Chiseled abs. A Greek Adonis physique. We all crave it, few of us have it, and the last place we’d expect to find it is down at the local pub watching patrons guzzle pints of their favorite brews.
But is it beer above all other alcoholic beverages which reduces the definition in our pectorals and transforms us from lean mean fighting machines into flabby fatsters?
That’s what we’re led to believe. Why else is a stomach distended this much called a beer belly and not, say, a vodka, wine, or whiskey belly?
There are 7 calories in every gram of alcohol. Alcoholic beverages differ, of course, in their calorie content per ml because each contains a different amount of alcohol per unit size. A vodka shot, equal to 45 ml, or the equivalent strength whiskey or tequila will contain about 100 calories. A 180 ml glass of red wine will contain around 180 calories, about a calorie per ml. The average 330 ml bottle of beer contains 150 calories.
Wine usually contains 12-14% alcohol by volume. Vodka, tequila, and whiskey are in the 40-50% range. Most beers are just 4-6%, with 6% being considered the high side for many. As a point of reference, a run-of-the-mill lager will be right at 5%.
You also need to consider the quantities at which these alcoholic beverages are commonly enjoyed. Wine is served by the 750 ml bottle. It’s not unreasonable to think that two friends could uncork a bottle of wine and share the entire bottle together, each thereby partaking of 375 calories.
With stronger alcohols like vodka or whiskey, if consumed in shot form, it’s hard to fathom the average someone being able to down more than 2 or 3 shots. At home when I make vodka tonics for myself, I use about 1.5 shots per half can of tonic water. After two drinks I’m buzzed. These three shots constitute 300 calories. Serving these stronger alcohols in cocktail form could double or triple the calorie content, but from personal experience, it’s not often I’ll go to the trouble to make a cocktail with three or more ingredients. Two vodka tonics, a simple and common way to consume vodka, are 415 calories, not much more than a half bottle of wine.
In Western countries, beers are commonly purchased in six packs. If two buddies were getting together to savor beers during a normal weekday, they’d probably share a six pack, consuming a liter of beer apiece. Coincidentally, this is about the same amount of beer they’d drink in a bar or a pub serving draught beer by the Imperial pint (550 ml), with each drinker consuming two pints. This totals 450-500 calories, more than wine and the stronger alcohols, but not that much more.
So why does beer get the blame for packing on the pounds?
You have to ask yourself an additional question. How much wine could you comfortably drink in a two-hour session? Most people couldn’t get through an entire bottle on their own, which is just 750 calories. A decadent dessert could be as many calories. I probably could finish an entire bottle over several hours, but I wouldn’t be reaching for a second or drinking another bottle the following day. Shots of tequila, vodka, whiskey? Let’s be generous and say you could get through six (= 600 calories), but that’s pushing it. Six shots of 40-50 proof alcohol within two hours would make the room spin for most.
Beer is different. Over two hours, you could, I imagine, consume the entire six pack yourself, especially if it were a supremely high quality beer. That’s 900 calories. I’ve done that on more than one occasion. In a bar, you could consume four Imperial pints if you were in the mood. I’ve also done that before. That’s 1,000 calories. Because of beer’s lower alcohol by volume, you’re able to drink more of it before inebriation or sickness halts you from going further.
What’s more, it is socially acceptable to drink a few bottles of beer every day before anyone thinks you’re skirting near alcoholic territory. In Thailand, many of the beers are served in 630-640 ml bottles, and it is quite common and acceptable for a single person to drink the entire bottle (= 300 calories) every single day rain or shine. Indeed, I know of numerous people whose habit is to drink a large bottle of beer – or more!! – on a daily basis. The equivalent acceptable daily intake of wine is a single glass. With whiskey, tequila, and vodka, there is no equivalent. I don’t know any non-alcoholics who would drink multiple shots every single day. Even if I did, a shot is just a paltry 100 calories.
Then take into account that many beer connoisseurs who drink daily prefer brews more complex than the typical 5% lager. They’re savoring ales or IPA’s or Belgian dubbels/tripels with 6%,7%, even 10-11% alcohol contents. These beers don’t contain 150 calories per bottle, but more like 200-300. Two bottles of these goodies every single day could pack on an additional 600 calories.
It’s just a fact of life that every positive side has its corresponding negative. Beer is an amazing beverage because you can sample so many varieties and flavors so often and still be considered a respected foodie. The downside is that its popularity and social acceptability make it so easy to add a spare tire to your middle.
The next time you spot a patron in a bar establishment push past you with a belly that can extend across continents, you can let yourself believe the drinker acquired that from rum, ouzo, schnapps, or cognac. But if you had to bet a pint on it, the long money says his belly has got the proper name.