The Prohibitionist Pot Calling The Brew Kettle Black

pot-kettle
This is almost funny, an amazing press release from Alcohol Justice that is so lacking in self-awareness and irony that it’s hard not to laugh at just how truly absurd it is. Why any media outlet, anyone really, takes them seriously is a head-scratcher, especially with such a remarkable lack of perception displayed in this particular press release. This is perhaps the most remarkable case of the pot calling the kettle black that I have ever seen. According to the latest missive from the Sheriff of Anti-Alcohol, Alcohol Justice, the Century Council is in the “AJ Doghouse” — where I permanently live — and they accuse the group of a host of sins. Since the beginning of April, Alcohol Awareness Month, they’ve been tweeting their displeasure:

In the AJ Doghouse: Century Council Rebrand Rehashes Old Tricks http://bit.ly/1jayaKO Big Al’s smoke & mirrors.

I love that they’re now calling “Big Alcohol” by the shorter nickname “Big Al.” Do you think AJ knows that “Big Al” is the name of the mascot for the University of Alabama? Or that Big Al’s was one of the first strip clubs in San Francisco? There’s even a Big Al brewery in Washington.

big-al

But what’s really amazing about this particular press release is that practically everything that AJ is accusing the Century Council of doing is something that Alcohol Justice has themselves done at some point, and not throughout history, but recently. The “Old Tricks” that AJ claims they’re rehashing are all “tricks” they’ve also done, though when they did them it was perfectly acceptable behavior. Let’s break it down:

Just in time for Alcohol Awareness Month, the Century Council (educational front group arm of spirits producer trade group DISCUS) has announced a major rebrand effort, changing its name to sound more like an official NGO or policy institute: Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR).

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This one is particularly funny. Do they think nobody will remember the Marin Institute? It’s only been three years since Alcohol Justice announced a major rebrand effort, changing its name to sound more official or more like a Wild West vigilante: Alcohol Justice (AJ). But when the Century Council does it, it’s for nefarious purposes, but when AJ did it, the new name supposedly “better reflects its national and global reach, and clarifies its mission.” Uh-huh. Sure. As Professor David J. Hanson wrote around the time of the name change, AJ “finally acknowledged that ‘we aren’t a research organization as institute implies.’ The fact that the Marin Institute wasn’t a research organization has long been noted by observers, although the activist group has often presented itself to the public and media as engaging in research.”

Whatever this industry-funded membership group calls itself, its real mission remains—to absolve its founders and funders from accountability for the staggering harm their products cause, and to raise as much profit and goodwill for their shareholders as possible.

No matter what “Big Al” does, it carries malicious intent. There is literally nothing that the alcohol industry can do that would satisfy AJ. They even found something to complain about when Anheuser-Busch gave water to hurricane victims in Haiti. You’d think that if alcohol was trying to combat the minority of people who abuse it, they’d welcome it, but when we do it, we’re apparently not serious about it. This one serious pisses me off, as if people in the alcohol industry don’t value human life as much as they do. It’s as if they think we’re fine with people dying. I honestly think sometimes, the way they describe us, that they don’t think that we’re human. It’s more than insulting. They claim that it’s just to “raise as much profit and goodwill for their shareholders as possible,” but much of what AJ does is solicit donations with their press releases and repetitive tweeting. In December, they kept asking for donations over and over again. Beyond that, a recent conference of prohibitionist groups revealed that their motives are to punish or profit from alcohol companies. One even said “they simply didn’t care about the public health impacts of taxes. They were in the game solely to get some of the tax revenue steered toward their organization.” Also at that event, AJ’s head sheriff Bruce Lee Livingston, “commented during the question and answer portion that activists are unable to get taxes high enough to actually produce positive public health benefits. Rather, he called for a ‘charge-for-harm’ approach, which is based on the assumption that anyone who drinks deserves to be punished.”

