Get Smart | ABV and Beer: How Much Is Too Much?

Photo: Tara Moore (Getty Images).

Years ago, before the craft beer boom, you could be pretty sure about the alcohol contentor Alcohol By Volume (ABV)of your favorite beer. That’s because you probably drank the same beer from the day your turned 21. Brand loyalty, while still fairly common, was an industry standard when your only choices were Budweiser, Miller, Coors, and whatever local beer was brewed in your city. Now, however, there are over 3,500 craft breweries in the US. Each of these breweries is making a rainbow of different styles of beer, from hefeweizens to imperial stouts. This also means that if you don’t check the label, you might imbibe a 9% ABV beer instead of an expected 4%. That’s a pretty big difference.

The varying differences between alcohol percentage in beers can be bad news for bar-goers. Even though you think you are “just having one beer” it might actually contain the alcohol content of two or more beers. Nobody wants to be impaired behind the wheel, get a DWI, or seriously injure themselves or others because they chose the wrong beer. Luckily for you, this simple guide should help you realize just how much alcohol you’ll have in your system after that “one beer”.


Here’s a quick ABV guide for different beer types:

  • Session: 3 – 5% ABV

  • Pilsner: 4 – 5.5% ABV

  • Pale Ale:  5 – 5.5% ABV

  • IPA: 5 – 7% ABV

  • Stout: 6 – 8% ABV

  • Double IPA:  8 – 12% ABV

  • Strong Ale: 7 – 20% ABV


Also: Strapped: A Brief History of the Seat Belt


Here’s a little bit of background and ABV info of some of the most popular beers in the US, ranked in order of alcohol content:


As you probably already know, the “King of Beers” is an American-style pale ale that is produced by Anheuser-Busch. The most popular beer in the world, Budweiser is known for its humorous (and sometimes poignant) Super Bowl commercials and its easy, drinkability. It’s pretty much the equivalent
of America in beer form. At 5% ABV, it’s still considered a session beer and on the lower-end of alcohol percentage.

Blue Moon

One of the most popular Belgian White-style beers on the market, Blue Moon isn’t actually a craft beer (shocker!). Brewed since 1995, it’s actually a product of MillerCoors. That (now well-known) information shouldn’t stop you from purchasing this summer staple the next time you’re at a bar. Adding an orange
and sitting outside on a hot, summer day is borderline perfect. At 5.4% ABV, it’s slightly higher than a Budweiser.

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

One of the most popular IPAs on the market, Sculpin IPA pretty much screams summer. It’s light, hoppy, and floral. It’s one of the highest rated beers on BeerAdvocate (97). It can really go down easy and you could end up enjoying multiple bottles in one sitting. Beware, this beer is 7% ABV. Don’t let it sneak up on you.

Regardless of how many beers you drink (no matter the ABV), your best bet is to have a designated driver, walk to your local watering hole, or take an Uber, Lyft, or taxi. We all enjoy a few half-priced happy hour beers every now and then. One bad decision could have repercussions for the rest of your live and the lives of anyone you come in contact with. Don’t drink and drive. Plus, if you have a designated driver, you can try that high-alcohol beer you’ve wanted to try for a while. That Barrel-aged, Double Bastard Ale won’t drink itself.