According to this article in yesterday’s Washington Post, the FDA has sent letters to thirty manufacturers of alcoholic drinks that contain caffeine, essentially telling them, “We didn’t tell you it was safe to do this.” The companies have been given one month to present evidence that the combination of alcohol and caffeine in one package is safe. Most of the target companies are manufacturers of caffeinated spirits, but there was at least one craft brewer on the list. Ithica Ithaca Brewing, lcoated in NY, received the letter for their coffee stout, called Eleven.
While it isn’t clear what will happen due to the FDA’s action, this could potentially cause problems for many of the US craft brewers that produce a beer that uses coffee. Now, I don’t think anyone is drinking a $15 bottle of big 11% imperial stout with coffee in it for the caffeine buzz, but I do understand that they have to include craft beer along with the rest of the alcohol industry in this matter. That said, the FDA is crazy if they intend to do anything more than make the use of caffeine in these beverages official. If they do indeed move for a ban of these beverages in the future (which really doesn’t seem likely), I’ll be the first to sign up for a study to prove that reasonable amounts of caffeine in a beer are as safe as drinking either a cup of coffee or a non-coffee beer separately, both of which are obviously legal. One worry is regulation. I’m pretty certain that most brewers have no idea exactly how much caffeine ends up in their final products. If the FDA says, “X amount of caffeine is allowed in a 12oz beer”, then breweries may have to start figuring out how much is truly in there.
Coffee stouts have become one of my favorite styles over the years, and we see quite a few world-class examples here in the NW. It would be a sad day if craft breweries were told they could no longer bring us these flavorful beers. Let’s hope the issue never gets that far.