Maine Law Censors Alcohol Content of Beer


Sky Noir / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

The Maine Liquor and Lottery Commission recently surprised bars, restaurants, and brew pubs in the state with an old piece of regulation that prohibits the common practice of listing the alcohol by volume of beer.

The Portland Press Herald reports that David Carlson of Three Tides & Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. was talking to the state liquor inspector when he was confronted with "the little known rule" which the commission "resurfaced a few weeks ago." He was told to black out alcohol content from his menu. The regulation affects any form of advertising this information, such as signboards.

The provision comes from a broadly-worded advertising restrictions implemented in 1937. The legislative document states:

No licensee shall issue, publish, post… any advertisement of a malt liquor including a label which shall refer in any manner to the alcohol strength of the malt liquor manufacturer, sold or distributed by such licensee or used in any advertisement or label such words as "full strength," "extra strength," "high test," "high proof," "pre-war strength," or similar words or phrases which would indicate or suggest alcoholic content, or use in any advertisement or label any numeral unless adequately explained in type of the same size, prominence, and color.

The Morning Sentinel explains the justification behind this. "The potency of those products stirred fear in regulators, who saw their strength as encouraging underage drinking and overserving, leading to more restrictive laws that forbade sales pitches of a beer or malt beverage on the basis of its alcohol content."

While such a regulation may have made sense nearly 80 years ago, beer sellers are puzzled by the reintroduction of this information blackout.

Carlson believe that it endangers patrons. "No one is trying to promote their beer based on how strong it is — it's not how any of us operate. We list it as a form of responsibility to the consumer. It has nothing to do with how to promote heavy drinking; it's about keeping people safe and responsible," he told Maine Today.

State Representative Louie Luchini (D-Ellsworth) has responded by introducing emergency legislation to repeal the provision. 

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  1. Was our nation populated entirely by complete idiots in the 30s?

    1. The political classes were.

      Politics always has attracted the most worthless dregs of society.

    2. Well, not entirely, but the idiocy factor was pretty high then as evidenced by the fact that prohibition passed.

    3. Yes and they bred

    4. There were a lot of people in the political class who believed in temperance and prohibition and did not go quietly into the night when it was repealed. That is why there are so many small annoying laws regarding alcohol. You can see the same thing happening where marijuana is being legalized.

      History repeats itself, that’s why history is dumb.

      It will be interesting if this eventually runs afoul of federal food labeling requirements.

      1. Those who do learn from history are also doomed to repeat it.

      2. Beyond the niggling annoyances leftover from prohibition and temperance-era values, there are plenty of big ones as well. My local liquor store’s inability to acquire every domestic beer they and I want is an absurdity that’s maintained by cartels of distributors and the legislators that serve and profit from them.

        On some level we’re lucky to be able to trade for alcohol at all given the illiberal tradition of the state, but every failed prohibition leaves legislative and regulatory wounds that fester into cartels. Pot, meth, and every other drug that is eventually legalized will have to deal with the same sort of obnoxious legal and regulatory hurdles for the next century, if not longer.

    5. Well, during prohibition the federal government forced suppliers of industrial ethanol to put poisonous things in it, such as benzene, toulene, etc. because people were making drinking alcohol from industrial ethanol. Killed thousands of people. So, yes, I would agree that Federal lawmakers and bureaucrats were complete idiots.

    6. They didn’t call it the Red Decade for nothing.

  2. This is insane. Don’t they know a consumer might use this as cautionary information? Imagine my surprise when I found out that 22 oz bottle of Bozo Beer I bought was 17% alcohol.

  3. You know who else in 1937 forbade discussion of “pre-war strength”?

    1. FDR?

  4. Actually, while there are differences by state, the general requirement for omission of alcohol content from marketing – particularly on-premise (external to the ‘bottle’) marketing – has been a “well known” regulation throughout the 20th century. Sure its old = all alcohol regulations trace back to post-prohibition lawmaking. ALL the alcohol laws are kinda kooky. If you find it bizarre and labyrinthine – yes, it is. but this isn’t in any way new

    An excerpt from an article on the subject…

    “In some states, on some labels, hunting for that magic number can be fruitless. New York, for example, bans [alc content] information from labels on beer sold there. On the other hand, North Carolina requires it?but only for beers stronger than 6% ABV. In New Hampshire, the threshold is 12%.

  5. Enforcement of such a provision is particularly asinine in the modern era, where a simple internet search from a smartphone would easily find the dreaded information.

    So is Maine the Luddite State?

  6. Making me thirsty. Lagunitas Sucks, Hi-Res, Ten Hills Pale Ale, Rahr and Sons Stormcloud, Heavy Seas Black Cannon. So. Many. Choices.


  7. While such a regulation may have made sense nearly 80 years ago…

    Ummm… No.

  8. Good catch, but does the fix realllyyy need ’emergency legislation’? Perhaps just a little more judicious (read: no) enforcement until repeal.

    1. No, repeal it. This is why I think all laws should be enforced at all times.* If strict enforcement of a law is impractical or unpopular, then repeal that law, or don’t pass it in the first place.

      *Of course, I say this on the assumption that if all laws were enforced at all times, people would quickly realize how out-of-control things have gotten?but I’m more than a little worried that I might be wrong about that.

    2. For every one law that gets emergency legislation, there are a hundred that are ignored due to the size of the quiet minority.


    I thought that alcohol content was REQUIRED by law, precisely so that people would KNOW how much alcohol they are consuming.

    So this Maine law is supposed to do what exactly, deny consumers information they could use to prevent themselves from getting TOO drunk, because someone them might use that information to get drunker?

  10. Isn’t Maine the same state that wants to mandate GMO labeling anyways?

    So you’re required to tell people if your food was grown from bioengineered crops, which is completely irrelevant to their contents or health, and yet you are forbidden from telling people of the alcohol contents of a beverage THAT COULD GET THEM DRUNK and MAKE THEM VOMIT?

  11. This is why US states need a strong desuetude statute ? if a law has been ignored or violated for so many years, it is considered automatically repealed.

  12. Just a paperwork error; good thing nobody tried to get on an airline.

  13. Dumb laws must be enforced because the law is the law is the law!

  14. “pre-war strength”

    Since this was 1937, I suppose this means as strong as the booze from before WWI, which was the last period of peace before Prohibition.

    Yeah, let’s get a desuetetude statute.

  15. Menus are just a way of getting children hooked on vaping absinthe.

  16. Maine liquor is controlled by state police. How common is this? Here in Ohio liquor control is managed by the Dept. of Commerce which seems reasonable enough.

    1. No it doesn’t. Why does a state agency need to control liquor? Why is liquor so special? And what is the difference between liquor control by the state police, an agency of the state, or the department of commerce, another agency of the state? You’re telling me that those friendly folks at the department of commerce are just so much better at controlling the demon malt than the police?

  17. lol, thats pretty funny when you think about it.

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