Call It Session Beer Day

national-session-beer-days
If you’re on the internet, Twitter or Facebook today, you’ll no doubt have noticed that people are saying it’s National Beer Day. And it is, but only in the sense that somebody decided to call it that, and lots of people agreed to it, as well. Which is exactly how every holiday got started. But the day should, I think, make sense. April 7 was chosen because it was the day that beer was first available after prohibition ended. Or at least that’s what a lot people believed, and continue to believe. Some even still call April 7 “Repeal Day.” But, of course, it wasn’t. When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office as our 32nd president on March 4, 1933, he quickly got to work on one of his campaign promises: to end prohibition.

He wrote to Congress on March 13, 1933:

I recommend to the Congress the passage of legislation for the immediate modification of the Volstead Act, in order to legalize the manufacture and sale of beer and other beverages of such alcoholic content as is permissible under the Constitution; and to provide through such manufacture and sale, by substantial taxes, a proper and much-needed revenue for the Government. I deem action at this time to be of the highest importance.

The very next day, Representative Thomas H. Cullen introduced the proposed legislation in the House of Representatives. Senator Pat Harrison did likewise in the Senate. It easily passed both houses, and was sent to committee on March 20. The re-worked combined document was approved by the Senate later the same day, while the House approved it the following day.

On March 22, FDR signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which amended the Volstead Act and specifically “27 U.S.C.: Intoxicating Liquors,” creating § 64a et seq., allowing for the manufacture and sale of low-alcohol beer, which they defined as 3.2% alcohol by weight (which by the more common standard today, is beer that’s 4% by volume or abv – technically 4.05%). When he signed the legislation, FDR is reported to have quipped. “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

FDR signing the Cullen-Harrison Act.

According to the act, each state then was free to pass it’s own similar legislation and allow 3.2 beer to once again be available. Twenty-one of the states, including California, along with the District of Columbia, took the federal government up on the offer, and passed their own laws to allow low-alcohol beer. The new law took effect on April 7, 1933.

faurbach-april-1933
A raucous crowd celebrating the return of 3.2 beer at the Fauerbach Brewery tavern in WIsconsin on April 7, 1933. They even had a small band playing in a corner of the bar.

So people in those states were pretty thrilled about being able to legally drink beer again for the first time in thirteen years, longer in some states, even if it was only weaker beer. Celebrations were held around the country. Since most breweries knew once FDR took office that beer would likely be back, they started brewing at least by March 22, when the law was signed, so that beer could be ready for early April. This was also the beginning of one of the most well-known marketing strategies, when Anheuser-Busch president Gussie Busch sent a team of clydesdale horses pulling a beer wagon first to present beer to New York governor Al Smith and then down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. to deliver beer to present Roosevelt.

beer-for-the-president

In the run-up to April 7, people in those twenty-one states started getting pretty excited and started calling the impending day names like “Beer is Back Day” and “Brew Year’s Day” or “New Beer’s Day.” What they didn’t call it was “National Beer Day.” That day would have to wait until December 5, 1933, when Utah ratified the 21st Amendment, the 36th state to do so, and making it the law of the land. The 21st Amendment repealed prohibition and made it possible for beer and wine of all strengths, along with spirits, to be legal again in all 48 states, whereas in April only 21 states legalized some beer, but only if they were low in alcohol. In fact, it wasn’t until 2009 that a man in Richmond, Virginia, who, at the urging of a friend, conceived of calling April 7 National Beer Day.

I’m certainly in favor of celebrating beer. I do so pretty much every day in my house. As regular readers know, I keep track of beer holidays, birthdays and historical dates, too. It’s a hobby of mine. You can follow along on the Brookston Almanac. But I think that if we’re going to celebrate a “National Beer Day” that December 5 makes a lot more sense since that’s when beer became legal again nationally in every state in America in 1933, or at least had the potential to do so. More recently, Lew Bryson, launched April 7th as “Session Beer Day” as a part of his Session Beer Project, which is designed to shine a light on and celebrate low-alcohol, but full-flavored beer. And that, to me, makes more sense because it was beer that was 4% abv or lower that became legal today, which is essentially our modern definition of a “session beer.”

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Here’s what I wrote about session beers in 2010, and I think it still holds true today.

While “extreme beers” are the current darlings of the craft beer scene, another kind of beer is waiting in the wings for its shot at the spotlight: Session Beers. They’ve been here all along, but they often don’t get the attention they deserve. If extreme beers are the big bullies of the beer world, loud and brash with huge flavors, showing great depth and complexity, and usually high alcohol, session beers are their polar opposite.

Session beers are, by contrast, light-bodied, with delicate flavors and are often very refreshing. What’s not to like? They’re actually harder to make than extreme beers, because it’s also easier to hide flaws in a big beer. A session beer is a beer that’s naked by comparison. Any defect is immediately obvious.

One of my favorite quotes about making these kinds of beers is by Gordon Biersch brewer Tom Dargen, who once said. “Making [a session] beer is like going to the beach in a thong. You better have all your parts in place or it’s going to be ugly.”

Defining a session beer

So what exactly is a “session beer?” Defining them is actually trickier than is sounds. They’re not exactly a beer style or even a collection of styles, more like an idea. The basic notion is that a “session beer” is one that you can drink during an entire “session” of drinking and still be relatively lucid and hold up your end of the conversation.

Their most obvious characteristic is that they’re lower in alcohol than many mainstream beers, which are usually around 5.5% a.b.v. — alcohol by volume. While there’s no official definition, most people tend to believe that beers under 5% can be considered session beers, and at least a few set the bar even lower.

Bryson defines them as being 4.5% or below and also includes in his definition that they must be flavorful, balanced and reasonably priced. His simplest way of describing them is “low-alcohol, but not low-taste.”

They’re the ideal for beer for an evening at the pub, spending the night with friends, having a few drinks and talking about the day’s events. That’s one of the reasons most British beers that you’ll find at an average pub in England can be considered session beers, at least the cask or real ales. English ales are usually around 4.5% or less but remain surprisingly full-flavored.

Session beers are also similar to so-called “lawnmower beers,” except that they tend to be more flavorful. Lawnmower beers are most often mass-produced light lagers with very little actual flavor or hop character. The kind of beer you want to quench your thirst after mowing the lawn in the hot sun. Session beers are similarly light-bodied, but should stand apart by having delicate, but very obvious hop, malt, and/or other flavor characteristics.

My friend Martyn Cornell, who’s a British beer writer and historian, gave one of the best statements I’ve ever seen about how session beers are not just about being low-alcohol, but are “a combination of restraint, satisfaction, and ‘moreishness.’ Just like the ideal companions on a good evening down the pub, a good session beer will not dominate the occasion and demand attention; at the same time its contribution, while never obtrusive, will be welcome, satisfying, and pleasurable.”

