Calories, fat, carbohydrates, alcohol volume, dolphin content — these are things that I like to know about a product before I consume it. I’m obsessive about my nutrition, which is a good thing because I drink a lot of beer. The U.S. government feels the same way about nutrition (not beer) and has been pushing to make nutritional information available on chain restaurant menus for quite some time, and that includes beer too.
The government has actually been quite patient — especially when working with the beer industry to help ease the burden of providing this info, pushing back deadlines. For one, this could create a reporting problem for small breweries that don’t lab test each beer. Plus, there is variation from batch to batch. How will that be handled? And will there need to be information for each size of beer sold?
Then, there is the longer-range impact of beer on menus. Will people now gravitate away from high calorie beer? Will sessions start to take the place of other options? And, of course, concern lies in the cost of compliance. The Cato Institute (an American libertarian think tank headquartered in D.C) has estimated it could cost businesses between $44,000 and $77,000 to comply with these regulations, which includes the restaurant’s food as well.
Luckily, the Brewers Association has been working with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Office of Nutrition and Labeling to find the right solution — one that provides the needed info, but doesn’t overburden the small brewers of the craft industry. In fact, the craft-focused trade organization had a productive conference call with the FDA last week. According to a post by BA Director Paul Gatza:
Among the reasonable bases that data can be sourced from by restaurant chains are calculation of the 11 required nutrients (calories for menus and menu boards and 10 others available upon request) via recipe, via an accurate database, or via analytical testing. FDA suggested an approach for the Brewers Association would be more robust analytical testing of beers by style that we have already done — more styles and more samples. The Brewers Association can build a database for the nutrients other than calories and carbohydrates based on average analysis, which for most nutrients can be listed under the insignificant amount data point for each nutrient. Brewers would need to provide their own data points for calories and carbohydrates, and the Brewers Association will be looking at some of the online calculators in the coming days. Chuck is working developing the robust lab sampling plan to develop the average analyses foundation. The next step would be creation of the online resource in the members only area of BrewersAssociation.org.
My assumption is that this system should be workable for beers without post-fermentation additives.
A second idea from FDA is for the Brewers Association to develop an analysis program for each constituent ingredient in beer and develop the nutrient levels for different malted and unmalted grains and hops and other common ingredients to create a recipe calculator. This idea could be a longer range project for down the road, as the urgency is aimed at getting the simpler solution operational first.