Beer consumption is commonly an issue in a medico-legal setting, requiring estimates either of a likely blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for a given pattern of consumption or vice versa. Four hundred and four beers and malt beverages available for sale in the State of Washington were tested by gas chromatography for their alcohol content. Considerable variability in the alcoholic strength was found, even within the same class. Overall the range of concentrations was 2.92%v/v to 15.66%v/v. The mean alcohol concentration for ales was 5.51%v/v (SD 1.23%v/v), and for lagers, 5.32% (SD 1.43%v/v). Some specialty brews had characteristically higher or lower mean concentrations; ice beers 6.07%v/v, malt liquor 7.23%v/v, light beer 4.13%v/v, seasonal ales 6.30%v/v. Six brands of lager and four light beers account for the majority of all beer sales in the United States, and the mean alcohol concentration for these products was measured as 4.73%v/v and 4.10%v/v respectively. Few of the beers (17%) were labeled with respect to alcohol content, and in some cases, there was a significant disparity between the concentration listed on the label, and the measured alcohol concentration. Toxicologists need to exercise caution when performing Widmark type calculations, using all available information to select the most appropriate estimate for alcoholic strength of a beer or malt beverage.
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