There are plenty of beers that fit that definition being made by craft brewers in America and by small and large breweries abroad, too. Many area breweries and brewpubs have one or two that can be considered a session beer. Check the alcohol level and then give them a taste to make sure they’re as flavorful as you like.

While many are also light in color, golden to amber, they don’t have to be. One of the most surprising session beers is Guinness, because many people believe that dark beers are heavier beers. But that’s just not the case, as Guinness Draught is only 4% a.b.v.

A beery backlash

I should point out that I love many extreme beers and in no way think session beers should replace them, or otherwise diminish their popularity. Extreme beers include some of the best, most experimental, most forward-looking beers ever conceived and brewed. They’ve helped redefine what beer is and what it can be. It’s helped bring foodies into the fold by its ability to be paired with an endless variety of foods, standing up to many dishes that wine cannot. I certainly won’t stop being excited by all the wonderful big beers being made.

But more is not always, well … more. Sometimes less is. Sometimes you just want something that has subtlety, delicate flavors and lets you enjoy your time with friends and family. And that’s why session beers are such a great choice.

Session beers are simply a great concept, and one that promotes both responsible drinking and conviviality, while at the same time not sacrificing taste. I can certainly drink to that.

Essentially every day is National Beer Day, but today should really be Session Beer Day.

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UPDATE 4.8: To underscore my point that many people still incorrectly believe that prohibition was repealed on April 7, witness Summit Brewing’s new poster for 2016, whose title reads “April 7 Celebrate Prohibition Repeal Day.” C’mon guys, I know your heart is in the right place, but this isn’t helping.

summit-repeal-day-2016

The Top 50 Annotated 2015

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This is my ninth annual annotated list of the Top 50, skipping two years ago because the BA provided that information then, so here again you can see who moved up and down, who was new to the list and who dropped off. So here is this year’s list again annotated with how they changed compared to last year.

  1. Anheuser-Busch InBev; #1 last ten years, no surprise
  2. MillerCoors; ditto for #2
  3. Pabst Brewing; ditto for #3
  4. D. G. Yuengling and Son; Same as last year
  5. Boston Beer Co.; Same as last year
  6. North American Breweries; Same as last year
  7. Sierra Nevada Brewing; Same as last year
  8. New Belgium Brewing; Same as last year
  9. Craft Brewers Alliance; Same as last year
  10. Lagunitas Brewing; Up 1 from #11 last year
  11. Gambrinus Company; Down 1 from #10 last year
  12. Bell’s Brewery; Same as last year
  13. Deschutes Brewery; Same as last year
  14. Minhas Craft Brewery; Up 2 from #16 last year
  15. Stone Brewing; Down 1 from #14 last year
  16. Sleeman Brewing; Down 1 from #15 last year
  17. Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits; Rocketed up 20 from #37 last year
  18. Brooklyn Brewery; Down 1 from #17 last year
  19. Firestone Walker Brewing; Up 3 from #22 last year
  20. Founders Brewing; Up 3 from #23 last year
  21. Oskar Blues Brewing; Jumped up 9 from #30
  22. Duvel Moortgat USA (Boulevard Brewing/Ommegang); Down 4 from #18 last year
  23. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Down 4 from #19 last year
  24. Matt Brewing; Down 4 from #20 last year
  25. SweetWater Brewing; Down 1 from #24 last year
  26. Harpoon Brewery; Down 5 from #21 last year
  27. New Glarus Brewing; Down 2 from #25 last year
  28. Great Lakes Brewing; Up 1 from #29 last year
  29. Alaskan Brewing; Down 3 from #26 last year
  30. Abita Brewing; Down 3 from #27 last year
  31. Anchor Brewing; Down 3 from #28 last year
  32. Stevens Point Brewery; Same as last year
  33. Victory Brewing; Up 2 from #35 last year
  34. August Schell Brewing; Down 1 from #33 last year
  35. Long Trail Brewing; Down 1 from #36 last year
  36. Summit Brewing; Down 2 from #34 last year
  37. Shipyard Brewing; Down 6 from #31 last year
  38. Full Sail Brewing; Up 5 from #39 last year
  39. Odell Brewing; Up 1 from #40 last year
  40. Southern Tier Brewing; Up 1 from #41 last year
  41. Rogue Ales Brewery; Down 3 from #38 last year
  42. 21st Amendment Brewery; Jumped up 7 from 49 last year
  43. Ninkasi Brewing; Down 1 from #42 last year
  44. Flying Dog Brewery; Same as last year
  45. Narragansett Brewing; Not in Top 50 last year
  46. Pittsburgh Brewing (fka Iron City); Down 1 from #45 last year
  47. Left Hand Brewing; Up 1 from #48 last year
  48. Uinta Brewing; Down 2 from #46 last year
  49. Green Flash Brewing; Not in Top 50 last year
  50. Allagash Brewing; Same as last year

Not too much movement this year, except for a few small shufflings. The top is virtually unchanged, with only numbers 10 and 11 switching places. And apart from those two small changes, the top 13 were all the same as 2014. The biggest jump came from Ballast Point, which leapt up 20 spots, while Shipyard slipped the furthest, dropping six slots. Only two new breweries made the list; Green Flash Brewing and Narragansett Brewing. Off the list was World Brew/Winery Exchange, a California contract label brewer making private label beers for retailers, and Bear Republic Brewing.

If you want to see the previous annotated lists for comparison, here is 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006.

10 Barrel Hoping To Open San Diego Brewpub

10-barrel
You’ve probably heard the rumors and the news that 10 Barrel Brewing, acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2014, is trying to open a new brewpub location, this one in San Diego, California. Today I received a press release from ABI, detailing the trouble they’ve met in trying to expand into the Southern California market. Here’s what they had to say:

This will be the first non-craft brewery, per the Brewers Association’s definition of a craft brewer, to expand into San Diego — which is already home to 117 local craft breweries, with 40 more in planning. The news has been met with strong opposition from members of San Diego’s craft beer community, including the San Diego Brewers Guild, who’s mission is to promote awareness and increase the visibility of fresh, locally brewed beer.

10 Barrel has applied for a permit to construct a brewpub in San Diego’s burgeoning East Village, at 1501 E Street, and has proposed a “full-service restaurant with accessory alcohol manufacturing.”

Today, February 17th, representatives of 10 Barrel will present on behalf of the project to the Downtown Community Planning Council (DCPC), an advisory group, and a decision is expected soon.

Apparently, the biggest opposition they’ve received is from local brewers already in the market, in the guise of the San Diego Brewers Guild. This is setting up to be an interesting battle. San Diego business owners clearly want to keep their local angle for the businesses, though how that will square with the acquisition of Saint Archer by MillerCoors remains to be seen.

