National Consumers League


NCL Food Issues

What is a standard drink? FAQs on alcohol labeling

attention open in a new window

A standard drink is defined as:
12-ounces of beer
8-ounces of malt liquor
5-ounces of wine
1.5-ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor

Do state drivers license manuals mention standard drink?
Yes. A large majority of state drivers’ license manuals use “standard drink” to explain responsible drinking. In addition, many other government agencies and public health organizations use the “standard drink” concept in their messages, including, the American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U. S. Department of Education, and the U. S. Surgeon General.

Why don’t alcoholic beverages have labels like food and over-the-counter drugs?
For more than thirty years, consumer groups including the National Consumers League and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have petitioned the government, filed lawsuits and testified before Congress urging the federal government to require useful labels on alcoholic beverages. The federal agency responsible – the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)- and its predecessor agency, have spent those thirty years trying to decide if alcohol labeling that would disclose important information for consumers is really necessary.

Do consumers want a label?
Yes. There is tremendous public support for alcohol beverage label reform. The National Consumers League commissioned a national survey in September of 2005 that found overwhelming support for major changes in the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) policy. Nine out of ten consumers said that companies should be allowed to put information on their labels that will state how much alcohol is in a standard serving.

What should be on the label?
In the NCL survey, respondents said they wanted information on ingredients, serving size, the number of calories per serving, the number of servings per container, the amount of alcohol per serving, and the amount of carbohydrates, fat and protein per serving. Consumers want the label to be similar to the Nutrition Facts label on foods and nonalcoholic beverages.

Why is alcohol information essential?
Information on the label about alcoholic beverages will help consumers know the amount of alcohol per serving, will help them understand how many calories are in a drink, and help them follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans about how much alcohol is sensible to consume per day. And according to the Federal Trade Commission, the disclosure of alcohol and nutrient content information on the labels of beer, wine, and distilled spirits would “increase the ability of consumers to evaluate their actual alcohol, calorie, carbohydrate, and fat intake.”