Prohibitionists Insult New Hampshire Senate

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I’m sure like most politicians, the members of the New Hampshire Senate have been called a lot worse, but this morning Alcohol Justice called them “fools” simply for not voting the way they wanted them to, and then somewhat misrepresented the facts. In AJ’s tweet, they claimed “Fools turn blind eye to alcohol-related harm http://bit.ly/1o7BZFN New Hampshire Senate approves booze billboards.”

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If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll no doubt be unsurprised to learn that the state Senate didn’t exactly turn a blind eye to anything, but vigorously debated whether to allow alcohol companies to advertise on billboards. According to the Telegraph newspaper report, they spent hours discussing the bill.

One senator, David Pierce (D-Hanover), said “it’s clear to him this ban is an unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of speech that would not stand up in court.” In an odd show of seemingly not understanding her job, Senator Jeannie Forrester (R-Meredith), said “that wasn’t a good enough reason to lift the ban.” If being unconstitutional isn’t a good enough reason to change a law, please tell me what might be considered “good enough?”

Senator Donna Soucy (D-Manchester), logically said “critics of this should seek to ban alcohol advertising in newspapers and on radio and television airwaves. The restriction should be across the board and not simply on a board. That’s the distinction,” she said. Which makes sense, if something is legal in other media, it makes no sense that it should be illegal in another. Apparently, only five states currently ban alcohol advertising on billboards.

After a long debate, “[u]ltimately, the Senate passed it 13-11 after Senator Sam Cataldo (R-Farmington), changed his mind and decided to support it.” But with the bill’s passage it doesn’t actually “approve booze billboards,” but fixes an unconstitutional law and will now “permit alcohol makers to apply for” one, or more, of the state’s current highway billboards. They still have to compete against every other business or company who might want their message on one of New Hampshire’s billboards.

But perhaps the most troubling aspect of AJ’s calling the Senate “fools” for doing their job, was the image they sent out with the tweet.

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With this picture, they come right up to precipice of opening themselves up to a defamation suit from ABI, because they never come out and say this is a real billboard for Budweiser. It is, however, fairly implicit that that’s their intended meaning. At a minimum, I think most people would do a double take, and wonder if it’s a real ad. And you can be excused for thinking that, because AJ doctored the ad, presumably just for that reason. A Google image search brings up numerous comedy websites that include the image, and for reasons unclear claim it to be Canadian, as you can find the satirical billboard among Freeple’s Canadian Billboards, Jokeroo’s Canadian Billboards, and Izismile’s Brazen Billboards From Canada.

But there’s one critical difference between the image that AJ used in their tweet and every other instance of it that I could find on the internet. And that’s a watermark identifying it as having been created by dribbleglass.com, a humor website billing itself as the “internet’s official humor site.” So in the original image, it’s obviously a work of satire and not meant to be taken seriously.

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It’s also clear from the original image that AJ simply removed the watermark identifying where it came from, cropping it, and thereby making it appear more like a genuine billboard. And yet they’re the “watchdogs” who claim to be keeping the evil alcohol industry honest. Who exactly are the fools here?

Is Africa The Next Beer Frontier?

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The Drinks Business has a summary of a new report, Beer on the Frontier: Opportunities for Brewers in the African Continent, in which Rabobank analysts conclude that Africa is poised to be the next big market for beer in the coming years, as populations and, hopefully, standards of living improve.

I was talking with Chris Swersey (competition manager of the judging for GABF and the World Beer Cup) recently about worldwide beer competitions. As far as we could conclude, Africa is the only continent (excluding Antarctica) without a big commercial beer event with judging. With Rabobank predicting that it will “become the world’s next fastest growing market for beer,” perhaps that will change.

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The Shifting Definition Of Sober

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Once upon a time, the word “sober,” meant simply “not intoxicated or drunk,” but over the past few decades, the term has been “hijacked” by AA and the addiction/recovery community to instead refer to “a state of being—one you can only achieve through total, lifelong abstinence if you ever drank alcoholically.” In other words, if you’re an active drinker of alcohol, you’re not sober as far as AA is concerned. Essentially, that’s turning the definition on its head, making it the opposite of its ordinary meaning, twisting it into doublespeak. Orwell would have been proud.

Reason magazine has an interesting article about this phenomenon, The Hijacking of Sobriety by the Recovery Movement, by psychologist, attorney, and psychotherapist Stanton Peele. Peele begins with how one celebrity was referred to by the media after revealing that after years as an alcoholic, she taught herself to have one drink per day without falling into ruin, something the abstinence-based medical community insists is not possible.

According to AA and the recovery movement, no former alcoholic can drink moderately. Any drinking whatsoever, according to these absolutists, and you’re no longer “sober.” One might think that a person who drinks regularly in a controlled, non-intoxicated manner is obviously not an alcoholic. Wrong!

When I suggested to my AA friend Ken (not his real name) that [a famous former alcoholic who's learned to have a drink a day] shows one-time alcoholics can control their drinking, he objected strenuously. For Ken, “the fact that she has to limit herself to one drink a day proves she’s an alcoholic.” That’s right, drinking in a controlled manner proves you’re an uncontrolled drinker.