Curiously, ABI’s press release also includes that opposition, in fact is more than half of what I received, giving voice to their complaints. According to them, “Representatives of the San Diego Brewers Guild, including President Emeritas Kevin Hopkins, will speak at the meeting on behalf of the Guild,” and also circulated the guild’s official statement:

“The acquisitions that transacted last year and the news of AB-InBev’s intentions to open up in San Diego through 10 Barrel highlights the fact that San Diego is truly a world-class brewing center. That reputation is due to the hard work of locally-owned breweries and the San Diego Brewers Guild. Historically, it has been independent brewers who have built the thriving beer community that San Diego is now known for around the world. The risk underlying the acquisition of breweries by large, international corporations and the risk of businesses like the proposed 10 Barrel brewpub in San Diego is that beer drinkers here may think that when they patronize these businesses, and buy and drink beer, that they are supporting the local brewing community. That is not the case. Should the 10 Barrel project open in San Diego as proposed, consumers need to know that it is owned by Anheuser-Busch and not a local craft brewery or a craft brewery in general. Now more than ever, with the introduction of non-craft breweries to San Diego’s craft landscape, it is important to continue to support locally owned and operated San Diego breweries, like the brewer members in the San Diego Brewers Guild.”

I’m a little baffled by that. Are they looking for sympathy for their cause. On one hand it’s certainly understandable that San Diego brewers would prefer to not have a carpetbagger come into their midst, but as Thorn Street Brewery owner Eric O’Connor said in a letter of opposition, “large companies have the right to open and operate where they see fit.” I’m sure I’d feel the same way, but I’m not sure what anyone could do about it. As long as consumers support the venture, it will continue to thrive. If everyone agreed to not patronize it because its ownership wasn’t local, it would likely have to close. But how realistic is that? I’m not trying to be difficult, I honestly don’t know. We all talk a good game about supporting local and not spending money with breweries who’s ownership has changed and/or is not to our individual liking. But Goose Island, 10 Barrel and even Blue Moon continue to do quite well despite all the foot stomping. And this is not a new problem. People said the same thing about Redhook and Widmer when ABI acquired just a minority interest in them in 1994, and both are still in business over twenty years later, so I’m not sure a boycott would really work, nor could this sort of hand-wringing do any good.

In O’Connor’s letter, he adds that if 10 Barrel does come, “there should be complete transparency of who the ownership is and where the money is going.” But isn’t there already? Don’t we already know that ABI owns 10 Barrel and that’s, of course, where the money will go. MillerCoors isn’t hiding the fact that they own Blue Moon, or Saint Archer. Likewise, it’s not exactly a secret who owns Goose Island, Blue Point, or Shock Top. But that’s because there’s a tiny sliver of the market that actually pays attention to who owns what. Most of the world is busy doing something else, living their lives, and drinking whatever they want, oblivious.

And believe me, my sympathies are with the San Diego brewers, but I don’t see what they can really do. ABI also included a pdf of all the complaints their plans have received, including letters from other local bars and brewers. The gist of them is that “beer drinkers here in San Diego may think that when they patronize a business like what 10 Barrel is proposing, and when they buy and drink 10 Barrel’s beer, that they are supporting the local brewing community.” And they’re probably right to be concerned about that, but I think it’s more of a problem because most people don’t care as deeply about that as we do. Mike Sardinia, president of the guild, insists “it is vital that consumers need to know that it is owned by Anheuser-Busch and not a locally operated brewery.” In his conclusion, he warns that “[i]t is important that the City not make it easy for Anheuser-Busch to open in San Diego without due diligence and without a full review of its application and its intentions with the 10 Barrel project.”

The irony there is that in the early days, small brewers were complaining that it wasn’t fair how difficult the then Big 3 (Bud, Miller and Coors) made it for them to obtain distribution, tap handles and generally succeed in a market that they dominated. I’m certainly glad we have more power now, and have, in many cases, succeeded spectacularly, but I’m still not sure this, while understandable, is the best way to use it.

Last month, Peter Rowe, in the San Diego Union-Tribune, asked rhetorically, An Anheuser-Busch brewpub for San Diego? Toward the end, he even mentions that “some threaten to picket and boycott 10 Barrel, when and if it opens,” which also seems silly. If people in San Diego, like most places, are really as supportive of local-only businesses then it will fail all by itself. But I think the real fear is that everybody loves the locals on Twitter, or Facebook, or when answering a pollster, but not when it comes to reality. Like it or not, national brands in every industry are popular precisely because they’re familiar, widely available and the same everywhere. It’s certainly true that artisanal products, like cheese, chocolate, bread, etc. are all doing great, but the big brands are still the big brands, just like with craft beer. Dents have been made, but they still have a majority marketshare.

But headlines about this from mainstream news are along the lines of Local craft brewers to Anheuser-Busch: Keep out. It feels strange to side with the big guys but it doesn’t feel like they’re doing anything particularly wrong here. I understand opposing this or even working together to promote their own local-ness as a positive attribute, but this feels like a case when turnabout isn’t fair play. We should be better than that. If San Diego brewers are making great beer — and they are — and if people in their market are willing to support them, then this is something that will take care of itself, and that, I think should be the goal.

Prohibitionists Pissed Over Deadpool Alcopops

deadpool
I don’t really like malternatives, alcopops, malt-based beverages, or whatever you want to call them. I find them too sweet, the latest overly sweet concoction to take the wine cooler segment of the market. But the one thing I hate more than alcopops in prohibitionists telling me only kids like comic book characters and that if anything appeals to kids in any way, shape or form, then it must be stopped, even if adults happen to like that thing, too. Honestly, it’s a fucked up way to view the world.

It would be pretty hard to miss the news that the latest Marvel Comics film adaptation opens today, and it’s the antihero Deadpool. I just learned, from the sheriff of not-having-fun, Alcohol Justice, that Marvel’s done a collaboration with Mike’s Hard Lemonade and created several flavors with Deadpool on the cans and packaging. Deadpool, the character, has been around since 1991, and while he started out as a villain, he’s become more of a wise-cracking antihero, and as such appeals to young adults and, undoubtedly, precocious teens.

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As a result, the cross-promotion has Alcohol Justice (AJ) screaming bloody murder, accusing everyone involved of actively “threatening” kids. Why? Because “comic books,” of course. If there are comic books, then anything to do with them is about the kids. As the sheriff of AJ claims, “Kids are inherently targeted, PR damage to the brands is substantial, and shareholders should scream for heads to roll.”

For that reason, he’s placing both companies in the “Alcohol Justice Doghouse.” Oh, the humanity! How will they survive their banishment? Here’s a taste of just how out of touch AJ is about this.

A superhero’s mission is to champion good over evil and stand-up for those who can’t defend themselves. Superheroes appeal to many young boys and girls who dream of being one. It’s often reflected in how kids act and dress. But those dreams come crashing down fast when Big Alcohol capitalizes on the popular cartoon imagery of the latest superhero to sell booze.

