Is there really a difference between 3.2 and 6-point beer?

You know how it seems like the effects of downing a 3.2 percent beer pales in comparison to that of a 6 percent brew? Well, much of that may actually be in your head. 

At first glance, the 3.2 "low-point" beer in grocery and convenience stores appears to contain nearly half the alcohol content of the 6 percent found in liquor stores. But the distinction is in the fine print: Low-point is measured by weight, while 6-point is calculated by volume, so there's actually less of a difference between the two.

Strong beer has about 1.5 percent more alcohol than low-point beer, said Phillip Klebba, University of Oklahoma chemistry professor. When calculated by weight like low-point beer, the 6-point drink totals 4.7 percent alcohol.

"There's a little bit less difference when you look at it that way," Klebba said.

It is a comparison of apples to apples, said Tim Zaloudek, chairman of the Oklahoma Malt Beverage Association and president of Pope Distributing.

"There's four-tenths more alcohol in that (strong) beer," Zaloudek said. "It's more of a psychological difference than an alcohol difference."

But less of a difference doesn't mean no difference at all.

"As someone who buys both beers, I can tell you that there certainly is a difference in how many beers you can drink without feeling the effects," Klebba said. "If someone were to drink three beers of 6 percent, that would be equivalent to five beers of 3.2."

Oklahoma is one of only a few states where liquor laws prohibit the sale of beer higher than 3.2 in grocery stores. This dates back to Oklahoma's prohibition laws that banned the sale of alcohol until the 1930s, when the state legalized only 3.2, or "non-intoxicating" beer. The government sanctioned the sale of strong beer and liquor in liquor stores in 1959 and in restaurants in 1984.

Brewers in the state cannot franchise beer stronger than 3.2 percent, a law that would need to change to permit the sale of strong beer, said Oliver Delaney, former president of the Oklahoma Malt Beverage Association. Interests groups pushing to change the law have been at it for some time.

But lawmakers aren't in a hurry to change the law, Delaney said. After all, low-point beer isn't doing too shabby when it comes to sales. According to Delaney, 3.2 accounts for 97 percent of beer sold in the state, and most is accessible 24 hours every day, as opposed to the limited availability of 6-point beer.

Beer over 3.2 percent is also subject to stricter product regulations, which would make a change in the law even more difficult, Delaney said.

"Changing the law is very complicated and probably expensive," he said. "I don't see why the 3.2 distributors are going to be getting out on the front on this issue."

Even so, the public's desire and demand for a single-strength beer in retail outlets could be the catalyst for an eventual law change, Zaloudek said.

"I honestly believe that the public gets what it wants," he said. "I believe that (law) will change in time. How that goes down, it's anybody's guess." "Caitlin Harrison

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