Not surprisingly, there’s mounting evidence that they’re wrong.

According to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) — a massive government study of 43,000 Americans’ lifetime alcohol and drug use — about 75 percent of people who recover from alcohol dependence do so without seeking any kind of help, including specialty rehab programs and Alcoholics Anonymous. And only 13 percent of people with alcohol dependence ever receive specialty alcohol treatment. (Note that 13 percent is the upper figure for 12-step recovery, since ever participating does not mean the person recovered due to AA or rehab.)

The NESARC study also revealed that these recovered alcoholics don’t as a rule abstain. “Twenty years after the onset of alcohol dependence, three-fourths of individuals are in full recovery,” it notes. “More than half of those who have fully recovered drink at low-risk levels without symptoms of alcohol dependence.”

I especially love Peele’s conclusion. “For recovery absolutists, no one recovers from alcoholism without AA, just as no one can recover without giving up drinking forever. What arrogance! Who gave these self-appointed experts the power to tell everyone how they must achieve recovery?” Give the article a read and, more importantly, let’s stop letting AA and the medical community focused on making a buck off of people trying to cope with their own drinking problems frame the terms of the debate. I’m sober as I write these words. Later tonight, with any luck, I may not be. But tomorrow morning when the alarm clock reminds me of my daily obligations, I will be sober again. And that’s how it should be, not some Orwellian world where everyone who ever drinks a drop a beer is forever branded as a drunk, and alcoholic or free from soberness.

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Drinking Non-Alcoholic Beer Can Be A Crime?

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There was a news item a few days ago that recently a fifth grade teacher in Michigan offered students non-alcoholic beer — O’Douls — as part of “a lesson on colonial times,” with the intention to “represent ale common in the 1700s and consumed because of the scarcity of clean water.” Sounds harmless enough. No students were forced to try it, but they had the opportunity to sample it if they wished to. What could go wrong?

What the teacher didn’t know is that apparently it’s actually illegal to give a minor in Michigan a non-alcoholic beer. The law was passed back in the 1950s, when people were even nuttier about alcohol than they are today, if that’s possible, but Michigan did pass a law making it illegal for minors to drink non-alcoholic beer. Here’s the entirety of the law:

THE MICHIGAN PENAL CODE (EXCERPT)
Act 328 of 1931

750.28 Cereal beverage with alcoholic content; furnishing to minors, penalty.

Sec. 28.

Any person who shall sell, give or furnish to a minor, except upon authority of and pursuant to a prescription of a duly licensed physician, any cereal beverage of any alcoholic content under the name of “near beer”, or “brew”, or “bru”, or any other name which is capable of conveying the impression to the purchaser that the beverage has an alcoholic content, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

History: Add. 1957, Act 283, Eff. Sept. 27, 1957

How Kafkaesque. The state defines what non-alcoholic means then still makes it illegal even if it’s within their own definition, and if it’s 0.5% or below, Michigan state’s Liquor Control Commission doesn’t even regulate it. So alcohol in cough syrup. No problem. Non-alcoholic wine? Go for it. A cereal beverage? Heavens no. That’s going too far.

And perhaps more curious, the law can be read to suggest that what’s at issue is giving the “impression” that the drink has alcohol in it, not that it really does. Because it seems like you could create a non-alcoholic beer within the legal definition but call it something random, like “Barley Pop” or “Brown Cow” and not be in violation of this law if you gave some to your children. The name seems more important than the alcoholic content. Why would that be the case?

When I was a kid, the only reason near beer existed was for kids. No sane adult would drink it. My first taste of beer was from a can of near beer that my parents bought for me when I expressed interest in trying beer, which was the case for some of my friends, too. It was horrible. I think that may have been the point, I don’t know.

The Flint Journal reports that the school sent letters home to parents after they discovered the “incident” but according to school district Superintendent Ed Koledo. “Nobody complained to the teacher, principal or me,” or to the police, and no disciplinary measures were taken against the teacher. Despite nobody being upset in the least, you’d think a nuclear blast had gone off, the way they talk about it.

“We talked to the teacher and said this was an inappropriate choice,” Koledo said. “There were a lot better choices to represent a colonial-era drink than what was chosen here.”

Really, what would have been a better choice to represent what the vast majority of people drank during the colonial era? And he says “a lot of better choices.” A lot? Really? I can’t wait to see the list.

“I know there was no intent to expose anyone to harm, just poor thought in this situation.”

Seriously, “poor thought?” It’s non-alcoholic beer for chrissakes, and a few kids had a sip of it in a controlled environment, not a back alley clutching a paper bag. And it was a sip. What is a sip? A teaspoon? Half an ounce? Oh, the horror.

Linden schools are drug and alcohol-free zones and Koledo said he did not know if O’Doul’s beer would constitute a violation.

Again, are we really going to split hairs because it has 0.5% alcohol (or less) in it? So is cough medicine allowed on campus? I’m pretty sure caffeine can be considered a drug, so I hope they’re going to remove the coffee maker from the teacher’s lounge. Up until the 1970s, schools in Belgium served students table beer every day.

