Bottom’s Up – Without the Caloric Mystery

Here’s a public service announcement you may have missed: Starting this year, the FDA is looking to implement an Obama-era policy that will force restaurants with 20 or more locations to include calorie counts on their menus.

In another example of bipartisan leadership focused on the restaurant industry, the Trump Administration is taking a stand for American nutrition that began with the previous presidency; the FDA’s guidelines on menus, updated earlier this month, emphasize how one-third of calories are now consumed away from home. You will not only see calorie counts at restaurants, but fat, sodium, sugar, and protein content — just like on most commercial food products.

While many large operations have already implemented this initiative — peeking at the McDonald’s menu can be a truly harrowing experience — the biggest surprise for both owners and consumers may be the statistics accompanying their libations.

In the world of alcohol nutrition, what most of us know to be true is from second-hand conversation or deliberation (clear liquor must have less calories than dark; a stout will contain more “bad stuff” than a lighter beer, etc.) This is largely because nutrition surrounding alcohol is a big fat mystery.

The simple answer behind this phenomenon is this: Alcohol is regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), not the FDA. The FDA requires nutrition facts and the former does not. Hence, your Lime-A-Rita’s calorie content remains a secret (it’s 220 per 8 oz. can, FYI).

Since our understanding of alcohol’s nutrition is often circumspect, restaurants who will be forced to reveal the content of their alcoholic beverages best brace themselves. This chart can tell you why — a single glass of red wine is about 150 calories, a shot of tequila is about 100 calories, and a can of beer can be 150 — usually more for darker varietals. This isn’t exactly information that encourages more drinking.

Many readers right now may be going: phew! I don’t have over 20 locations, I’m safe from this scary world of calorie counts and nutrition facts.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it. Or at the very least, provide information on your alcohol’s content that doesn’t cause a panic, but grants consumers more agency over what’s in their glass

Alexandre Remy, a winemaker in California, describes how including their ingredients on the bottle furthers their brand and transparency mission:

“When I started my Atlas Wines Company,” he says, “the biggest thing [I was trying to work out] was, how do I differentiate myself? And I know that most big companies use a lot of additives, like gum arabic, like sweeteners, artificial color, artificial oak, artificial aromatics. You name it. Is it dangerous for you? It’s not dangerous. But I think the customer should know that their wine has been tweaked a little bit.”

Being transparent with customers can have a major pay-off, especially if your wine/draft/cocktail list is specially curated so as to develop a strong relationship between patrons and what they’re drinking. Plus it’s not all bad: beer actually contains some vitamins, wine has been proved to benefit cardiovascular health — and, well, vodka can kill bacteria that cause bad breath.



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