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CNN tests alcohol of Anheuser-Busch beers; brewer, attorney dispute findings

By Michael Martinez, CNN
March 2, 2013 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN hires an independent lab to test samples of Budweiser and three related brands
  • Bud Ice showed 5.35% alcohol by volume compared with the label's 5.5%
  • Anheuser-Busch calls results "well within the variability of the all-natural brewing process"
  • But plaintiffs' attorney says a fraction of less alcohol saves millions over a year

(CNN) -- Every old-school journalist wants this assignment: test beer to see if it's been watered down, as a recent class-action lawsuit in California claims.

CNN conducted an independent lab test of Budweiser and related brands this week.

The results?

Budweiser contained 4.94% alcohol by volume, compared with 5% stated on the label.

Bud Light Lime possessed 4.13%, compared with 4.2% stated on the packaging.

And Bud Ice showed 5.35%, compared with the label's 5.5%.

When told of the results, a spokesman for Anheuser-Busch, which brews the brands, reiterated the company's stance that the lawsuit is "completely false" and "groundless."

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"The sample test results you provided are well within the variability of the all-natural brewing process and all in full compliance with all alcohol labeling laws, as we noted," Peter Kraemer, vice president of brewing and supply for Anheuser-Busch, told CNN.

Joshua Boxer, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he wasn't surprised by how CNN's results differed from the brewer's figures.

The lawsuit's claims are partly based on internal information from former Anheuser-Busch employees, and the suit will be seeking the beer maker's internal numbers on alcohol content, Boxer said.

"That's the proof you should actually be asking for," Boxer told CNN.

The plaintiffs' attorneys believe a bottle of Budweiser has 4.7% alcohol instead of the label's 5% figure. Over a year of brewing, that alcohol difference amounts to "tens of millions" of dollars in savings for the company, Boxer said.

"The most accurate data, as we discussed, is going to come from Anheuser-Busch because they do their testing six times per second," Boxer said. "And they use different technology, in fact, from the laboratories you used."

Earlier this week, two California residents sued Anheuser-Busch, alleging the company waters down Budweiser and other beers "significantly" to boost profits.

The class-action lawsuit alleges that the maker of the "King of Beers" has the technology to precisely control the amount of alcohol in its beers but adds water so the alcohol is well below the advertised figure of 5% by volume, the suit said.

"There are no impediments -- economic, practical or legal -- to AB accurately labeling its products to reflect their true alcohol content," the 18-page lawsuit said. "Nevertheless, AB uniformly misrepresents and overstates that content."

The beer maker has rejected the lawsuit's allegations and now points to media outlets' independent tests to bolster its response.

"The claims against Anheuser-Busch are completely false, and these lawsuits are groundless," Kraemer said earlier this week. "Our beers are in full compliance with all alcohol labeling laws.

"We proudly adhere to the highest standards in brewing our beers, which have made them the best-selling in the U.S. and the world," he said.

The brands that the suit alleges are watered down are those tested by CNN and Bud Lite Platinum, Michelob, Michelob Ultra, Hurricane High Gravity Lager, King Cobra, Busch Ice and Natural Ice.

But the suit doesn't provide figures for the allegedly watered-down alcohol content.

Nina Giampaoli and John Elbert, who reside in Sonoma County, California, are the plaintiffs who say they stopped buying Budweiser after learning of the alleged mislabeling, the suit said.

Their suit, filed last week in federal court in San Francisco, alleges violations of California's consumer protection laws and Missouri's Merchandising Practices Act.

"I think it's wrong for huge corporations to lie to their loyal customers -- I really feel cheated," Giampaoli said in a statement. "No matter what the product is, people should be able to rely on the information companies put on their labels."

CNN's Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell contributed to this report.

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