Obviously, AJ has never before encountered Deadpool. He’s about as much a role model superhero as I am, which is to say not at all. Those values AJ espouses have nothing to do with this film, the character or, frankly, reality. Superman he’s not. He’s not even Spiderman. But what it really comes down to is their unshakeable belief that comic books are only for children. To which I can only say, grow up. Maybe that was true in the beginning or possibly after the Comic Code was instituted insuring family-friendly fare. But it hasn’t been the case since independent comic stores starting popping up in the late 1970s and 80s, creating a market for non-code comics, allowing for a much richer range of stories aimed at all ages. And that’s meant that for several decades there has been sequential art aimed squarely at older kids and even adults. They used to be called “underground comics,” but these are in the mainstream now, and have been for a long time.

I read comics as a kid, of course, but then stopped when I reached my teen years, because in the 1970s there wasn’t much that appealed to me. Most of the comic books were pretty sanitized, with only a few notable exceptions daring to include real current issues and societal problems in their books. But all that changed again in the 1980s when a flurry of creativity created an amazingly mature and complex body of work that was aimed squarely at an older, more mature audience. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore’s The Watchmen and V for Vendetta, or Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, are good examples, to name just a few.

The point that seems lost on AJ is that there are comics that are for children, but there also comics for adults, and everyone in between. Just because something is drawn or animated, doesn’t automatically make it “inherently targeted” at kids. Try Art Spiegelman’s Maus, John Lewis’ March or Joe Sacco’s Palestine and see if you still think comics are only for children.

But here’s where they go off the rails again, where they just make shit up, and create their own reality.

“Though the alcohol industry claims ‘Millennials’ are their target alcopop audience, their promotions and campaigns effectively target youth who are years younger than the minimum legal drinking age,” said [Bruce Lee] Livingston. “As a result of the low prices, wide availability, and marketing tactics like this one by 21st Century Fox & Mike’s Harder Lemonade, alcopops are very popular among underage youth and responsible for a disproportionate share of underage alcohol-related harm.”

So the industry just “claims” they’re marketing to legal adults. Of course, if that weren’t the case they’d be breaking the law, not to mention they’d have an incredibly stupid business model. Don’t you think that if Alcohol Justice could prove actual targeting of underage people, that they’d have tried to put them out of business years ago? This is just propaganda and hyperbole, and not exactly the high moral kind that they so often pretend to be following, usually from atop their very tall horses.

But even if, for the sake of argument, Mike’s was breaking the law, hoping underage teenagers were loitering around their neighborhood convenience store, trying to entice the homeless man living in the alley to buy them some booze, that would not change the fact that kids under 18, and adults under 21, are not allowed to buy alcohol. This is in reality two problems. The first is that AJ believes alcohol companies are actively trying to illegally sell to minors. Given how illegal that is, if they could prove it, they would have by now. The second problem is that even though it’s illegal for minors to buy alcohol, they sometimes still manage to get their hands on it, and they blame the alcohol companies for creating the desire for them. But so what? Seriously, so what?

Before I was sixteen, I definitely wanted to drive a car. I even drove my stepfather’s Corvette around the block when I was 14 or 15. But I still knew I had to wait until I was sixteen before I could get a driver’s license and legally drive. But boy those car ads sure made driving look sexy, and made me want the hot new cars even before I could drive. Maybe we should ban all automobile advertising because it might appeal to kids who don’t have a driver’s license. But, no, we let car companies keep targeting our youth, causing teens to steal cars, go for joyrides and break the law. Obviously, the car advertising is causing the harm, because it appeals to children. Oh, sure, the car manufacturers “claim” that licensed drivers “are their target audience,” but we know better. Just watch how much fun it looks to drive their cars.

So I’m taking my son Porter to see Deadpool tonight, over his Mom’s objection. Not because of the alcopops, of course, but her concerns are because it looks really violent. But Porter loves what he’s seen of the dark humor that’s been shown in the various trailers, and I think he’s old enough. Of course, the film is Rated R, which given that he’s fourteen “requires [an] accompanying parent.” And that’s another reason it’s easy to see that the Deadpool Mike’s are marketing to young adults, 21 and over, since the rating further limits it being seen by minors looking to get buzzed on alcopops. But I’m old and still read comic books. AJ would do well to remember that there are a lot of us, and we drink, too.

deadpool-enjoys-beer

Pizza Hut To Offer Beer Selection

pizza-hut
Last month, The Street reported that the Pizza Hut chain has remodeled several of their 6,000+ restaurants, and “plans to remodel roughly 700 of its U.S. stores a year through 2022 in the new format.” The newly refurbished Pizza Huts will continue to have the company’s ” trademark red and black colors, albeit with deeper hues” and will also “feature wraparound windows, outdoor seating and yes, a drive-thru.”

pizzahut-exterior2

All well and good, so far, but so what, you may be asking. Pizza Hut has also added beer and wine service at the remodeled locations, and plans to add alcohol to each refurbished restaurant. Frankly, I didn’t realize they didn’t serve beer already. Pizza and beer are pretty much a perfect pairing, as iconic as peanut butter and jelly or grilled cheese and tomato soup. The more I think about it, almost every pizza place I can name also serves beer, both chains and the small mom and pop pizza joints. How many brewpubs serve pizza? Lots of them, with many even specializing in it.

buck-libby-beer-and-pizza

Why I bring this up is because the wackos at Alcohol Justice tweeted their displeasure at this idea, with this. “Now Pizza Hut wants to sell booze too bit.ly/1PkIwe1 What’s next…wine tastings at Toys-R-Us?” That’s what’s known as a false equivalence, one does not follow from the other. It is, in effect, a bullshit argument. One is a restaurant, and a type of restaurant that typically does carry beer and wine. The other is a toy store. There’s no link whatsoever, nothing that would make this in any way logical. It’s AJ making a mountain out a molehill, as they so often try to do. It’s just absurd.

They idea that a pizza restaurant serving beer and wine is cause for alarm is absolutely laughable. It’s harder to think of one that doesn’t already serve beer then come up with all of those who do. Several times I’ve gone with Porter’s basketball team and his little league baseball team to a Mountain Mike’s or Straw Hat Pizza after a game with the whole team and their parents. Many pizzas are ordered for everyone, with pitchers of beer for the parents. That’s the very definition of family-friendly, with something for everyone. Not once has there been a problem. But in AJ’s worldview, beer at a pizza joint with beer is the same as booze being served at a toy store. But now I’m feeling hungry. I’ve got plenty of beer. I wonder if it’s too late to order from Pizza Hut? They just opened one in our town, and I definitely want to support their decision to upset Alcohol Justice.

Alcohol Advertising And Reality

underage-drinking
Recently the prohibitionist group MADD published a blog post entitled Alcohol Advertisements And Our Kids that’s rife with propaganda, inaccuracies and unfounded statements. Surprised? No, not really. It’s about as self-serving as you’d expect.

