Estimates of the Mean Alcohol Concentration of the Spirits, Wine, and Beer Sold in the United States and Per Capita Consumption: 1950 to 2002


  • This research was supported by Grants P-50-A05595 and RO1-AA014362 to the Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Reprint requests: William C. Kerr, Alcohol Research Group, 6475 Christie Avenue, Suite 400, Emeryville, CA 94608; Fax: 510-875-6459; E-mail:


Background: Estimates of per capita consumption of alcohol in the United States require estimates of the mean alcohol content by volume (%ABV) of the beer, wine, and spirits sold to convert beverage volume to gallons of pure alcohol.

Methods: The mean %ABV of spirits is estimated for each year from 1950 to 2002 and for each state using the %ABV of major brands and sales of sprits types. The mean %ABV of beer and wine is extrapolated to cover this period based on previous estimates. These mean %ABVs are then applied to alcohol sales figures to calculate new yearly estimates of per capita consumption of beer, wine, spirits, and total alcohol for the United States population aged 15 and older.

Results: The mean %ABV for spirits is found to be lower than previous estimates and to vary considerably over time and across states. Resultant per capita consumption estimates indicate that more alcohol was consumed from beer and less from wine and spirits than found in previous estimates.

Conclusions: Empirically based calculation of mean %ABV for beer, wine, and spirits sold in the United States results in different and presumably more accurate per capita consumption estimates than heretofore available. Utilization of the new estimates in aggregate time-series and cross-sectional models of alcohol consumption and related outcomes may improve the accuracy and precision of such models.