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Bartenders are overly generous, study shows

June 17, 2008 |  1:56 pm

The standard size for alcoholic drinks is 5 ounces for wine, 12 ounces for beer and 1.5 ounces for spirits. Using those formulas, consumers should be able to monitor their alcoholic intake, right? Fat chance.

A new study shows that alcoholic drinks served in bars and restaurants are often larger than the standard size and contain more alcohol. The study, published online this week in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, examined 480 drinks poured in 80 establishments in 10 Northern California counties. The average glass of wine was 43% larger than standard, and the average mixed drink was 42% larger. The average draft beer was 22% larger. The authors, from the Alcohol Research Group at the Public Health Institute, also found that the alcohol content varied widely in drinks.  Those who think they have had four drinks may, in fact, have had six, they noted.

Nationwide, there is a big effort to take the mystery out of alcoholic drinks. Health groups have been battling the federal government over a proposal to label packaged alcohol products with information on nutrition and alcohol content, similar to the labels that are affixed to packaged foods. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has proposed a rule that would require "Serving Facts" on the labels of wine, beer and distilled spirits but would leave out information about alcohol content. A coalition of 30 health groups opposes the rule, saying that alcohol content per standard serving should also be included on labels.

"Today, even the most basic information about alcohol beverages is not provided on the labels of most alcohol beverage products," said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, in a recent statement.

For a look at what constitutes "standard" in alcoholic drinks, click here.

- Shari Roan