The new name does sound a little more grown up—like a bona fide, credible, research-based organization whose newly revamped mission is to help people drink a little less dangerously. The focus group and stakeholder feedback must have given them the green light — and hey, that’s one of the theme colors, too! (Unfortunately, our invitation to participate in the stakeholder group must have gotten shunted to the Spam folder…)

Snide comments aside, though I can’t help but point out it doesn’t make them sound particularly “more grown up,” here’s what’s insulting about them saying their “invitation to participate in the stakeholder group must have gotten shunted to the Spam folder.” A couple of years ago, at the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators, Alcohol Justice complained about the event in an obnoxious, insulting press release. But it was later revealed, when the NCSLA responded with a press release of their own, that “the now re-branded entity formerly known Marin Institute has repeatedly chosen not to become a member of the NCSLA despite the numerous invitations that have been extended to them and the years of courtesies from the NCSLA they have enjoyed in the form of expense-paid attendance at NCSLA conferences and participation on NCSLA panels. It is equally telling that this statement comes when further special treatment has been denied this re-branded entity while at the same time it was directly invited and encouraged to join the NCSLA, take a seat at the proverbial table, but on the same terms as those long met by other public health and public advocacy groups. It is disheartening when any entity with substantial financial resources, yet without the economic hardships endured for years by state beverage alcohol regulators, appears content to do nothing.” And given that AJ does nothing but insult alcohol companies, why would they even think it reasonable that they be given an “invitation to participate in the stakeholder group.” It’s absurd when you consider the way they treat the alcohol industry. Can they really believe that much in their own self-importance? Do they not realize how the world sees them? But let’s continue. What’s next?

But here is the reality. The corporations that fund these groups:

  • Pay academic researchers to discredit the evidence of alcohol-related harm from their products and marketing tactics, and promote spurious research to support the industry/producer agenda.

This one’s rich considering how much self-serving “research” AJ is involved in. AJ staff has appeared as the authors or co-authors of numerous so-called “studies” and then they promote them as if they’re independent research. They’re constantly exaggerating, mis-leading and making things up, but when they do it it’s to further their holy agenda, if the alcohol industry funds research it has to be spurious. It’s a double-standard at best, at worst, it’s the ultimate hypocrisy. As I’ve frequently wondered, who watches the watchdog? AJ claim their mission is to be an industry watchdog, to keep us honest, but their own track record for veracity is seriously lacking.

  • Hire public relations professionals to connect concern about just 2 of the many types of alcohol-related harm with activities that have no evidence of being effective at decreasing either harm or consumption (and support their marketing efforts and profits).

I confess I have no idea what they’re talking about here. The new Responsibility.org website alone has more than two issues they’re addressing. And certainly AJ has “public relations professionals” on their payroll. But beyond that, AJ has been grossly exaggerating the “many types of alcohol-related harm,” and even has made up many of them. A great example of this is when in 2010, they tried to force a new tax on the City of San Francisco. The city commissioned a Nexus Study (at great cost to taxpayers) to examine the supposed alcohol harms that AJ continues to insist are the fault of alcohol, not the people who drink alcohol, but the expensive study relied heavily on self-serving reports by AJ and throughout relies on all sorts of misleading and questionable data and reasoning.

  • Actively lobby against evidence-based policies that reduce harm, such as increased excise taxes, restrictions on alcohol advertising, state control over alcohol sales, and decreases in outlet density.

No doubt that lobbying does go on, by the alcohol industry, but not by this group, the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR). I know this is hard for AJ to understand, but corporations are allowed to lobby, just like every other business in America. I’m not a fan of lobbying in general, but until it’s prohibited for all businesses, Big Al isn’t doing anything wrong. AJ, and other prohibitionist groups, are also actively engaged in lobbying. But as you’ve probably figured out by now, whatever is done in the first person — “our lobbying” — is perfectly respectable but when it’s in the third person — “their lobbying” — then it’s evil and menacing. There’s another name for that way of thinking: hypocritical.

  • Use “Drink Responsibly” as a marketing tactic to build loyalty and sell alcohol while blaming youth, parents, schools, police, and anyone else but the product and their own practices for alcohol-related harm.

This is partly another example of letting no good deed go unpunished, where nothing that Big Al does is free of selfish agenda, unlike AJ and the other prohibitionists. What’s particularly annoying about this tactic is the implication that people who make or sell alcohol are against responsibility, and are for underage drinking, drunk driving and overconsumption. Why? Because all we care about is profit, apparently. But, despite AJ’s assumption, we’re people, too. We have families, and want to keep them just as safe as AJ’s do-gooder teetotalers. Do they really think we want our kids to become alcoholics or die driving drunk? Because that’s the impression one gets when you read prohibitionist literature, that we’re all monsters.

