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I've noticed recently that when it comes to pale ales of all types, alcohol content has increased significantly.

Where ten years ago, most beers were either 4% or 5% or maybe 5.2% alcohol by volume, (in Australia) if I look at most IPAs and other craft beers, most are are minimum 5.8%. It's more common to see them the 6% and even 7-9%.

Is this the case all around the world, or Australia only?

If it is a universal thing, is there a good reason, from the point of view of taste, for this? Or is this more just brewers giving drinkers 'more value for money'?

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Why have craft beers increased in alcohol content?

From my point of view there seems to be at least three reasons for this trend.

  • Beer drinkers are drawn to the bolder flavors and the mouth feel of stronger beers.
  • The higher alcohol content gives such beers a longer shelf life.
  • Stronger beers do not have to be served at cooler temperatures as lighter beers, some can be served somewhat warm.
  • Part of craft beer's popularity is in its variety, including high ABV beers.

What is driving the popularity of high alcohol beers, and will it last?

With the surge in popularity of craft beers, the alcohol content in a good many of them has also risen. While most large breweries turn out beer with an ABV (alcohol by volume) around 4 to 5 percent, some craft beers boast ABV counts of up to 29 percent, with the average being 5.9 percent.

The American IPA trend among craft brewers exploits this proclivity toward higher alcohol content, with most being between 6 and 10 percent. Double and triple IPAs are even higher. Most craft brewers now have at least one higher ABV variety, and much of it has been driven by consumer demand.

Why do consumers like higher alcohol beers?

Much of the appeal has to do with taste. Higher ABV beers tend to have a richer, more complex taste that can sometimes be on the bitter side. Fans are drawn to the bolder flavors and the mouth feel of these stronger beers, some of which may be barrel-aged like stronger spirits. Instead of having three or four beers, they may share one with a friend to compensate for its strength.

The popularity of higher ABV beers persists in spite of their steeper price tag. A decanter bottle of Sam Adams Utopia, with an ABV of 29 percent, can cost as much as $200. Another factor in popularity with both brewers and drinkers is that the higher alcohol content gives it a longer shelf life. Either way, consumers tend to identify beers with higher ABV as being higher quality.

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I don't really think the alcohol content really has increased.

Most standard pale ales still are between 4% and 6%. The IPA are not standard pale ales. They have more hops and sugar which lead to a higher alcohol content.

This is my point of view from Europe at least.

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  • I agree. Also more Belgium styles are being brewed and those tend to high alcohol.
    – Eric S
    Dec 11 '20 at 14:32
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I am Italian, and I traveled Brittany, Danemark, Bavaria, and Belgium in search for beer. From my point of view, "standard" pale ale still are between 4% and 6%, where "standard" is original-English style.

But as craft beers spread, the U.S. styles with more hops and more alcohol are more common to see all over Europe, so your perception of beers with increased alcool content is not wrong. I think it is both a matter of taste and a need to differentiate products.

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