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9.5% Beer - is that Legal?

This weekend, I was at Jon's Market in Hollywood/Los Feliz (it's on Vermont, right below Hollywood) and I was checking out their beer selection. Lots of really cheap beer from Eastern Europe, we're talking $1.50 for a 22 ounce bottle.

But then, I saw a beer from Lithuania - 79 cents for a bottle and the beer was 9.5% alcohol. I've never seen that before. Is anything like that made in America? Is it legal to make it here? From what I found, Guinness is around 6%.

I don't remember the brand at the moment, but the beer wasn't bad. Pretty strong obviously. I felt a bit wasted after my first long sip, but I'm a lightweight. And at 79 cents, I didn't feel bad using half the bottle as cooking liquid for black beans - the scent was heavenly.

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  1. Unless a state specifies otherwise, there is no alcohol limit on beer in the US.

    Guinness Extra Stout has somewhere around 6-6.5% alcohol by volume. Guinness Draught is more like 4%.

    1. Some states have limits of the amount of alcohol that is in beer. I don't think that 9.5% would be illegal in any states except Utah, but for instance, New Hampshire has a limit of around 12%, if I recall correctly. There are definitely some american beers that are much higher than that:

      Sam Adams brews a beer that is 25%. Dogfish Head has 2 that are 21%. Here is an older article about the worlds strongest beers.


      9 Replies
      1. re: deldredge

        I think SC still has a limit of 6% or thereabouts. NC and GA had similar limits until fairly recently.

        1. re: Jim Dorsch

          Jim, I live in South Cack-a-lacky and it is 5%. We tried to pop the cap in the last legislative session but it did not get out of committee. Maybe this year. I think we are the last state to have a limit.

            1. re: Jim Dorsch

              Jim- it's so hard to characterize. "Having a limit" is maybe an oversimplification. MS and AL definitely still have limits in the 5-6% ABV range. UT, the last I looked, allowed 'stronger' beer for sale in state stores, but everywhere else including brewpubs is limited to 3.2%. GA still has a limit, it's just 14% now (thank goodness). Think MT is similar. IIRC, even the great microbrew state of WA technically has a limit of around 12%.

              All total, there are maybe 8-9 states that still have limits that functionally exclude big chunks of the beer world.

              1. re: ted

                What is UT?

                also, if spirits are legal, can you explain why these laws are in place?

                1. re: amkirkland

                  UT is Utah

                  In California, the reasons for the classifications are alcohol tax laws and laws sponsored by special interest groups.

          1. re: Jim Dorsch

            Florida also has a low limit, like 6% or so

            1. re: frankiii

              Sorry again. Florida does not have a 6% cap.

              Only South Carolina, West Virginia, Alabama and Mississippi are saddled with a 6% ABV / 5% ABW cap. Somewhat surprisingly, Vermont has an 8% cap.

          2. re: deldredge

            When it starts getting into the 20+% range it's almost unenjoyable to drink--too boozy, at least for me. I'm not a fan of super high ABV, 12 usually my upper limits.

          3. Yes, legal. And you will get TORE UP drinking that stuff. A lot of craft beers are in that range.

            1. Many beers from Dogfish Head double that percentage, the one I feel is the most drinkable is the Fort which weighs in around 16%abv. On the west coast Alesmith produces some pretty high abv beers such as the speedway stout which is highly rated in the beer community. The Sam Adams Utopias is somewhere around 25%, although it is more of a cognac than a beer to me. Both ratebeer and beeradvocate has listing of the best rated high alcohol beers, I don't want to fark them by directly linking them but check the sites out both are full of good information.

              1. If you want to drink something that strong, my advice is go to Whole Foods or whatever place around you sells goo dbeeer and get yourself a bottle of La Fin Duy Monde. It is a strong Belgian style ale from Unibroue in Quebec. This would be a good introduction to higher % beers. It is one of my favourites

                1 Reply
                1. re: MVNYC

                  One of my favorites at Whole Foods is North Coast Brewing "OLD RASPUTIN RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUT" ABV is 8.9% and very drinkable.


                2. I was randomly channel surfing last night and some guy was in Belgium drinking 11.5% (or higher? Can't recall) beer. That's like wine!

                  1. Yes... Dogfish head has some great high alcohol beers as does Rogue Ales. Some of these beers are considered barleywines and can be aged for years. They are delectable sipping from a snifter in front of the fire on a cold winter's day. Really, they are more like port than beer.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: houndgirl

                      I love the Rogue Imperial IPA and Imperial Pilsner.

                      Another awesome one is Alpine's Great Barleywine. 11.5% and aged in bourbon barrels. Amazingly good.

                      1. re: Josh

                        the dogfish 90 minute ipa is one of the best beers i've tasted, and at 9% quite a kick.. really comperable tastewise to the rogue imperial ipa as well..

                    2. Thanks for all the info.

                      I'm not really a fan of strong beers but I was curious what a 9.5% beer sold for 79 cents would taste like. I read the link that deldridge posted and noticed all those beers sell for $5 to $15 and up.

                      I found the bottle and the beer was Gubernija - Grand. Seems it dates back to the 1600s or the 1700s.

                      http://www.gubernija.lt/en/index.php?... (most of the website is in Lithuanian, sorry).

                      Seems the stuff has been rated on Beer Advocate:

                      http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/... - several people mentioned a skunky smell - oy!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: SusieGirl7

                        La Fin Du Monde does not taste strong. Give a bottle a shot

                      2. As far as I know there is not a nationwide law prohibiting alcohol above a certain percentage (there is definitely a limit in Utah). I believe there used to be, at least in supermarkets, which is why most Buds/Millers fall around a 3.5% range. My favorite beer with higher alcohol content is Delirium, a light blonde Belgian beer which I believe is around 9% ABV.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ESNY

                          I'm unaware of any laws that might have applied specifically to supermarkets.

                          Typical beers around the world are around 5% by volume, 4% by weight, and Bud, Miller, et al, are that strength or slightly less. There are instances in which laws caused brewers to brew beers with less alcohol, such as Britain, where beer is taxed according to strength, and there are amazingly flavorful beers with as little as 3% alcohol by volume.

                        2. In Eastern European neighborhoods here in NYC there are a bunch of similar beers available in little bodegas at low, low prices. A lot of Polish and Ukranian construction guys buy them. Some are actually pretty good, particularly for the price. I had a more than decent Polish dark beer a couple of weeks back, sweetish and very malty with a nice thick head at 8.5%, which set me back $1.15 for a nice big bottle.

                          1. Here in NC you can get Chimay, which is 9.5%. Not sure what our state limit is, but pretty sure it goes at least up to 10%.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Andiereid

                              It's 15% here in North Carolina, lifted from 6% on August 13, 2005.


                              That was a good day.

                              1. re: peetoteeto

                                I remember they raised it, but didn't know it went THAT high!