It begins by touting proposed “new alcohol advertising guidelines, based on findings by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.” Of course one of the “study’s” authors, David Jernigan, is the Director of the notoriously anti-alcohol Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavior and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Jerigan was also the author of this travesty: Bud Blamed In Absurd E.R. Visit Study. So this is a perfect example of the tactics of modern prohibitionist propaganda. One group does a dodgy “study” and another — in this case MADD — takes it and passes it along as unbiased scientific proof of their agenda. This tactic is leading to a crisis of confidence in journals, which I wrote about previously in The Credibility Crisis Of Science Journals.

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This so-called report, which is actually called The Potential Impact of a “No-Buy” List on Youth Exposure to Alcohol Advertising on Cable Television. MADD and the propagandist’s claim that they “could dramatically reduce the number of alcohol ads viewed by children – if advertisers follow them,” which is another way of stamping their feet and saying do it our way. This “study” found that “[y]outh were exposed to 15.1 billion noncompliant advertising impressions from 2005 to 2012, mostly on cable television.” But so what? What does that even mean? Fifteen billion is a big number, so it sounds scary. But that’s a total number over eight years, or 2,922 days. Which is about 5.2 million ads each day. Still sounds like a lot. But there are almost 1,800 commercial television stations in the U.S. alone, as of 2014. That’s roughly 2,871 ads per station per day.

But how does that number compare to reality? Over a twenty-four hour period, using an average of 15 minutes of advertising per hour (it varies, though cable tends to be higher than broadcast television) that would be 360 minutes of ads (or 6 hours). Assuming an average of 30 seconds per ad, that would be 720 ads per day, per station. So for all 1800 stations that would be 1.3 million ads per day. TOTAL! Yet this “study” is claiming almost 2,900 “noncompliant advertising impressions” — meaning alcohol ads they don’t like — per station per day and 5.2 million each day. There’s some pretty fuzzy math.

Even if my averages, which seem reasonable from the data I found — from generally reputable online sources — were off by a lot (and I rounded up in the so-called study’s favor in every instance) their numbers seem impossible. And don’t forget my numbers, which are orders of magnitude less than their numbers are for ALL advertising while for the study’s numbers — which they’re claiming are not even all alcohol ads — but all alcohol ads that they consider don’t comply with current advertising guidelines for alcohol. And that those “noncompliant” beer and alcohol ads consist of roughly four times the total of all television advertising. Hmm. So that seems reasonable. Here’s how they claim to come about their numbers.

Data source
Television advertising data for the years 2005–2012 were licensed from Nielsen (The Nielsen Company, New York, NY) for all alcoholic beverage types in Nielsen’s alcohol category (beer, distilled spirits, alcopops or sweetened alcoholic beverages that taste like soda pop and contain malt-based alcohol, and wine). The details of our methods for processing and analyzing Nielsen data have been reported previously (Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2010). Briefly, occurrence and audience data were downloaded from Nielsen Monitor-Plus; coded to classify advertisements as product, “responsibility,” or other types of advertisements; standardized regarding brand names and alcohol types according to Impact Databank, a leading alcohol industry marketing research firm; and organized into a Microsoft SQL*SERVER database (Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, WA). This study used data on 2,461,999 alcohol product advertisements on network, cable, and local television from 2005 through 2012, with a particular focus on 1,452,661 (59% of the total) cable television advertisements.

But they also claim that “one in eight alcohol commercials were seen by children. No, make that absorbed by children. Not to mention these occurrences were already not in compliance with the alcohol industry’s previous self-regulatory advertising guidelines.” But let’s break that down. Even if their fantastic numbers were true, how exactly can they claim that the kids actually saw the ads. Kids don’t watch every channel, all the time (nobody does) so unless I’m missing something they seem to be saying all the ads shown are actually seen by these kids, which of course is utter nonsense. But they don’t say just that, they go even farther, saying these kids “absorbed” them. That makes these the most impressive children in the history of mankind, paying such close attention to these commercials, riveted to their televisions, soaking it all up.

Of course, that’s just, at best, opportunities for a kid to see an ad. No child is seeing anywhere near as many ads as their numbers suggest. The window of times when kids watch is probably not twenty-four hours, and they don’t appear to have even taken that into account. No cable company or satellite provider includes all 1800 American commercial stations, more like 500 or so, further greatly reducing the opportunity for so many ads to be actually seen, let alone absorbed.

But we’re not done yet. They defined “underage audience” as “ages 2–20 years as a percentage of the total.” But how many two years old have a clue about what they’re seeing on television apart from purple dinosaurs and Mickey’s Playhouse? At what age do kids even pay attention to ads not for toys or (maybe) fast food? It’s certainly not two, which further erodes the numbers they’re relying on and reporting. No matter where you turn, it doesn’t add up.

Also, in the data source they state that they “used data on 2,461,999 alcohol product advertisements on network, cable, and local television from 2005 through 2012,” adding that they had “a particular focus on 1,452,661 (59% of the total) cable television advertisements.” So why then do they seem surprised and feel the need to point out that their “study” found that the ads kids saw were “mostly on cable television?” If they had “a particular focus” on cable, that would be expected, wouldn’t it?

But MADD’s not done with the spin. They also claim that all of these noncompliant ads (or maybe all the ads) “painted a picture of alcohol as fun and frivolous that children couldn’t help but take in, sending a dangerous and deadly message to our kids. Have no doubt, these ads played a role in shaping attitudes toward drinking and contributed to the number of underage drinkers and underage drunk drivers.”

Horseshit. First of all, beer most definitely can be “fun and frivolous.” Do you really think people would keep drinking if they’re weren’t having a good time? People are not automatically addicted with the first sip of alcohol that touches their lips, despite some prohibitionists actually seeming to believe just that. Undoubtedly, a small minority of people will develop some problem with their own control, no matter the cause. But here’s the thing. Automobile ads show new cars as fun and frivolous, too. But kids aren’t ignoring the fact that they can’t drive until they’re sixteen and going for joyrides or stealing cars as soon as their parents aren’t looking. There’s no epidemic of roving middle school gangs of car thieves taken in by how much fun it looks to drive a car, as shown in the countless television ads for all the shiny new cars. Context matters. The so-called study also ignores parents watching these ads with their parents, who in many cases are probably providing context. My kids are constantly bombarded with beer, and yet there is no confusion in our household that they’re not allowed to drink until they turn 21. We reinforce that, and they understand it.

But looking again at the so-called study as a whole, it’s clear that it’s less a scientific paper and more proselytizing propaganda, with over two-thirds of the text devoted to analysis, discussion and, primarily, their recommendations, meaning their excuse to tell the alcohol industry how they think they should advertise. This is the tactic that prohibitionists used to starting attacking alcohol companies the very minute that prohibition was repealed in 1933. They didn’t go away, they licked their wounds, and then changed their approach. And one of their main objectives was to restrict advertising in order to attack alcohol sales using advertising codes and other laws, usually citing their concern for “the children” to conceal their true purpose. Because we’ve all been watching alcohol advertising since we were kids, too, since almost no one alive today was born (only about 1.5% of today’s population) before prohibition ended. And a majority of us grew into responsible adults, and in fact actual consumption of alcohol has been dropping for decades, meaning at least the advertising hasn’t been turning us all into alcoholic monsters. There are, of course, many other factors, but just in terms of their general argument it makes little sense. And frankly, before prohibition there was no television advertising whatsoever, for the obvious reason there was no commercial television, and yet per capita alcohol consumption before and after prohibition is roughly the same, although it has declined to below pre-prohibition levels ever since 1980. So with or without advertising, overall per capita consumption has been roughly constant.

