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Tipplers learn new definition of 'light' beer

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Fans of Anheuser-Busch beers likely were not raising their frosty mugs to celebrate a court ruling that their favorite brews can contain just a bit less alcohol than the label promises.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati last week upheld a U.S. District Court ruling on the mega-brewer's alcohol content.

Beer drinkers in seven states had brought class actions and sought to create a nationwide class alleging that Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. “intentionally overstates the alcohol content of many of its malt beverages on those beverages' label,” according to In Re: Anheuser-Busch beer labeling marketing and sales practice litigation.

They alleged “that Anheuser-Busch adds extra water to its products to dilute the alcohol content to levels below those represented on product labels,” according to court documents.

After a wide ranging consideration of state and federal laws — some dating to the end of Prohibition — the appeals court concluded that a brewer's products could legally vary by a “tolerance of .03%.” Consequently, the brew could be light on alcohol by .03%, but it could also be up to .03% stronger, whether by accident or by the brewer's intent.

Somewhere, a craft brewer is chuckling into his hipster beard.