So how exactly did this end up being a news story?

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Stop Defending Cheap American Beer

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Seriously, this is getting out of hand. Awhile back it was low-calorie light diet beer that was being defended, which is a cause célèbre about as legitimate as the war on Christmas. So this latest one comes from the Orlando Weekly, and is entitled Don’t hate cheap American beer – love it for what it is.

I get why it’s from Florida, and why it was published yesterday, four days after chaos ensued. Everyone’s in a tizzy because of the near-riot at Hunahpu Day at Cigar City Brewing. But jeez, one incident, and the advice of this reporter is to give up, and go back to drinking flavorless swill? One catastrophe and she’s suggesting beer drinkers run back to their proverbial mommies? What kind of advice is that? It’s bad advice, is what it is, and it seems to lack any real perspective, instead opting for giving up.

To be fair, I wasn’t at the brewery during the “incident,” but I’m sure it was a bad scene. I was at Russian River the last year they served growlers, and ran out of a 2-week supply of Pliny the Younger in 8 hours. I was there at a SF Beer Week opening gala where the space we were renting changed the deal with had with them on the spot, leaving many people stuck in the line to get in, with many paid ticket-holders never making it inside. And I’ve been at plenty of festivals where the keg of that rare beer kicked long before everyone got a chance to sample it. So I have seen the darker side of humanity; crowds turning ugly, on a dime. You can almost sniff the sense of entitlement in the air, the wounded egos, the practiced outrage.

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From reading over the manic coverage of Hunahpu Day gone wrong (see, for example, All About Beer or the Tampa Bay Times), it’s apparent that Cigar City was caught in a bad situation, much of it not of their making. As far as I can tell, they handled it as best they could. But for most of the people commenting on their own grief, that was nowhere near good enough. I guess they wanted blood, it’s hard to tell. Many seemed to actually take it personally, as if this is the way Cigar City wanted it to go, and they really were picking on people in the crowd. There was certainly no shortage of people telling the world how they would have done it differently. If there’s anything I’ve learned about people on the internet, it’s that they love to complain: live for it, actually. So it was no surprise that many people are unable, or unwilling, to forgive the brewery. But it’s also quite a shame.

I’ve met Joey Redner a couple of times, and we’ve corresponded a few more. He and the folks at Cigar City unquestionably make great beer. They’ve had a big hand in transforming the state of craft beer in Florida. When I used to visit it regularly over fifteen years ago (when BevMo had a few stores in south Florida) it was primarily a beer wasteland. But by all accounts, that’s no longer the case, and Florida today enjoys two beer weeks and nearly nineties breweries.

In a world where fake and half-hearted apologies have become the norm, his seemed entirely genuine and sincere. He honestly appeared as shaken up by the experience as anyone there. He also took responsibility for what happened, a rarity in today’s damage control savvy media world. Redner admitted mistakes were made, even when several of them were out of his control, and he took a number of steps, almost immediately, to try to make the best of a bad situation. For that he should be applauded, but for some it only seemed to anger them more, which I frankly don’t understand. But then there is just no pleasing some people, I suppose. But it sets up an absurd situation in which the brewery can do almost nothing which won’t cause criticism from certain quarters, so all they can do is try their best to move forward, which by all accounts is exactly what they’re doing.

It’s encouraging that there are at least a minority of people online continuing to show their support for Cigar City, and expressing understanding and even sympathy. Hopefully, they’ll be able to move past this.

But let’s get back to Erin Sullivan’s response in the Orlando Weekly, Where she really loses me, is when she lists her “[f]ive good reasons why it’s perfectly acceptable to drink plain old yellow lager” or “five good reasons you shouldn’t feel bad the next time you sheepishly choose a Stella when your friends are insisting you should drink Swamp Ape.” None of them are actually “good” reasons and a few of them are downright wrong. And the overall idea that this is reasonable at all, especially when she characterizes herself as a “craft-beer drinker,” just doesn’t jibe with me. You hear it from time to time, as if drinking beer with flavor is too much work, and sometimes you want to go back to a time when all beer had no flavor. Who develops a taste for filet mignon, but from time to time craves spam? For most people, I’d say, once they develop a taste for more flavorful beers, it’s downright difficult — if not impossible — to go back and enjoy a flavorless macro beer. Flavor is what people crave, so its opposite — no matter how well it’s technically made — can no longer be satisfying, at least in my experience.

Maybe Sullivan intended it all as a sly joke, a tongue-in-cheek jab at the cognoscenti, many of whom are accused of taking themselves, and craft beer, too seriously. But I’m not seeing any clues to that, no hints peppered through her apologist diatribe celebrating a return to flavorless swill. Of course, much like the war on Christmas, “plain old yellow lager” still holds court in America, in fact continues to dominate the market as it has during all of our lifetimes. People do, of course, freely consume tankers full of mass-produced lager, brewed in tanks the size of Montana. And that’s their right. I disagree with their choices, naturally, and I’ve spent much of my life gently encouraging them to trade up, but in the end, we’re all passionate about different things in our lives. I get that.