But as you may have noticed, MADD used the headline “Alcohol Advertisements And Our Kids,” invoking the “it’s for the children” strategy. This is such a textbook case of propaganda it’s quite amazing how much of it is twisted and misleading. After all of that, MADD concludes by selling their own program, the “Power of Parents®, which humorously enough they’ve even trademarked. They want to “help” parents by telling them what propaganda to brainwash their children with, even offering a “parent handbook.” It’s free, if you consider signing up for an endless stream of e-mails filled with more propaganda and pleas for donations exacting no cost to you. Just say know.

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The Credibility Crisis Of Science Journals

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Regular readers will no doubt know how much I hate junk science, especially when it’s used as propaganda by prohibitionist groups to further their agenda. In the ten years since I started the Bulletin (and the 25 years since I’ve been writing about beer) I’ve been watching a growing trend of prohibitionist groups sponsoring questionable “science” and then turning around once they’ve got the conclusion they paid for and trumpeting to the world that science supports their position, which I detailed a couple of years ago Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Propaganda. In some cases, the studies even involved their own staff. I’m sure it was naive to think this is an issue confined to anti-alcohol fanatics, because clearly it’s not. It’s been an education in itself and over the years I’ve gotten much better with How To Spot Bad Science.

The other related issue is that even rigorous studies are often misused as propaganda when they often aren’t as ironclad as the people using them might hope. This practice was detailed in Studies Show Studies Don’t Show Much, which talked about jumping to conclusions too quickly when a study is preliminary, uses a small sample or needs to be reproduced and replicated before anything definitive can be said with certainty. And that, I just learned is a bigger problem for all journal articles, not just the ones I’ve been noticing.

According to Rupert Sheldrake, a British biologist, who writes online at Science Set Free, there is a The Replicability Crisis in Science. By that, he means; “The credibility of science rests on the widespread assumption that results are replicable, and that high standards are maintained by anonymous peer review. These pillars of belief are crumbling. In September 2015, the international scientific journal Nature published a cartoon showing the temple of ‘Robust Science’ in a state of collapse.”

temple-of-science

In recent years, countless studies have been found to be faulty, not reproducible, making them all but useless. As other scientists have relied on them, which used to be a reasonable assumption since the journals are peer-reviewed, the science that’s coming after is equally flawed, because it’s based on bad science. And we’re not just talking about a few. “In 2011, German researchers in the drug company Bayer found in an extensive survey that more than 75% of the published findings could not be validated.” It gets worse. “In 2012, scientists at the American drug company Amgen published the results of a study in which they selected 53 key papers deemed to be ‘landmark’ studies and tried to reproduce them. Only 6 (11%) could be confirmed.”

Why is this happening? Sheldrake has a theory.

Unfortunately, personal advancement in the world of science depends on incentives that encourage these questionable research practices. Professional scientists’ career prospects, promotions and grants depend on the number of papers they have published, the number of times they are cited and the prestige of the journals in which they are published. There are therefore powerful incentives for people to publish eye-catching papers with striking positive results. If other researchers cannot replicate the results, this may not be discovered for years, if it is discovered at all, and meanwhile their careers have advanced and the system perpetuates itself. In the world of business, the criteria for success depend on running a successful business, not on whether business plans are ranked highly by business academics, and whether they are often cited in business journals. But status in the world of science depends on publications in scientific journals, rather than on practical effects in the real world.

Meanwhile, the peer-review system is falling into disrepute. The very fact that so many unreliable papers are published shows that the system is not working effectively, and a recent investigation by the American journal Science revealed some shocking results. A member of Science’s staff wrote a spoof paper, riddled with scientific and statistical errors, and sent 304 versions of it to a range of peer-reviewed journals. It was accepted for publication by more than half of them.

This is apparently enough of a problem that it even has its own Wikipedia page, and is known as the Replication Crisis. And Science News had an article entitled Is redoing scientific research the best way to find truth?

reproducibility_piechart

But it’s hard not to see another culprit. Science News also offered 12 reasons research goes wrong, and included “fraud” at the end, stating that “fraud is responsible for only a tiny fraction of results that can’t be replicated.” I suppose that depends on how you define it, and I think I’d say it might include the type of junk science where somebody is hired to find a specific result rather than find out what the result might be in a specific situation. That’s the type I see more and more in the field of alcohol studies being sponsored by prohibitionist groups.

Prohibitionists and other groups have been perverting science for their own ends for years, using it to hoodwink an unsuspecting public, who still trusts the studies they’re reporting, to promote their agenda. It’s become a common tool of propaganda. This is detailed quite well in the classic book How to Lie with Statistics, but even more forcefully in the later expose Trust Us We’re Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future. It’s unfortunate, but prohibitionist groups aren’t really interested in health or safety. Like almost all non-profits, they’ve become more interested in sustaining themselves, which means raising money has become the real goal. This was revealed with startling clarity at an alcohol policy conference held a couple of years ago, which I reported on in The Neo-Prohibitionist Agenda: Punishment Or Profit. It’s about money. Isn’t it always?

But sadly, science is supposed to be science, and should be free of the entanglements that cloud so many other fields. And once upon a time, I like to kid myself, it probably was. But is it sure seems as corrupt as the rest of the world to me now, and that can’t be good for the present, and especially the future. Because it’s only going to get worse. I’m sure there’s a study somewhere that supports that. And if not, I can always fund my own. Apparently that’s how it’s done.

Beer & Exercise

health
Last week, the New York Times had an interesting piece about a pair of studies examining the relationship between exercise and beer, entitled The Close Ties Between Exercise and Beer.

My favorite bit is that in past studies “men and women who qualified as moderate drinkers, meaning they downed about a drink a day, were twice as likely to exercise regularly as teetotalers.” But that was for earlier, apparently less rigorous studies.

The first of the new studies was conducted at Penn State, which used test subjects already enrolled in a different health study, and found consistent results from the earlier studies.

When the researchers collated and compared the data from their volunteers, they found, for the first time, an unequivocal correlation between exercising on any given day and subsequently drinking, especially if someone exercised more than usual. As the scientists write in their study, which was published recently in Health Psychology, “people drank more than usual on the same days that they engaged in more physical activity than usual.”

This relationship held true throughout all seasons of the year and whether someone was a man or a woman, a collegian or a retiree. Age and gender did not affect the results.

Thankfully, the data did not show that exercise incited or exacerbated problem drinking.

