled by folk having one half pint every second week. Being a big fat guy it is apparent that many guys may well be adding at least 30-50% of a day's caloric intake in a session. Move into higher strength crafty or Belgian brews and the numbers go up.

Alan said...

FYI - here is a BBC calorie calculator that saps the fun out of any session: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/games/boozecalculator/

Ryan said...

Our home brewing club has a nice calculator for calories. Even if you don't know the Original Gravity, you can use it by the ABV which is easy to find on most beers.

http://agravain.com/calorie_calculator.php

Anonymous said...

Hey Pete,

Long time reader, first time commenting.

Would you consider leading a revolt against:

- Current fashion to up the ABV at a lot of breweries for no particular reason? Yes, some of the output tastes good, but we've already reached the point where the increased ABV chemically starts to kill off other flavours.

- Going against the IPA obsession? Do we really need pubs with 4 IPAs on tap that are only minutely different? Can we imagine having a range of beers available to drink that aren't only about some weird macho combination of ultra hops and high ABV?

rabbi lionheart said...

Personally, I'd prefer to eat less and substitute with more beer. Or just get on my bike to justify everything. Hard to find many lower abv beers in my parts, but 21st Amendment out of San Francisco makes a fantastic beer called Bitter American. It's 4.4%, labeled as an extra pale, and very flavorful.

Chris Hall said...

I've tried two of the new wave of 2.8% beers. One was Marston's Pale Ale, which was just awful, like cheap lager of similar strength in its blandness. The packaging too reeked of a rushed-out, half-arsed product, and the name? Barely a name.

BrewDog Blitz however, was certainly flavoursome, but a little too sweet for some people (pure caramalt brew). It also costed just as much as a 5am Saint or a Punk IPA.

I'd like to try Sole Star, just to see if it's possible to strike a balance between cost of production and amount of flavour.

Pete Brown said...

Kristy - not suggesting the impact on the waistline is the only thing that needs to happen, but the research you were involved in showed that it was one of the major barriers, along with the boorish macho image.

When this is a misconception rather than a fact, it just seems like a very easy win to me to simply correct that misconception. It just frustrates me that brewers (not just Molson Coors) know these misconceptions exist and yet persist in trying to attract women to beer by creating something that doesn't look, smell or taste like beer rather than simply re-presenting beer to them. Among most women I know, it's these 'beers for the ladies' that are felt to be patronising.

Cooking Lager said...

If beer isn't fattening how come so many beer geeks are complete jabbas?

I've put on over a stone since I became a beer geek and need new trousers.

Leigh said...

The key message, as you say, is moderation. Too much of anything is harmful - a point that's often missed by rabid and overzealous beer bashers in the press. There must be at least 1 'wine is good for you' story in the press a month - until they use it to beat working mothers with!

Jim Clegg said...

While beer may not be as calorific as people think, the fact still remains that it is high in calories. Drinking three pints (which many wouldn't consider that much) delivers a whopping 600 calories, a huge proportion of your daily intake. With the country facing an obesity epidemic I don't think we should be laid back about any of the causes of obesity, be it high fat food, sedentary lifestyle or excessive alcohol intake.

Gary Gillman said...

I think the problem is regular beers drinkers don't modify much their non-drink calorie load, hence those 200 plus calories a day put on weigh over timet - same as if wine or pop is used to the same net extent. The only way around it is, increase considerably one's exercise, or cut down on the calories on the food side. Easier said than done for many including yours truly...

Gary

Pingo said...

You can't store calories from alcohol as it's physically impossible - you either use them or lose. You *can* store the calories that you consume along with alcohol, but a session based on vodka and diet mixers while eating nothing can be part of a weight-loss diet.

hiper said...

Dispelling the "beer belly" myth is a great thing and something long overdue but that alone won't change women's perception of beer. Whilst the high calorie assumption is a rejection factor it's not the biggest - masculine image, poor packaging and bitter taste are all significantly bigger reasons women turn away from beer than calories. So actually addressing those (maybe with a clear beer with flowers on targeted specifically at women) is much more likely to convert non beer drinking women than pointing out the calories alone.

Natalie Adams said...

Beer contains no more calories than a variety of other drinks including milk, although it has less nutritional value. The reason beer seems to produce beer bellies probably arises from the habits associated with beer drinking such as snacking and the fact that most people drink several beers in addition to the other calories they consume throughout the day. Sitting around drinking beer doesn't burn many calories and you're less likely to be inclined to exercise when you're feeling mellow from alcohol. There's also some evidence according to studies that men and women may respond to alcohol differently in terms of weight gain which is why men are more prone to beer bellies. The best approach, as always, is to practice moderation.