If an American goes into a bar in Canada and orders a local brew, there’s usually kind of a special moment involved. The American might feel that uncomfortable sensation of being watched, probably because, well, they’re being watched. Every Canadian in the bar will be looking at them expectantly to see if they can handle Canadian beer.
There has always been a certain pride taken in drinking in colder climates like Canada, Russia, or Alaska, with the implication being that they drink stronger drinks up there because it keeps them warm. When it comes to Canadian beer, there is actually a tiny little bit of truth to the claim that it’s stronger than American beer.
How Strong is Canadian beer?
It turns out that the alcohol content of beer tends to vary widely from brew to brew in America and Canada. In Canada, the average “normal” beer has just a slightly higher alcohol content than American beer, with a range of 4.0% to 6.1% alcohol by volume (ABV) as compared to America’s 4.1% to 5.9% ABV. There also appear to be more popular Canadian beers with an ABV over 5% than popular American beers in that range.
While America can claim to have some very strong beer, such as the 17.5% ABV Samuel Adams Triple Bock, Canada’s strong beers seem to be a bit more popular. With Critical Mass at 17%, Korruptor at 16%, and The Black Bullet at 15% ABV, Canada has plenty of options to get you hosed, and their citizens love to enjoy them.
Still, this marginal difference in beer strength probably doesn’t warrant the kind of national pride Canadians have in their beer. Is it a little jealousy at being in the shadow of the military and economic might of the United States? Maybe they’re compensating for something? Some Canadians are a little too concerned about the size of their pilsner, if you ask me.
Why isn’t American Beer Stronger?
There is an old Australian joke that draws a comparison between American beer and making love in a canoe, because both are “****ing close to water.” Certainly, Canadians would have found a blander way to put it, but the implication of the joke pretty much matches their feelings—American beer is too weak. One could debate that point to some extent, but the fact is that making stronger beer in America is a bit more challenging.
There are 20 states that have laws limiting the amount of alcohol in beer. In the past, these laws have sometimes been strict, limiting beers to under 5% or 6% ABV, but often there were loopholes involving different classifications of beer. For instance, many states allow a higher ABV for malt liquor beers. In general, the laws have been becoming more lax recently, but they are still stricter than those of Canada. This makes it more challenging for American beer makers to create powerful beer and still sell it as beer.
What are the Dangers of Stronger Beer?
For decades, we’ve had beer with relatively low alcohol content, so we’ve trained ourselves to know that it will take six or 12 or 24 beers to get a good buzz going. With the new “extreme beers” pushing the envelope of alcohol content, people who think they’re drinking their grandpa’s beer, or even their own beer from a year ago, are going to be caught off guard. Someone who is normally fine after a beer or two might find themselves getting a little tipsy after a few of the modern mega brews.
There’s nothing worse than being blindsided by alcohol. If you know you’re going to get blitzed, you can hand off your car keys, take the battery out of your cell phone, hide your power tools, and generally make preparations to be sure that you won’t cause too many problems for yourself or others.
When you think you’re just having a couple beers and you end up wasted, however, that’s when bad things happen. The next thing you know, you’re singing karaoke in a cowboy bar somewhere in Central America. There’s also a greater possibility of sickness, hangovers, drunk driving, and hooking up with a troll or other mythical beast when you’re drinking something with heavier alcohol content than you’re used to.
What Other Countries Have Really Strong Beer?
Strangely enough, Australia, while being notorious for strong beer, is not really in the picture for the strongest beer in modern times. Perhaps their impressive reputation comes from the fact that they serve their beer in 55-gallon drums, or perhaps people mistake the woozy feeling they get from being whacked on the back of the head by a kangaroo for being drunk. In any case, a few of the real players in the strong beer race are Denmark, Italy, England, France, and the Netherlands, each with at least one beer each in the 20% to 30% ABV range.
That being said, the real heavyweight champions of beer-making appear to be Belgium, Germany, and Scotland. With brews like De Struise Brouwers, Quadrupel, and Imperial Stout ranging from 22% to 39% ABV, good luck finding an appetite for those great waffles in the morning after a night of drinking in Belgium. Germany’s famous Eisbock brews range from 27% to more than 60% ABV.
Scotland doesn’t have as many beers in the top 25 for ABV, but they’ve got the biggest—Armageddon at 65% ABV. They also have the coolest name on a strong brew, with Tactical Nuclear Penguin at 32%.
Is Canadian beer stronger than American beer? Maybe a little, depending on which brew you choose. Of course, if you really want the hard stuff, you’re going to need to go to Germany or Scotland, it would seem.