The second study was published in Frontiers of Psychiatry — Exercise and Alcohol Consumption: What We Know, What We Need to Know, and Why it is Important — was a review of those previously mentioned previous studies. And the two seem to reinforce one another, coming to the same conclusions. And most worrying of all, at least for the prohibitionists who incessantly decry alcohol, “the available evidence suggests that exercise may encourage people to drink, [but] it does not indicate that this relationship is necessarily worrisome for the vast majority of us. Someone who drinks moderately is unlikely to become a problem drinker as a result of exercise.”

So moderately drink up, and keep working out, apparently both are good for you.

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St. Nicholas: Patron Saint of Brewers

santa-claus
While St. Nicholas is best known — in America, at least — for wearing red and white and giving presents to Children each December 25, he’s actually the patron saint for a number of professions, places and afflictions. His feast day is not actually Christmas Day, but almost three weeks earlier on December 6. That’s the reason why the holiday beer Samichlaus is brewed each year on this day. The person we associate with Christmas, Santa Claus, was based on Saint Nicholas, who was originally known (and still is in some places) as Bishop Nicholas of Myra.

santa-pils

Nicholas is the patron saint of brewers, among many others. He’s also the patron saint against imprisonment, against robberies, against robbers. And Nick’s the patron for apothecaries, bakers, barrel makers, boatmen, boot blacks, boys, brewers, brides, captives, children, coopers, dock workers, druggists, fishermen, Greek Catholic Church in America, Greek Catholic Union, grooms, judges, lawsuits lost unjustly, longshoremen, maidens, mariners, merchants, penitent murderers, newlyweds, old maids, parish clerks, paupers, pawnbrokers, perfumeries, perfumers, pharmacists, pilgrims, poor people, prisoners, sailors, scholars, schoolchildren, shoe shiners, spinsters, students, penitent thieves, travellers, University of Paris, unmarried girls, and watermen. Places he’s the patron for are Apulia, Italy; Avolasca, Italy; Bardolino, Italy; Bari, Italy; Cammarata, Sicily, Italy; Cardinale, Italy; Cas Concos, Spain; Creazzo, Italy; Duronia, Italy; Fossalto, Italy; Gagliato, Italy; Greece; La Thuile, Italy; Lecco, Italy; Limerick, Ireland; Liptovský Mikulás, Slovakia; Lorraine; Mazzano Romano, Italy; Mentana, Italy; Miklavž na Dravskem polju, Slovenia; Naples, Italy; Portsmouth, England; Russia; Sassari, Italy; Sicily; Is-Siggiewi, and Malta.

He also has many names around the world, such as Baba Chaghaloo, Father Christmas, Joulupukki, Kanakaloka, Kris Kringle, Pere Noel, Papa Noël, Santa Claus, and Weihnachtsmann (“Christmas Man” or “Nikolaus”), to name just a few.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Saint Nicholas (March 15, 270 – December 6, 346) is the common name for Nicholas of Myra, a saint and Bishop of Myra (in Lycia, part of modern-day Turkey). Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and is now commonly identified with Santa Claus. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was the custom in his time. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari, in southern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nicholas of Bari.

The historical Saint Nicholas is remembered and revered among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He is also honoured by various Anglican and Lutheran churches. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, and children, and students in Greece, Belgium, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Slovakia, Serbia and Montenegro. He is also the patron saint of Barranquilla, Bari, Amsterdam, Beit Jala, and Liverpool. In 1809, the New-York Historical Society convened and retroactively named Sancte Claus the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam, the Dutch name for New York City. He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari. So beloved is Saint Nicholas by Russians, one commonly heard saying is that “if God dies, at least we’ll still have St. Nicholas.”

The American image of Santa Claus in red and white has more to do with marketing than anything else. I wrote about this in The Santa Hypocrisy a couple of years ago when the Shelton Brothers were in hot water from several states who tried to tell them Santa Claus on a beer label threatened the American way of life and especially the impressionable young kiddies who would all be led down the path to underage drinking and alcoholism because Santa was depicted on a beer label. It was an utterly ridiculous position and they ultimately backed down, but it’s indicative of our puritan hang-ups as a culture and our general paternalism where we believe everyone needs to be protected. And in retrospect I can now see how the “institutionalized demonization of alcohol” creates the conditions for such decisions. Remember the message? “Alcohol is evil. No one can be trusted with it.” When that’s the underlying assumption, you create rules for what can and can’t be displayed on a label that are way beyond reason; standards no other products have to follow because they’re not seen as inherently evil.

But before the 20th century and in other parts of the world, Santa Claus was and still is depicted in many different ways and in various colors. Father Christmas, for example, is often seen wearing a green robe, as in the British Isles he’s more associated with nature and the old Celtic religions. The yule log, Christmas tree, wreaths, mistletoe and many other features we take for granted during the holidays do not have direct Christian origins, but were appropriated from pagan religions in order to make the transition to Christianity easier for the masses to make. Personally, I love a green Santa Claus because it reminds me of hops, and a Santa that stands for hops is one I can get behind.
green-santa-4
Few American beer labels show Santa precisely because of our peculiar brand of paternalism and the label laws spawned by our institutionalized demonization of alcohol. Santa’s Private Reserve, from Rogue in Oregon, is one of the few I can think of year after year. Most, not surprisingly, come from abroad, where people take a more reasonable approach to both the holidays and alcohol. There’s the famous Santa’s Butt from Ridgeway Brewing in England, but also Pickled Santa from the Hop Back Brewery and Austria’s Samichlaus is translated as “Santa Claus.”

santa-mugs

Why does it seem like we’re the only uptight nation on Earth when it comes to this silly issue. In Hong Kong, a giant Santa Claus is shown with a mug of beer, and no one seems to be that concerned. Try putting something like that up here, and all hell would break loose. We’re the only country complaining that there’s a “War on Christmas,” as stupid a notion as ever there was one, especially in a nation where those who celebrate Christmas constitute the vast majority.

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The point is if the church can have a patron saint of brewing, why do religious people object to St. Nicholas being on beer labels? Wouldn’t it make perfect sense for brewers to want to place their patron saint on their beer?

Throughout Europe, Monks not only kept alive the method of brewing beer but improved techniques for making it. A Benedictine nun in Germany, Hildegard von Bingen, is most likely responsible for the introduction of hops in beer. Religion and brewing are intertwined throughout history and, in every place except the United States, that continues to be the case. Why? What about our particular religiosity makes us incapable of seeing that and reconciling it? Why is it seemingly acceptable for Santa Claus to be used to sell everything under the sun … except alcohol. Santa sells cigarettes, soda pop, fast food and pretty much everything else with capitalistic glee yet alcohol is the corrupting influence? That’s going too far somehow? Please.

That Santa Claus only appeals to children is usually the rallying cry of the buffoons who complain about this sort of thing, but a survey of pop culture will reveal that St. Nick is used in all manner of adult contexts. Kris Kringle, like the spirit of Christmas itself, belongs to all of us, not just children. There’s no doubt that I love seeing Christmas through the fresh eyes of my children, their innocence and wonder adds a new dimension to my enjoyment of the season. But I loved the holidays as much before I was a father and after I was an adult, too.

