/ Food & Drink

Do you want to know what’s in your beer and wine?

Should we know as much about what goes into the alcohol we drink as we do with the food we eat? MEPs this week joined health experts in backing calls for calorie labels on alcohol. Is this something you’d look out for?

Over this bank holiday weekend, I’m likely at some point to tuck into a takeaway pizza and enjoy a drink. The pizza box will tell me how many calories I eat, along with how much salt, sugar and so on. But the wine or beer will tell me none of this.

We’re so used to seeing a long list of ingredients for the food we eat that we probably think nothing about it. And an increasing number of restaurants tell us more about the food they serve. Yet, look at a bottle of beer or wine and pretty much all you’ll be able to tell is the percentage of alcohol it contains and what colour it is.

That’s because drinks containing more than 1.2% alcohol are exempt from the labelling legislation that came in to force in 2011.

MEPs vote for calorie labelling on drinks

A vote in the European Parliament has now come out in favour of printing calories on all alcoholic drinks.

The vote isn’t binding and it could take years for it to become law, but the MEPs say that having mandatory calorie labels will help tackle rising levels of obesity. Did you know, for example, that a large glass of wine can contain around 200 calories? That’s about the same as a doughnut.

Last year the Royal Society for Public Health made a similar plea and suggested that 80% of adults have no idea what the calorie count is in what they’re drinking.

Other ingredients in alcoholic drinks

Here’s a question for you – if we’re told about how many calories are in our drink, do you think we should also know what ingredients it contains? Again, you’ll know from the labels on food and soft drinks whether they contain additives such as colourings and flavourings – but you won’t find that on alcoholic drinks.

The Food Information Regulation requires that all food and soft drinks list ingredients, as well as levels of fat, sugars, salt and more. But alcoholic drinks are exempt. This is despite Which? and its sister organisations across Europe having called for ingredients to be listed on alcoholic drinks for many years. The only thing that needs to be listed on alcohol are allergens, such as eggs or milk.

Do you want to see calories listed on alcoholic drinks? Do you think other ingredients should be listed so that you would know, for example, whether it was suitable for a vegetarian?


Calories definitely should be listed on the reverse side to the label. Ingredients I cannot get excited about but on blance yes they should be listed.

I would like to see the ingredients of alcoholic drinks and nutritional information, just as we have for most foods. I can see no logical reason why alcoholic drinks were excluded from legislation.

wavechange, I agree although I’m not too bothered about calories, pretty obvious there are a lot of calories in alcoholic drinks. Anyone looking to keep their weight in check really needs to limit consumption accordingly, and generic figures will do fine for that. I am much more keen on knowing about the additives in both drink and food. These are there to preserve the product and in some cases to enhance the taste of what might otherwise be nothing special. I’ve never been too keen on “additives” there seems to me to be a question mark on long term accumulative effects of these additives. I Germany for example I believe there are “purity laws” on beer which means ingredients other than those required to actually make beer are not allowed. That’s the kind of legislation I’d like to see here. Yes the product might not keep so long and yes the manufacture has to be more carefully controlled to maintain consistent quality but you’d always know exactly what you’re getting and that it’s real and pure.

Chris – I did not mention calories but since they are there along with ingredients and nutritional information on most foods, they should be there on alcoholic drinks, bread and many other we buy.

I am not aware of anything potentially dubious additives used in beer manufacture, but without information about the ingredients, we cannot be sure. I am suspicious of the brewing industry, which has already inflicted unpleasant pasteurised and carbonated keg beers on us, supported by expensive advertising campaigns. It does last longer, in the same way that UHT milk does.

big black cat says:
1 May 2015

I am not a fan of only listing additives which may cause allergic reactions; I think the food and alcohol industry would be too slow to act if say an addition to food was shown to cause reactions in people who were having to avoid it; I doubt those industries concerned would list that ingredient with any speed at all and it could then take years to list any further warnings.

Let people have all the information and make up their own minds- what are they trying to hide here? I do not want someone trying to spoon feed me information and warnings. I want to make the choice myself by seeing all the information myself. Why do that for me? I am not 5 years old- I can make my own mind up!

I agree. How is anyone supposed to deal with allergies if they don’t know what drink or food contains?

I have a problem with sulphites. The amount in white wine varies considerably. I’m not going to buy wine unless the sulphite content is declared.

I’d agree that putting the ingredients on anything we ingest is worthwhile for those knowledgable enough to use the information. However, I wonder how many people would control their calorie intake, and even know what it should be, by looking at labels; I would think just keeping track of a daily consumption for the variety of foods eaten would be difficult enough, but it is probably more important to track a week or a month – how likely are people to do that?