But there’s no reason to tell anyone that they should settle for that. I think we can finally lay to rest the long-standing notion that this better beer thing is just a fad, as was so often claimed in the media in the early days. And flavorful food, and other drinks, in countless varieties, have caught up to craft beer so that by now, hopefully, most people understand that there are choices to be made about what to put in your body every time you walk into a grocery store, a bar, a restaurant or even open your refrigerator. Nobody believes that Wonder bread is the best bread available, or that Maxwell House makes the best coffee. The same can be said about “plain old yellow lager,” and it seems like it does no one any favors to convince people it’s not really as bad as they thought, that there’s “no shame in drinking plain old American beer,” even setting aside the argument that a lot of it is brewed by companies who are not, strictly speaking, American (even though they do employ Americans working at breweries located on American soil).

cheap-beer

So let’s look at why Sullivan believes that it’s “perfectly acceptable to drink plain old yellow lager.”

1. “Macrobrewed beer is usually cheap.” This is a terrible reason to base your beer choices on. But you hear it all the time. Are there really people who buy the cheapest possible item no matter what it is? Wonder bread is cheaper than a freshly-baked artisan loaf. Kraft singles are cheaper than Maytag Blue. Two Buck Chuck is cheaper than Chateau Margaux. So what? Who wants to live that way? When you shop by price, you’re commodifying the product, essentially saying it’s all the same. It’s not. Beer has certainly been treated that way in the past, when indeed it was mostly all the same. It was that very situation that led to what was then referred to as the “microbrewery revolution.” It was the sameness that people were rebelling against.

I know people have a limited budget to spend on everything they need to live, but there’s living, and then there’s living. Do you want to eat (or drink) to live, or live to eat (or drink)? I know which way I’d vote, and I do so with my wallet everyday. If I can’t afford the (not very much more) expensive beer, then I’m not going to buy the cheaper one with less flavor that I won’t like. Why would I do that? Who would? As the saying goes, “life’s too short to drink cheap beer.” It really is. I’d rather buy an expensive six-pack of something worthwhile than an entire case that “tastes of nothing,” which is how Michael Jackson used to describe many macro beers.

2. “At the risk of sounding like that commercial, it’s less filling.” Not necessarily. Most of the macro lagers she’s championing are around 5% a.b.v. These days it’s not too hard to find a more flavorful session beer made by a brewery who, for lack of a better term, is considered a craft brewery. Almost any session beer would likely have more flavor than than the average mass-produced macro and also be less filling, too. Even Guinness is only a shade north of 4%.

3. “You’ll probably drink less of it.” This argument only works in opposite world. Because the whole point of craft beer is already to drink less, but drink better. The idea that you’d buy crappy beer because it was cheaper but then stop drinking it because it didn’t taste good is absurd in the extreme, and incredibly wasteful to boot. It seems like if that were true, #3 would negate #1, too.

4. “It pairs well with yard work and wings.” Bullshit. This is another specious argument you hear all the time about “lawnmower beers.” I did an entire newspaper column last year devoted to lawnmower beers, that is beers with a lighter body, that were also still full-flavored. There’s no need to sacrifice taste for a refreshing beer. There are plenty of craft and import beers that will work. And pairing spicy wings with a watery lager does nothing to cut through the spiciness. There are a million better food pairing choices.

5. “Your in-laws (or parents) are coming over.” Really? Show some backbone. If the old farts in your life don’t like the beer you’re giving them for free, let them bring their own damn beer next time. It’s hard to tell if this is a serious one, or she just ran out of already questionable reasons, and needed to pad it out to five. But either way, issues with one’s own parents shouldn’t translate into advice to the population at large, especially when the advice itself is so bad.

Overall, I’d say that if you’re still drinking flavorless beer, it’s going to be hard to convince you at this point. I have a brother-in-law who steadfastly refuses to drink anything with flavor, much to my personal, and professional, shame. I just can’t get through to him, no matter what I try. Sometimes I wonder if he’s so stubborn just because he knows how much it bugs me. But it also shows that the passion that I feel for better beer, along with plenty of others, is not universal. He just doesn’t care that much about his beer. He also wears the ugliest, most garishly colored running shoes, too, so there’s no accounting for taste. Me, I prefer a less stare-inducing pair of plain, comfortable shoes, something like converse all-stars or Adidas tennis sneakers, in black or white.

And that, I think, is what it comes down to, just how much you, or anyone, really cares about beer, or anything. There’s only so much time to think about what to eat, to drink, to wear, what to watch, where to go, what to do, and on and on, and on. Life is a never-ending series of choices. There just isn’t enough time to consider each one with equal weight. So with some decisions we take the easiest path; eat at McDonald’s, watch whatever tops the Nielsens, drink Coke, or Budweiser. Others are more personal, and for whatever complicated reasons deep in our psyche, matter more to us. Mine are numerous, quirky, and even I don’t understand all of them sometimes. But that’s just me, just as you’re just you. Fortune cookie wisdom aside, it really is just how we’re built. I’m passionate about the beer I drink, and I suspect if you’ve read all the way through to here, you are too.

