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Six Pack: Beer School Is Now in Session

Anheuser-Busch Budweiser
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Anheuser-Busch Budweiser

Six things that have consumers buzzing in the world of beer, wine and spirits this week:

1. Budweiser Takes on Water: It's not yet water under the bridge, but Anheuser-Busch InBev is defending itself against lawsuits that claim some of its beer brands are intentionally watered down. The suits, filed in Pennsylvania, California and other states, claim the alcohol content stated on the labels of some Anheuser-Busch InBev brands, including its flagship Budweiser, does not match what's actually in the beer. Budweiser said the claims are "completely false."

It didn't take long for media outlets such as CNN and NPR to send the beer out to independent labs for testing. The results? In those tests, the alcohol content matches what is on the label. Anheuser-Busch took out full page ads in major newspapers on Sunday, including the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. A lawyer calls the ads "non-denial, denials."

2. Beer 101: For many students, college and beer go hand in hand. But while coeds may spend time drinking beer, there aren't a lot of places to learn about making it. Auburn University is looking to change that. Auburn has announced it will be just the second university to offer a program in brewing science. (The University of California-Davis was the first.)

Auburn officials said the 18-hour, distance-learning program will be geared towards "people who are working in the industry who would like to move up the career ladder." Auburn already counts Dale Katechis, founder of Oskar Blues Brewery, among its alumni. The school said it hopes to start the program early as 2014.

3. Casual Restaurants Need to be Crafty: A recent study indicated a larger beer menu leads to increased sales. Now an industry analyst says casual restaurants aren't doing enough to leverage the growth in craft beer. According to GuestMetrics, a hospitality industry consultancy, craft beers accounted for 20 percent of beer sales in casual restaurants, versus 22 percent in bars and 28 percent in fine dining restaurants.

"While casual restaurants obviously need to have a balanced offering in the beers they carry, we believe there could be a positive halo effect on overall beer sales from dialing up their focus on craft beers," said Peter Reidhead, vice president of Strategy and Insights at GuestMetrics.

In addition to a lower share of beer sales from craft beers, GuestMetrics analysis indicates casual restaurants appear to be leaving additional money on the table by not keeping pace with the price increases in craft beer. According to GuestMetrics, the average price charged by casual restaurants for craft beers is $5.09, compared to $5.53 in bars and $6.16 in fine-dining restaurants.

"While it may not be feasible for casual restaurants to charge the same amount as fine dining, there should be room for closing the price gap relative to what bars are realizing," said Bill Pecoriello, CEO of GuestMetrics.

4. The Ultimate Pub Crawl: You might call it Todd Ruggere's ride. The Massachusetts resident is bar hopping his way through the Bay State. Ruggere said he plans on stopping in all 351 of Massachusetts cities and towns and drinking a Sam Adams while he is there. He's doing it to raise money for Dana Farber and the Jimmy Fund to help with children's cancer research. He plans on hitting one town every day until he is finished and will have a picture taken of himself in each city. Ruggere told Boston's WHDH he will improvise if the town doesn't have a bar. "When I was in Plympton, it's all farms, I couldn't find anything, so I found a home that had llamas in it," jhe said. "So I knocked on the woman's door and said you got to let me take a picture with your llamas, so she was happy to do it." So far he's raised $2,000.

5. 80-Proof Goof: Chivas Brothers, the producer of a whiskey brands such as Chivas Regal, Ballantine's and The Glenlivet, said workers have accidentally dumped thousands of gallons of Scotch whisky down the drain. The company told NBCNews.com, "the amount of whiskey spilled was less than the approximately 5,000 gallons reported earlier in other media, but declined to give exact figures." Perhaps the only good news to come out of the incident? The company said they do not expect any shortages as a result of the accident.

6. Spring on Tap: Seasonal releases are big factor driving the continued growth of craft beer. While Fall and Winter dominate the seasonal release schedule, Spring is now starting to pick up. As consumers get a spring in their step, Hunterdon Brewing, the largest craft beer distributorship in New Jersey, shared with us six Spring beer releases that have beer consumers buzzing:

a. Founders All Day IPA: The name and style reflect a growing trend in the craft industry: a session IPA, lower in alcohol than typical IPA offerings, something consumers could theoretically "drink…all day." The beer was released by Founders for the first time last year in a limited release, but quickly captured consumers attention. It's back in wider release this year.

b. Dogfish Head Aprihop: Dogfish Head's spring release, fruit IPA-brewed with fresh apricots. The release coincides with Dogfish Head's "Hop Eclipse," a national celebration during the months of February and March celebrating all Dogfish "hoppy" brews with a series of special beer dinners across the country.

c. Abita Spring IPA: a new seasonal release from the largest brewery in the Southeast. More known for being a malt-dominant, session-style brewery this West Coast style IPA is a more hoppy and bitter brew and will be sure to stir up some buzz.

d. Troegs Nugget Nectar: An Imperial Amber Ale, this is Troegs' early-spring release and one of Hunterdon's most highly-anticipated beers of the year. Hunterdon Brewing said consumers are known to follow their delivery trucks in order to get their hands on the beer.

e. River Horse Double Wit: Double Wit is a Belgian-style wheat beer that was part of River Horse's "Brewer's Reserve Series." The beer proved so popular, it is now part of their seasonal rotation due to "overwhelming demand."

f. Sly Fox Royal Weisse: a Bavarian-style wheat beer, this Spring/Summer seasonal is released in cans and on draft. Canned craft beer is one of the hottest trends in the beer industry with more consumers stocking up for trips to the beach, tailgates for concerts and other places where bottles may not be convenient.

-By CNBC's Tom Rotunno; Follow him on Twitter @TomRotunno

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com.

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