Pabst Blue Ribbon has released “PBR Hard Coffee” in select markets. Where can you find it? What is it? What’s in it? How come the FDA shut down Four Loko but this caffeine alcohol combo is fine? Food Scientist/Caffeine Researcher GreenEyedGuide answers these questions and more.
Watch the episode or read the Q&A below:
What is PBR Hard Coffee?
For starters, let’s talk about what it is not.
- It isn’t a blend of coffee and beer.
- It’s not a beer with coffee flavoring.
- According to the PBR website, it’s not even “beer”.
According to PBR’s own website, this isn’t beer, it’s a “flavored malt beverage”.
Okay, fine, but that leads to a new question:
What’s the difference between beer and a flavored malt beverage?
According to Charlie Bamforth, Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Brewing Science from the University of California, Davis:
Beer is an alcoholic beverage made from malted cereal grain, flavored with hops, and brewed by slow fermentation.
According to Beer and Brewing’s online dictionary:
A flavored malt beverage (FMB) is an alcoholic beverage made from
originalbase containing malt, but then stripped of malt character and then flavored. … FMB production starts out much like a beer and then goes through treatment (carbon filtration, reverse osmosis, etc) to remove as much beer and malt flavor and color as possible. The clear, colorless treated malt base is then sweetened, usually with high-fructose corn syrup, and then flavored.
PBR Hard Coffee Ingredients
The ingredients are simple.
- Arabica and robusta coffee beans, creamy milk, and sweet vanilla flavor.
PBR Hard Coffee Caffeine Content
According to CNN (the only ones who had this amount in their coverage), there’s 30 mg caffeine in a can of PBR Hard Coffee. For reference, a “standard” cup* of coffee contains 100 mg caffeine. But before you mentally compare this to your favorite cup of coffee, you should know the actual amount in a cup of coffee varies wildly. Caffeine content varies by brewing method, bean quality, and tons of other scientific variables. Researchers even found variation when they bought a cup of coffee from one location on multiple days. [Reference]
Science nerd tangents aside, you can still use the following graph of typical caffeine amounts for comparison:
- A 12-oz can of Red Bull has 110 mg caffeine – just a little more than a “standard” cup of coffee.
- PBR Hard Coffee has 1/3 of that amount – only 30 mg caffeine per can.
Looking at the caffeine content in milligrams caffeine per fluid ounce, it’s 3 mg/oz for PBR Hard Coffee, 13 mg/oz for a standard cup of coffee, and 9 mg/oz for a 12-oz Red Bull.
PBR Hard Coffee Alcohol Content
The alcohol content is comparable to other flavored malt beverages. Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Henry’s Hard Soda, Truly Sparking, and Smirnoff Ice all have about 4-5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV).
The alcohol content of PBR Hard Coffee is also comparable to the original PBR can of beer.
Is PBR Hard Coffee safe?
How many cans of PBR Hard Coffee can you drink before it becomes dangerous? In an earlier episode on the GreenEyedGuide YouTube channel, I reviewed the consensus of several different countries regarding mixing caffeine and alcohol.
The scientific consensus of the European Food Safety Authority is that you can have up to 200 mg caffeine mixed with enough alcohol to give you a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.08.
If you exceed 200 mg caffeine or BAC 0.08, mixing caffeine and alcohol becomes no longer safe.
For reference, here’s what 200 mg caffeine looks like:
The graphic above, from Caffeine Informer, shows how much caffeine you can safely mix with alcohol – at 30 mg per can, the caffeine amount in PBR Hard Coffee is very low, so it makes PBR Hard Coffee much safer than something like the original (pre-2010) Four Loko.
Why did Four Loko get in trouble with the FDA but this PBR Hard Coffee is okay?
On the FDA’s information sheet on caffeinated alcoholic beverages, they clarify the reason the manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages got in trouble is they were adding caffeine to the products. According to the FDA, caffeine is an “unsafe food additive” because it is not approved, at any amount, to be added to alcohol. Adding a natural source of caffeine, however, is just fine.
If you’re curious about FDA regulations around caffeine, this blog post does a good job of explaining the regulations for caffeine in food, drinks, and supplements – “Beverage Vs Supplements – What Monster Energy’s Switch Means to the Consumer”
The difference with PBR Hard Coffee is there’s no added caffeine, they’re adding coffee, which is a natural source of caffeine.
Hello, loophole? Perhaps.
The amount of caffeine in PBR Hard Coffee is so low you’d have to finish 7 cans before the caffeine crosses that 200 mg threshold where it starts interfering with how drunk you feel.
Where can I find PBR Hard Coffee?
This drink is still being tested in select markets – Pabst wants to see how successful this drink is going to be before going all in.
As of July 2019, you can only get PBR Hard Coffee in the following states:
- New Jersey
If you live in one of those states, you can use the store locator at this link to find the nearest location where you can buy it.