But if you’re one of those people who prefers “plain old yellow lager,” go for it. I may not like it, but I understand it, to some extent. Really, I don’t; but I understand the mechanism that leads to that decision. But having found one of my passions in beer, what I can’t understand, or abide, is trying to talk somebody out of drinking better beer, taking a step backwards, so to speak. Cheap American Beer is still the best-selling kind there is, and nobody really needs to keep defending it. So I’ll keep saying don’t. Make a better choice for yourself. Drink beer with flavor. You’ll be much happier you did.

The Realities Of Opening A Brewery

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Collin McDonnell, the brewmaster of Petaluma’s new HenHouse Brewing has a wake up call for anybody considering becoming a brewer. His piece on Serious Eats, So You Think You Want to Open a Brewery…, is chock full of the unglamorous, ugly realities of daily life in the average brewery.

You can sum up his advice with one word. Imagine you’re Ben Braddock (as played by Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate). Imagine further that you just graduated from college, and are convinced you want to become a brewer. You’re at a cocktail party. You’re chatting with an older, more experienced, seasoned brewer. You let drop that you, too, want to join the glamorous world of brewing. Here’s what he tells you.

A Brewer: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
A Brewer: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
A Brewer: Cleaning.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?

Cleaning.

That and the soul-crushing act of cold calling on places to sell the beer. I worked retail for years, in a variety of worlds — records (what the kids call music these days), video, comic books and yes, beer — and wouldn’t wish that job on a dog. There are people whose personalities are well-suited to that life, thank goodness, but I am not one of them.

I have the utmost respect for brewers. Having visited more than my fair share of breweries (while I’ve never been a ticker, I can safely guess the number is well north of 1,000), it wasn’t hard to realize it wasn’t for me. I’m lazy, for starters, and have never been overly fastidious in my approach to cleanliness. Plus there’s a lot of backbreaking physical activity, and I’m much more at home being sedentary. Sitting in front of a laptop all day is much more to my liking. Also, most brewers start early, around the time they make the doughnuts. I am not a morning person. In the words of the great Bill Murray, channeling a jazz musician being interviewed by Mr. Rogers, “you should sleep late; it’s much easier on your constitution.” So I greatly admire that there are people enough unlike me that they can get off their ass and actually do what’s necessary to make beer for me to drink (and write about) each and every day.

With every sip of beer I take, I thank people like Collin and the countless other professional brewers working today in a — mostly — thankless job. So give Collin’s article a read, especially if you’re thinking about opening a brewery. I posted the motivational poster below a few years back, but it seems pretty relevant to today’s discussion about the difference between the perception of what a brewer does and the reality of a brewer’s workday.

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Beer In Grocery Stores: Oh, The Horror!

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Here in sunny California, we can stroll down to the local grocery store, or convenience store, and buy a six-pack of beer. It’s not a big deal. It’s been that way since I moved here in 1985, and probably was that way long before I arrived. I pretty much take it for granted, but there are still states where adults still can’t buy a beer without going to a special store, sometimes run by the state itself, to protect its tax revenue, but more importantly to tightly control the distribution of demon alcohol. My home state of Pennsylvania was (and is) one such state. All of the states’ alcohol laws were written in the wake of prohibition’s end, and were designed with that failed legacy in mind. Most of these laws today are antiquated and out-of-date in the face of modern life.

But changing alcohol laws are harder than many other laws, because there’s a special layer of angst that lawmakers must face. Alcohol is still treated as a toxic substance, one that poses a danger, despite it having been around since the dawn of civilization and having been legal for adults for literally the entirety of human history, with the notable exception of thirteen years in the mid-20th century. But prohibitionist strategy since essentially the moment the 21st Amendment was ratified has remained unchanged: to make it as difficult as possible for adults to obtain legal alcohol. And so for the past 80+ years they’ve been tireless in their efforts to make us work for our beer. So now the state of Kansas is seeking to modernize the state and allow beer, wine and spirits to be sold in grocery and convenience stores. The modest bill takes into account liquor stores’ current monopolies and gives “them 10 years to adapt to increased competition in the marketplace. Beer sales would not be legal until 2017, wine in 2020, and spirits in 2024.” But that would mean there would be more places where adults could legally buy something that they’re legally entitled to purchase, and we certainly don’t want to encourage that. Or rather the prohibitionists don’t want people to be able to. Alcohol Justice tweeted out their displeasure with Kansas, chastising lawmakers there with a simple admonishment: “Bad move.”

I’m sure they have an excellent reason why it’s a “bad move” for adults to have more freedom and convenience in purchasing their alcohol, something they’re already allowed to do, but so far A.J. is mum on the whys are wherefores. Although you can be sure it has something to do with protecting children or how much more the state will be harmed if people can increasingly be able to engage in the legally permissible act of enjoying a beer. They’ve never been too strong on logic or rational thought, so maybe it’s best they stick to the sublimely absurd. Because as far as I can tell, Alcohol Justice telling the legislature of the state of Kansas “bad move” is the schoolyard bully equivalent of “because we said so” or “because we don’t like it.”