That St. Nicholas appeals to wide array of people should be obvious from the huge number of groups and places that consider him their patron. When so many look to him for comfort in such a varied number of ways, how can anyone say what he is or what he isn’t, where he’s appropriate or where he’s not? They can’t of course, despite neo-prohibitionists and our government’s attempts to the contrary. As the patron saint of brewers, Santa Claus is, and ought to be, perfectly at home on a bottle of beer.

There’s also a wealth of information about the real Santa Claus at the Saint Nicholas Center online.

Spinning Statistics … Again

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A few days ago, I wrote that in my mind, Alcohol Justice, as much as any prohibitionist group, had achieved the status of a cult, given their by-any-means-necessary tactics and casual relationship with the truth. Today presented a perfect example of that, in which they took another “study” and bent it and remolded it into the shape they wanted it to be in order to advance their agenda. This morning they tweeted the following:

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And there’s certainly some scary claims in that tweet. “Stunning death rate rise for middle-aged white US men,” which is apparently linked to “alcohol” and also “drug misuse.” Or is that misuse of both drugs and alcohol? It could be read either way, and since you rarely here “alcohol misuse” as a term — it’s almost always “alcohol abuse” — I suspect that it was chosen on purpose to give the impression that it was simply drinking alcohol that leads to this “stunning death rate.” But what does the actual “study” claim? The tweet includes a link, which takes you to an article from November 2 in the New York Times, Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds. But that title is similarly misleading, because once you actually read it, you’ll discover that it’s not all middle-age white men whose risk is increasing, but a specific subgroup within that cohort. That group is increasing overall, but only because the steepest rise is almost entirely coming from less educated men in that group.

The mortality rate for whites 45 to 54 years old with no more than a high school education increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people from 1999 to 2014.

I guess that’s statistically significant, but it’s an increase of 0.134%, which doesn’t sound as bad as they’re making it out to be. Later in the article, they say that “[i]n that group, death rates rose by 22 percent while they actually fell for those with a college education.” Of course, I don’t have a Nobel Prize in Economics, as one of the people who conducted the study does, which the article makes a particular point of pointing out. Despite those honors, they’re as flummoxed by the results as apparently everyone else who’s found it’s such a growing problem for “the declining health and fortunes of poorly educated American whites.” adding. “In middle age, they are dying at such a high rate that they are increasing the death rate for the entire group of middle-aged white Americans” and this has been “puzzling demographers in recent years.” Seriously? Let me take a stab at it. The middle class has been eroding for decades, real wages have been stagnating almost as long, people are losing their pension plans, unions are under attack and our government has been co-opted by business interests who have been doing everything possible to keep tax breaks for the wealthy, allow our elections to won by whoever has the most money, and generally make life miserable for every worker below the executive level, the people in the 90%. And which group would you expect that to most affect? I would suggest it’s people in the lower paying jobs, the ones requiring less education, which would go a long way toward explaining why these are the same people drinking themselves into an early grave.

They do finally make some mention of this, but apparently don’t think it was significant enough to “fully account for the effect,” when they earlier cited that middle-aged white men with only a high school diploma have “a more pessimistic outlook among whites about their financial futures.” But doesn’t it seem like one of those “well, duh” moments?

The least educated also had the most financial distress, Dr. Meara and Dr. Skinner noted in their commentary. In the period examined by Dr. Deaton and Dr. Case, the inflation-adjusted income for households headed by a high school graduate fell by 19 percent.

But that can’t be it, they seem to conclude. That wouldn’t cause them to become depressed, which might lead them to drink excessively or take more drugs, is what they’re saying. Why do we continue to go out of our way to insist that the alcohol or drugs, in and of themselves, are the problem, but not the underlying problem or problems that make people reach for them? Remember, the message from Alcohol Justice was that “alcohol and drug misuse” were the link to a “Stunning death rate rise for middle-aged white US men,” but that’s not what the study found, or is even the focus of the article, despite the fact that misleading headline could make you think that was the case, if you didn’t bother to read it. What this study of metadata from the CDC found was that there’s an increase for such men with less education and who abused alcohol, which is very different from what AJ is peddling. And this spin is doubly reinforced by the photo they chose to use with the tweet. It shows two older couples, well-dressed and sipping on champagne. That’s practically the polar opposite of the image one would expect for which group is showing an increase in their risk of death found by the study they’re referring to. And it’s the photo you see first, before you read either the tweet or click on the article. Before you have any facts whatsoever, you’re confronted by this misleading image of well-heeled bubbly revelers.

AJ039G

But that image holds another secret, and one Alcohol Justice probably doesn’t want you to know about, especially as they’ve started tweeting for donations at this, the giving time of the year. The image is actually taken from an article in the British newspaper, the Telegraph, from early September of this year. That piece, entitled Drinkers ‘subsidising’ non-drinkers by £6.5 billion a year, flies right in the face of one of AJ’s most-cherished propaganda lies, the idea of alcohol harm, that people drinking are a drain on the economy, forcing teetotalers to pay for their excesses and strain public resources. It’s one of AJ’s most common arguments for raising taxes on alcohol, under the notion of a “charge for harm” that they’re so fond of insisting. But the subtitle of the Telegraph article is: “A drain on taxpayers? Drinkers pay their dues three times over, new study claims.”

Far from being a financial burden on taxpayers, people who enjoy alcohol pay the cost of dealing with drink-related social problems almost three times over in tax every year, the analysis by the Institute of Economic Affairs, the free-market think-tank, argues.

The paper calculates that the NHS, police, the criminal justice and welfare systems in England collectively spend £3.9 billion a year dealing with the fallout from excessive alcohol consumption.

But that figure is eclipsed by the £10.4 billion a year it says the Treasury gains in alcohol duty in England.
It argues that taxes on drink could be halved and still leave the Government firmly in profit.

They continue:

Christopher Snowdon, author of the report, said: “It is time to stop pretending that drinkers are a burden on taxpayers.

“Drinkers are taxpayers and they pay billions of pounds more than they cost the NHS, police service and welfare system combined.

“The economic evidence is very clear on this – 40 per cent of the EU’s entire alcohol tax bill is paid by drinkers in Britain and, as this new research shows, teetotallers in England are being subsidised by drinkers to the tune of at least six and a half billion pounds a year.”

So that’s where the photo came from that Alcohol Justice used to accompany a misleading tweet about misstated statistics, linking to a somewhat misleadingly titled article. And this is from the organization that claims to be the “industry watchdog,” forcing me to ask, yet again, who’s watching the watchdog? Because left to their own devices, they obviously aren’t terribly concerned with honesty or truthiness. And that makes it increasingly difficult to have any meaningful discussions with them about alcohol policy or indeed believe anything they say or claim.