Booze 101: How to read a beer can

Java Storm, from Rip Current Brewing. (Howard Lipin/ Union-Tribune)
(Howard Lipin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

If you know how to read a label, the package can prep your palate. Consider the info-rich can of Rip Current’s Java Storm.


Name: “Java Storm” sounds like something big and coffee-infused - and, sure enough, “Coffee Imperial Porter” is printed below the name.

Name, Part II: Names are regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). “You can’t have pictures or names that imply strength,” says Paul Sangster, Rip Current’s co-founder, “appeal to little kids or have names that are overly sexual.”

Artwork: Two paddleboarders, male and female, on a calm sea. Reinforces the brewery’s oceanic and athletic themes.

Alcohol content: Imperial styles have higher amounts of alcohol. Here, it’s 10 percent by volume. Alcohol can be calculated by weight or by volume; measuring by volume results in a greater value.

Contents: This can holds 12 ounces. Other common sizes are 16 ounces; 22 ounces (called “a bomber”); 500 ml (16.9 ounces); and 750 ml (25.36 ounces).


Address: Care to visit this brewery? Here’s the street address.

Warning: TTB mandates this text, including uppercase letters for the first two words: GOVERNMENT WARNING.

Redemption: “All the cans have the CRV (California Redemption Value),” Sangster says. “And you want to make sure the print is big enough and the contrast big enough between letters and background.”


Talking points: Want to sound like a craft cognoscenti? Here are quick descriptors of the beer’s look, aroma and flavor.


Deep dive: A more detailed description of the beer - brewed with Kona and Sumatran coffee (who knew?) - plus a capsule history of the company.

Closing argument: Trademark slogan makes an emotional appeal to consumers - “Go Against the Flow” - and reinforces the brewery’s aquatic theme.


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