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America’s Addiction Treatment Goal: Perpetual, Lifelong Abstinence

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On Sunday, in the morning before the Super Bowl was scheduled to be played, the tragic news broke that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had been found dead, with a needle stuck in his arm, the victim of an apparent heroin overdose. The following day, on the Psychology Today website, frequent contributor Stanton Peele posted Another One: Why So Many Celebrities Die Following Rehab. Detailing Hoffman’s history, apparently he’d given up drugs and alcohol when he was 22 years old, and had been successfully abstaining for 23 years, when he reportedly “fell off the wagon.” He’d also sought help and had been in rehab over the past six months. Peele wonders why he, and so many other celebrities, overdose and die “after recently having been in treatment? After all, many people have lived long lives while using opiates.”

Interestingly, he says that this is not uncommon and cites our attitudes toward addiction and its “cure” as contributing factors. “What is dysfunctional is our temperance attitudes towards substances, their use, and their misuse. Our attitudes towards drugs are more lethal than the substances themselves,” he writes. While Hoffman was reportedly using heroin, the way we treat addiction for drugs or alcohol is exactly the same, and for purposes of AA and other rehab and treatment facilities, alcohol is considered just another drug on the panoply of addictive substances.

Peele has identified five reasons that he believes “these deaths occur so often following rehab.” Tellingly, he also believes they “stem from one basic fact of American rehab: the one and only goal of treatment is perpetual, lifelong abstinence. No treatment time is devoted to the essential truth that most rehab grads will use again, and to prepare them for this possibility.” This has long been my belief about what’s wrong with AA and other abstinence-based “cures” that don’t cure anything. They merely suppress a person’s impulses without addressing the underlying causes or finding a way to actually cure anyone, which should mean learning how to drink in moderation without returning to bingeing or over-indulging. Peele also believes that “all of these failures to prevent post-rehab deaths are due to the kind of unrealistic, perfectionist, just-say-no approach America takes to drugs, alcohol, and addiction.”

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But here’s an overview of the five reasons he believes people leaving rehab so often get into trouble, sometimes fatally:

1. Combining different drugs and alcohol. Rehab grads are not made aware that the worst usage pattern is to combine alcohol and other drugs, particularly depressants. What is usually mistakenly called “overdose” is in fact the result of such lethal combinations, which depress the nervous system and cause the person’s breathing to fail.

2. Lower tolerance. If rehab grads haven’t been using for some time (which is likely the case when they are fresh out of the rehab facility), their tolerance for their drug of choice has diminished. Rehab residents should be schooled in the basic facts of tolerance and alerted that, if they use, they should lower their accustomed dosage.

3. In for a dime, in for a dollar. Twelve-step programs teach people that any level of use of any drug or alcohol is the equivalent of a full bore relapse, so that addicts and alcoholics give up all efforts at self-restraint once they have consumed any amount of a substance. As a result, they often experience a complete relapse after a slip. The opposite approach is to train addicts in relapse prevention, which teaches methods for “getting off the runaway train” at any point, from exposure to a substance, to initial use, to excessive use — for all of which there are remedies or “off ramps.”

4. Failure to have safeguards in place. Since the only permissible stance post rehab is to vow never to use a substance again, graduates are not “allowed” (or alerted) to take safety precautions.

5. Failure to have available an overdose kit. If you are going to use narcotics, you should have readily accessible an overdose kit, the main ingredient of which is naloxone (brand name, Narcan), a narcotic antagonist. In many states, overdose kits are not even used by emergency workers.

Those seem right, at least to my way of thinking. This is, for me, more evidence that America as a society has an unhealthy relationship with drinking. We seem unable to be reasonable in our approach to so many aspects of alcohol consumption and its consequences. And prohibitionist groups fan the flames of our dysfunction and make unwitting accomplices of the health and medical communities because keeping the status quo also keeps the money flowing to them and rehab centers, treatment facilities, etc. It seems that anyone who challenges the twelves steps or abstinence only approaches is immediately shot down. I can’t help but think that any system should be able to stand up to criticism and scrutiny in order to constantly improve it, but it certainly feels like the idea of powerlessness and abstinence are treated as sacrosanct dogma. And that means we’ll always be a nation of addicts who can never change.

Are addiction treatment providers the new snake oil salesmen? Just takes some pills and never touch another drop for the rest of your life and you’ll be fine. Trust us.

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Beer In Film #33: Newcastle’s Not-Super Bowl Spots

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Today’s beer video is twofer in honor of the big game that’s being played later today. It’s a pair of non-ad ads created by Newcastle Brown Ale that were never meant to be aired during the way-too-expensive football game. They’re part of a series of non-ads under the umbrella title if we made it that poke fun at the bombast of the game and all of the hype surrounding it. The first one is Anna Kendrick: Behind the Scenes of the Mega Huge Game Day Ad Newcastle Almost Made.

The second one, The Mega Huge Football Game Ad Newcastle Could’ve Made, is a storyboard for an ad that was clearly too expensive not only for Newcastle but possibly for anyone to make, even for an event so mythically big as the Super Bowl.

The whole series is actually pretty funny. Take a look at some of the others at if we made it.

