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Homebrew Alcohol Levels

I have been cruising the blog-o-sphere and some recipe database sites recently.  For some reason, my mind started to focus on the alcohol content rating for recipes and brewed beers.  Some sites list alcohol as a % by volume or a % by weight, some places even both.

I don’t think I have ever really paid attention to the alcohol level in my beers.  I know how to calculate it, even though I use BeerSmith and it will tell me instantly once I put the FG data in.  However, I have never been concerned about it I guess.  I see forum posts and questions that pop up occasionally with a dude asking how to increase his alcohol.  Also when I serve homebrew to people they occasionally ask me how much alcohol is in there.   I usually just say “5.5% give or take”.

If you follow the site regularly  you’ll notice that John and I don’t brew too many big beers, so maybe that has something to do with it.  The Baltic Porter I brewed is really my first significant big beer at 1.080OG, and I have been thinking of doing an English Barleywine too.  I am certainly thinking about alcohol with that porter as I think I should get to at least 9-10%.

How often do you care about alcohol levels?  Do you prefer to see it posted as ABV or ABW?  Does it matter?

Here is the quick calculation for ABV if you are interested and an Article at Beer Advocate about the matter:

(OG-FG)*131=%ABV  your gravity #s should be in the format of 1.040, for example.
(1.045-1.008)*131=4.8% ABV (See, I didn’t even use a high gravity example!!!)




Baltic Porter Recipe


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  1. michael

    I typically rely upon ABV and not ABW out of personal preference — it’s a good gauge for potency and most recipes I’ve seen and microbrews I’ve consumed seem to use ABV in greater frequency than ABW.

    That said, I generally don’t care about the level of ABV, so long as it doesn’t dip down towards a tasteless 3.2%. Knowing that it’s a higher ABV is just good reference, helping me decide whether or not to have that second pint before moving onto some activity.

  2. Zeke

    I always calculate the ABV online, then round to the nearest 0.5% or so. It’s not particularly accurate anyhow. In fact, for my latest beer, I get 5.5% online and 5.0% in BeerSmith2.

    I haven’t yet labelled a beer I’ve made (been doing this for a bit less than a year now) though I’m going to make a few up for this latest – I’m planning on sending them to some family.

  3. Christian

    ABV is the only one that counts.

    I think it’s a bit strange not to care about the alcohol level since alcohol is a flavor enhancer and is one of the things you can play with to give your beer balance. for me it’s like saying you don’t care about the amount of hops you throw in your beer…it’s ehm…a handfull..give or take 🙂

    I guess it depends on if you’re intrested of controlling the process and make a beer exactly like you imagined it…or just make a good beer. I recently brewed a russian imperial stout with tons of black malt but it turned out about 1-2% lower than planned and therefor was not as good as it could have been.

  4. I don’t know why ABW even is used. What commercial beer lists that?

    But, I am very concerned with my ABV. To me, it’s a key attribute of the beer. There’s a big difference between a 5% IPA and a 7% IPA. As far as I’m concerned, it is as important as any factor of the beer, from color to IBU to OG to FG to grain bill to hop types and timing to yeast to fermentation temperature.

    It’s also important to me to know how much I’m really drinking. When I have anything from 4% to 9% available, a beer is sometimes more than a beer. Sometimes it’s more like two.

  5. Herb Meowing

    A fair back-of-the-malt bag estimate is to take the last two digits of the OG and put a decimal in between. 1.060 OG ~= 6% ABV.

    I use 134 instead of 131 as the multiplier b/c that’s what Coopers states in their kits. They also advise adding 0.5% ABV when bottle-conditioning.

    ABV = (OG – FG) / 7.46 + 0.5
    Decimals removed.
    1/7.46 = 134

    (1.045 – 1008) / 7.46 + 0.5 = 5.5%

    ABW is used in Utah as a means to make it appear the beer isn’t very strong.
    3.2 ABW = 3.2 * 1.25 = 4%
    5% ABV = 4% ABW

  6. chris

    ABV every time. I’d love to use molarity but ABV is a quicker way to get a handle on beer strength. If I am entering competitions then I pay close attention to the ABV (my special bitter was eliminated from a best in show judging by Gordon Strong for being slightly too strong). If i’m brewing for me I don’t really care what ABV it is as long as it’s tasty. Having said that my stouts are generally 6% and everything esle I make is about 5%. That seems to be my preference these days. The special bitter was 4%, curse you Gordon Strong.

  7. Lee J

    For me, ABV (which I prefer to ABW, mostly because it seems more universally used and understood) is just one part of my brewing decisions. For example, when I want to brew a session beer, I don’t consider Imperial IPAs. I like to ensure that I always have a Pale Ale on tap with an ABV of 5% or less, because that seems to be the most popular choice among my guests, and we can go through several of them in a sitting and still be upright. But it’s only one aspect; I don’t want to have nothing but all high or all low alcohol beers at one time any more than I’d want nothing but Stouts on tap – I want a range of brews available. That having been said, I’m not too concerned about whether my ABV exactly hits the number projected by BeerSmith (my brewing software of choice) any more than missing OG by a point or two is going to bother me. Close enough is close enough.

  8. Tim

    I’ve homebrewed six times over the last year and half, and I measured alcohol content when I first started. I took the measurements the first three times, and the alcohol content seemed to be a bit low, after I consumed what I made. I made the current batch and I didn’t bother taking the measurements, and it seems to be the strongest beer so far. If I am producing for other people, then this will be helpful to other people. I am ok with ignoring specific gravity / ABV calculations, as a beginner brewer, when I am producing for my own consumption. For advanced / industrial brewers, it’s good to measure it, and I am familiar with ABV.

  9. I’m in the “5.5, give or take”….I brew every other month or so, and I did check the first time or three, and once where the taste was a little “warm” (was up around 6 when it should’ve been at 4.5). Like you, it comes up if I run it thru beersmith, but as long as the flavors are where I expect them to be, I don’t get hung up on it, although my view might change if I were competing or going commercial.
    I guess I take the “RDWHAHB” to the extreme 🙂

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