How much alcohol is in that beer? Maine liquor enforcement doesn’t want you to know

This past Thursday, January 30, 2014 Marshall Wharf Brewing Company posted on Facebook about their recent visit from a Maine liquor enforcement officer, they were informed that they needed to remove the ABV (alcohol by volume) from their chalkboards in the brewery store/tasting room as well as the boards at the bar and remove those same details from their menus.


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There is a Maine State law on the books that pertains to “Advertising strength of malt liquor” which basically states that the alcohol levels of beverages being sold may not be issued, published or posted, but does not prohibit the ABV from being displayed on the product packaging. It calls out certain phrases that are not allowed to be used in advertising and disallows the use of numbers in advertising that are not fully explained.

I’ve read and reread this law and fully understand its meaning and importance, it specifically calls out the guideline for advertising the sale of alcohol. This law would prohibit a brewer from making a banner for the outside of their building that read “We sell Barleywine, strongest you’ll find, 15% ABV”. The law keeps manufacturers, distributors and retailers in check, preventing advertisements that specifically target consumers based on the alcohol content of the product they are attempting to sell. I have no issues with this; it probably keeps the wrong kind of crowd out of these establishments.

The law pertains to advertising, Marshall Wharf was told to change their chalkboards at the bar and inside the tasting room as well as their menus, I’ve heard from local retailers who have taken black permanent markers to the labels on their shelves to hide ABV from the customer and had to alter in store signage that had ABV displayed on them. This is where I as a consumer have a problem. If I’m standing in the tasting room buying a growler or sitting at the bar ordering a pint I’m well past the point of advertising and at the point of purchase.

The interpretation of this law has been skewed. Advertising is meant to bring a customer through the doors, displaying ABV on signs or print ads is enticement and that’s what the law is in place to prevent. Once I’m inside the establishment the game has changed, I’m there, I’m going to buy and that is the most important place to have the ABVs posted.  Enforcement of this law in a manner that prevents me, the consumer,  from knowing the alcohol content of the product I’m about to buy is asinine, it hinders my ability to make an educated decision about a product I’m going to purchase and consume whether that consumption happens there  or at home, it puts me at risk.

I base my decision to purchase beer heavily on the ABV, I am less likely to purchase a Barleywine with a 15% ABV with a light meal, I would rather opt for a beer in the 4 to 6% range, but if that information is not provided how can I make that decision? How can we expect someone who doesn’t know the alcohol ranges for various styles to make a good decision about what they want to consume? As consumers we have the right to know, if I pulled up to a gas pump and it had 3 nozzles in 3 colors and 3 prices but they all said “Unleaded” I wouldn’t get gas there, because how do I know what I’m putting in my car, how do I know what I’m paying for?

This current law by my understanding is fine, it pertains to advertising, the people who enforce said laws need to clarify their interpretation of the law and understand where advertising stops and necessary information at the point of sale begins.

What do you as a consumer think of how this law is being enforced? Leave me a comment below and let me know how you feel about having this information withheld from you.




Chad Lothian

About Chad Lothian

Chad Lothian lives in Old Town, Maine. He is a craft beer enthusiast and homebrewer. Chad has travelled to brewpubs, breweries and brewfests all over New England.