I confess I do not know how many calories might be recommended for me, but I do eat and drink sensibly (I believe) and am not obese. In general I would think most people have a reasonable idea about what are the rubbish foods and drinks – sugary and fatty – and their effect and would know whether they are eating and drinking more than moderate amounts. So I just pose the question – do many look and use the numbers?

I spent a year living in Berlin, drinking only German beer. I never had a hangover once, despite drinking large quantities many times. It was a strange feeling to wake up in the morning, still feeling drunk but with no headache. This is because of the Reinheitsgebot, the German law on beer purity that dates back to 1516. Although it is no longer German law, any German brewery that stops adhering to it will quickly find its sales plummeting. Whenever I came back to London for weekends and drank a similar quantity of beer, I would have a hangover.

Unfortunately the increasing range of draught German beer sold in pubs in London does not appear to conform to the Reinheitsgebot. Although the beer might have been brewed in Germany according to the Reinheitsgebot, I fear that preservatives are subsequently added in distribution process in the UK, and one can often taste cleaning products from the pipework in pubs.

Try the Good Beer Guide (about the price of a pint in central London) or Cask Marque (free) apps, either of which should help find pubs that serve beer without cleaning fluid.

Thanks for the tip, wavechange. If a pint tastes of cleaning fluid, I sometimes return it and ask them to run more beer out until the taste returns to normal.

That’s all it takes. A member of staff should taste the beer after changing a barrel.

Pubs should not refuse to do this. The beer should be drawn off into a pail and transferred to an empty cask in the cellar for return to the brewery where it will be credited and any duty paid can be reclaimed. I should be surprised if there are any problems of this nature in a Cask Marque pub.

Perhaps there are fewer calories in the cleaning fluid.

This system is long gone, John, so the only time that beer goes back to the brewery is if a cask is faulty. I believe that a certain amount of wastage is allowed per cask. In my local, beer drawn off after cleaning the lines goes down the sink.

Thanks for that update Wavechange. Obviously, I should get out more. Since we usually have a meal when going to a pub we order the drinks from the waiter and I don’t get to see what goes on behind the bar very often nowadays. I suppose that getting half-way through a pint of bitter and asking for a half of mild to top it up has also fallen by the wayside. Ward’s of Sheffield [no relation] used to brew a beautifully sulphurous mild ale that would recondition any lack-lustre beer.

What the hell are calories ? Why worry?

Years ago, I remember the Co-Op introducing ingredient labelling on wine, claiming that this is actually illegal. I did not just imagine it and have found this statement in a document that probably dates from around 1999:

“Wine ingredients labelling
We become the first retailer to label the ingredients in our wine.The move is technically illegal, but we go ahead because we believe it’s in the consumer’s interest.We also lobby the Government to change the law and call upon the food industry to follow suit. Five years later, we are still the only retailer to take this stance.”

Is the Co-Op still stating the ingredients in its wine and why should doing this be illegal?

It must be one of those quirks of the liquor laws, like it’s illegal to supply 11 fl oz when a half-pint is requested.

Not being an imbiberr of Co-Op wine I am not in a position to say whether they still list any ingredients. The next time I pass a park bench I shall look for some evidence or ask one of its occupants.

Sorry John – I’m not up to date. Here are the regulations: gov.uk/government/publications/excise-notice-226-beer-duty/excise-notice-226-beer-duty–2

Apologies for taking us off-topic.

Oops – That should have been with the discussion about beer, not wine. It’s well known that you should not mix your drinks. 🙂

I have just bought some Becks beer from Morrisons. Although it says German Brewing Heritage on the box it says brewed in the UK on the back. This didn’t used to be the case. How can a beer retain its character if it is no longer brewed in the original location? This also applies to lots of other beers – Sol Mexican beer; Moretto Italian, Kingfisher Indian etc. – all brewed in the UK.

From an environmental point of view, brewing in the UK is better than importing beer – a heavy, low value product that is mostly water. It may be necessary to import ingredients, but there is no reason why beer should taste different according to where it is brewed. It’s common in brewing to remove salts and add others to local water, which helps produce consistency. It would be wrong to market beer as foreign if it is produced in the UK, but I am not aware that this is being done.

Despite much of our beer being produced by large companies, there are plenty of smaller breweries offering reliable products and the explosion in number of microbreweries has been a real success for UK businesses.

And so-called micro pubs.

We have a good one in town, and the majority of what they sell on draught is local, though there was one from Cromarty last week.