As You Watch The Big Game Sunday, Ignore This

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Never one to pass up an opportunity to proselytize, Alcohol Justice’s annual Superb Owl press release, Big Alcohol’s Big Game Plan is another excellent example of hypocrisy in action. What does Big Alcohol’s “game plan” consist of? Why patent lies, of course, that is completely obvious lies. We’re always lying, apparently, whereas the Watchdog Sheriff of Alcohol always tells the truth.

Our main lie, this time, is that the alcohol industry maintains “that there is no evidence that exposure to alcohol ads encourages underage consumption or harmful over-consumption among adults.” Of course, there is an annual report that has for years shown that advertising is the least influential factor for underage drinking, and has been dropping since they started doing the survey in 1991. According to GfK Roper Youth Report Examines Influences on Youth Decisions about Drinking, advertising accounts for 1% of youth drinking influence. So while I don’t think anyone is arguing advertising has no influence over anything, it’s very small, and kids see ads for things adults buy all the time for the simple reason that they’re in the world. I saw beer ads as a kid. I also saw cigarette ads, and yet I’ve never smoked them.

As for adults, alcohol is legal, advertising is legal, if people over-consume it that’s their business. Why can’t people use the occasion of one of the biggest sporting events of the year to relax and celebrate, sharing a few beers with friends and family? As long as they’re not doing something illegal or obnoxious, that should be nobody’s business. This is certainly a topic for debate, the amount of influence, etc. but as I’ve written before, as long as AJ keeps calling everyone in the alcohol industry a liar, any meaningful dialogue seems fairly inconceivable, but then I don’t think they have any interest in actually having a discussion or finding any workable solutions. They just want to bash the industry and collect donations because they think we account for all the evil in the world.

But the most interesting part of this particular propaganda piece is the section entitled “As You Watch The Big Game Sunday, Think About This.” Here’s the first thing they want us to think about:

Driven by Big Alcohol advertising, branding, sponsorship and celebrity endorsements, America consumes an estimated 325 million gallons of beer on the day of the big game, so alcohol-related harm is inevitable.

325 million gallons? There are approximately 314 million people in the U.S. That means every man, woman and child drinks 1.035 gallons of beer, or about 11 12-oz. bottles of beer in four hours, a figure that represents 5% of total annual beer production. Does that sound even remotely reasonable? That figure fooled me last year when a website listed it and I re-posted it. But I later took a closer look at it and discovered that it came from — shock — Alcohol Justice, who as far as I could tell just made it up. Because as I wrote in Hoodwinked By Propaganda, that number just doesn’t add up. A more reliable figure is around 50 million cases of beer are purchased for the Sunday of the game, probably not all on that day, but in the week leading up to it. That’s around 112.5 million gallons, or roughly one-third of AJ’s number. Talk about inflation. And that’s purchased, not all of that beer is consumed that one day, either.

And “inevitable?” “Alcohol-related harm is inevitable?” Remember that the amount AJ insists is consumed is wrong, a patent lie. But regardless of the amount, whenever people drink it’s not inevitable that harm will follow. It’s not even likely. I’ve consumed my fare share of beer during, well, every single Super Bowl since around 1980. Guess how many times I’ve experienced the supposedly inevitable alcohol-related harm? That would be a grand total of zero times. Will some people act stupidly and make fools of themselves? Of course they will. But that has more to do with the law of large numbers than alcohol. But if 1,000 people drink and one person does something stupid, does that invalidate the other 999? Apparently in AJ’s mind it does, they seem to find anything short of perfection unacceptable. But I’d like to know what other human pursuit is held to such a standard. Certainly gun-related accidents account for some of the annual death toll in America. But I don’t see anyone rushing to ban all guns until we achieve perfection in gun safety. It’s absurd to think that accidents or stupidly won’t happen, if for no other reason than we’re imperfect, fallible humans. But it’s even more absurd to think that any attempts to stop all of them, usually by punishing the majority of people who are blameless and have done nothing wrong, can ever be 100% effective, or frankly even marginally effective.

“It is estimated that about 20 to 30 million kids will tune in to watch [the Super Bowl] on TV and online. As usual, they will be saturated once again with seductive beer ads.”

Saturated? Saturated is defined as “completely filled with something.” Anheuser-Busch InBev is running five spots during the game, for a grand total of four minutes. According to AdAge’s list of Super Bowl advertisers, MillerCoors won’t have any ads in this year’s broadcast. The Super Bowl is scheduled to be aired over four hours, or 240 minutes. Kids, if they’re even paying attention, will see at most four minutes of beer advertisements in four hours. That’s 1.66% of the game’s broadcast time. So the beer industry is a bunch of liars, but 4 minutes out of 4 hours is saturation. That’s what passes for truthfulness?

Two of smartest [sic], most popular TV personalities in the country also believe that there’s something wrong with mixing alcohol and sports. Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” recently skewered booze-swilling pot critics http://bit.ly/1c0evqa and questioned excessive beer ads on TV sports. While Steven Colbert on “The Colbert Report” commented on lucrative NFL sponsorships and Peyton Manning’s recent “shout-out” for Bud Light http://bit.ly/1dBo0kz “What’s weighing on my mind is how soon I can get a Bud Light in my mouth after this win. That’s priority number 1,” stated Manning.

