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Court to decide if beer to bare alcohol

Ever wonder what caliber the Silver Bullet really is? The Coors Brewing Co. would like to be able to tell consumers how much alcohol is in its products, but federal regulators claim this would lead to "strength wars."

This suds opera goes before the Supreme Court next month, with Coors asking for the right to print alcohol content on its beer labels.

But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has asked the Supreme Court to uphold a law that bans beermakers from putting that information on labels unless required by state law.

Congress passed the law in 1937 to put an end to strength wars that broke out among brewers after the repeal of Prohibition. Regulators wanted to discourage beermakers from trying to boost sales by claiming their products were stronger _ or contained more alcohol _ than their competitors.

Coors challenged the law in 1987, saying it improperly restricts commercial free speech. The company eventually won a favorable appeals court ruling in August 1993.

Arguments before the Supreme Court are scheduled for Nov. 30.

"We think that this is information that people have a right to know, should know," said Willis Lyford, a Coors spokesman at company headquarters in Golden, Colo.

Coors has refrained from putting alcohol-content information on most of its labels pending the court's decision, Lyford said.

The alcohol content of most Coors beers varies from 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent. Coors Light is 4.15 percent alcohol, and the Coors Artic Ice is 5.5 percent.