You do understand that those are comedy shows? They’re not hard news. I love both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s shows, but they mine the news for comedy gold, and make fun of it wherever they find it. They’re really good at it, so good in fact that you thought they were seriously taking your side and promoting your position? Wow, how sad.

Alcohol ads, sponsorships, and celebrity endorsements associated with sports are disturbing not just because they are designed to lure young people to take that first drink but because as Kerry O’Brien said “…they also
cleverly create a culture where kids perceive alcohol consumption as a normal everyday part of life.

Designed to lure young people to take that first drink? Really? Can you honestly believe that celebrity endorsements only sway kids, that adults are immune to them and not their main target? Alcohol advertising is aimed squarely at adults, the people legally allowed to purchase and consume it. That’s who they’re designed to “lure.” You do understand that the purpose of advertising is to produce a result, like when you run ads endlessly begging for donations. It would be completely bad economics to target persons who are prohibited from buying the advertised products and, in most cases, have little or no money to buy them.

Alcohol consumption as a normal everyday part of life? There’s nothing clever about that, alcohol consumption is perfectly legal, and apart from those surreally ineffective thirteen years last century, it always has been. It is a normal part of everyday life. AJ may not like that fact, but that changes nothing. It’s not clever, creative advertising that give people that perception that “alcohol consumption [is] a normal everyday part of life,” it’s reality.

What I continue to find incredibly insulting about AJ’s propaganda is their insistence that they’re the honest ones and we’re all a bunch of liars. And yet they take huge liberties with the truth constantly. But what’s also annoying is the idea that adults can’t do anything adult if there are children present. Seeing a beer ad during a football game with adults present, to explain the context, etc., is exactly how they should see them. AJ seems worried that 20 to 30 million kids will watch the Super Bowl, but I have to question that figure, too. The most Americans who watched the Super Bowl was 111.3 million people for the 2011 contest, with 111 million the year before. Even at 20 million, that would mean about 18% of viewers were children, or almost 1 in 5. At 30 million, it would be 27%, just over one-quarter of viewers. Nielsen puts the percentage of kids at 16% or around 18 million.

But does the number really matter that much? These kids will undoubtedly be with their families. I doubt many, or any, of them will be watching the Super Bowl by themselves. You’d think that any event that brings families together would be something to celebrate: families spending time together is good thing, isn’t it? But apparently that’s not how AJ sees it. So I have to ask: what would AJ prefer? Should the kids be sent away? Should society set up day camps all over the country where kids can be sent to so they can be shielded from seeing those four minutes worth of beer ads during the game? Separated from their families for an adults-only game? Maybe they think that having kids means you no longer should be permitted to enjoy adult pursuits. Being a parent means giving up every aspect of your own life for your kids, the two worlds can never meet. That seems reasonable, doesn’t it?

Or would they prefer we just do away with all sporting events entirely, instead having us all stay home and play Chutes and Ladders or Candyland until our kids go off to college or are on their own, no longer living at home. At that point, and that point only, will it be safe once more to turn on the TV set and watch a football game. Seriously, what exactly would satisfy Alcohol Justice? What is their goal here? What would a reasonable outcome that satisfies their fanaticism look like? We know they want all alcohol advertising removed from sports. But adults can, and do, enjoy a beer while watching sports. It’s still legal, despite the prohibitionists efforts to limit it as much as possible. And while kids do watch sports, it’s adults who constitute the vast majority of its audience. Is it really reasonable to ban something perfectly legal for a majority of the population because kids can see it. The strategy is that by saying that the alcohol is causing harm, it should be banned the same way we banned tobacco ads and smoking in most public places. But smoke was uncontrollable and could do actual harm. Alcohol doesn’t do any harm, it’s action neutral. People abusing it might, but that’s entirely different. Unless you’re blinded by ideology, you get that some people can abuse alcohol but most people don’t. The outcome is up to the individual, so that’s the variable; it’s not the alcohol that’s doing any harm, no more so than too much red meat can effect your heart or too much sugar can rot your teeth.

We can’t, and shouldn’t, create two separate worlds where one is adults only, a place where we can’t take the kids … ever, and a separate kid’s world where kids are forever sheltered from the adult world until that magic day when they turn eighteen and we throw them into the deep end to fend for themselves, completely unprepared. Actually, we’ll need three worlds. We’ll need an extra, separate adult world that still is void of alcohol, since adults ages 18-20 aren’t allowed to drink yet. Because nothing less will satisfy Alcohol Justice. It doesn’t matter that it’s utterly unrealistic.

So watch the Super Bowl tomorrow, if you want. Ignore all of this. Have a good time, with your wife/husband and kids, if you have any, along with any other family and friends you wish. Enjoy a beer or two, or more. You’re an adult, do what the hell you want.

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UPDATE: OMG Facts tweeted during the Super Bowl that the average American drinks 4 beers over the course of the day of the game. That figure works out to be 117,750,000 gallons, just over one-third (36%) of the 325 million figure that Alcohol Justice is spreading in their propaganda. Seeming more and more like a patent lie to me all the time.