And their notion that it’s “the product” and our “own practices” that cause people harm is so offensive that I don’t even understand how they can really think that. They talk about us blaming everyone, but they don’t seem to accept the concept of responsibility or personal responsibility. That all people, whether they drink are not, should be responsible for their own actions. How can they honestly think that when I take a drink, I can no longer control my actions and that the alcohol takes over me and forces me to commit all manner of horrors? I, and most people I know within the beer industry, hate a bad drunk as much as they do. But we don’t think it was the alcohol that’s to blame so much as the person who acted stupidly. They’re responsible for their own bad behavior, as even a child should be able to figure out. But personal responsibility doesn’t get people donating money, having a bogeyman is far better for soliciting funds.

The Century Council’s announcement was released to coincide with Alcohol Awareness Month so that the industry voice can take over the public health discussions and events during the entire month. Industry leaders such as Diageo chief executive Ivan Menezes whine about his “right” to influence public health regulation while Diageo’s (and the other spirits producers’) influence protects profits and continues paving the path to harm.

It would strike any reasonable person that announcing renewed efforts at combating alcohol issues during Alcohol Awareness Month is precisely the right time to do so, when the entire month is set aside for the very purpose of raising awareness of people with alcohol problems. Their statement that the “industry voice can take over the public health discussions and events during the entire month” is completely false, and can be proven by the very simple fact of their own press release, and they have to know how disingenuous they’re being. But more telling is that this is the most typical tactic of the prohibitionists, sending out press releases that are regurgitated by media outlets as news with no dissenting or contrary opinions, thereby allowing AJ, and the others, to frame the discussion about alcohol policy. This is what happens perhaps 95% of the time, or more. I guess AJ doesn’t like it when we do it. Maybe they think they own the idea of trying to control the message.

Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organisation, put it bluntly: “As we learned from experience with the tobacco industry, a powerful corporation can sell the public just about anything…This is not a failure of individual will-power. This is a failure of political will to take on big business…When industry is involved in policy-making, rest assured that the most effective control measures will be downplayed or left out entirely.”

Puh-leeze. Prohibitionist groups are very well funded. They have no trouble taking on corporations, and have been worming their way into all levels of government since prohibition ended in 1933, when they switched tactics and have been incessantly been working to limit alcohol ever since. The way prohibition ended, and the laws subsequent to it, are in themselves a victory of a sort for the prohibitionist movement. And the David vs. Goliath myth is just that, a well-managed fiction. And as I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been reading a lot of WHO literature lately, and the inescapable conclusion “is that their mission is more about stopping people from drinking because as an organization they’re convinced that alcohol is always bad and has no positive aspects or benefits. When you only look for negative consequences, that’s all you find.” You can really only compare alcohol and tobacco by willfully ignoring the many positive aspects of alcohol.

The Big Alcohol conglomerates and the billionaires that run them can focus group a new name and logo for their group, slap a hashtag in front of the word responsible, go live with a web address they bought in 2001, and splash their rebrand all over the web. As long as these spirits producers’ products dominate the top 10 brands consumed by underage youth (Captain Morgan, Smirnoff (Diageo); Absolut (Pernod Ricard) and Jack Daniels (Brown-Foreman), and continue to be disproportionately consumed by youth (Bacardi; Malibu rum (Pernod Ricard), we’ve got their hashtags right here: #hypocrite #alcoholharm #notresponsible #alcoholindustryisnotpublichealth

Hilarious. Replace Big Al with AJ in that first sentence, and it reads just the same. And the same can be said for those hashtags. What’s funny is they apparently can’t even see that they’re engaged in exactly everything that they’re accusing the alcohol industry of doing. It really is a case of the Prohibitionist Pot Calling The Brew Kettle Black.

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The Mythical Monolith Of Big Alcohol

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Since the end of February, Alcohol Justice (AJ) has been tweeting the following:

Big Alcohol will never admit #3 http://bit.ly/1mFY39E Alcohol classified carcinogenic 25 years ago

It’s part of their new series of things that “Big Alcohol will never admit.” I think somebody forgot to tell AJ that there’s no actual organization “Big Alcohol,” no single entity that speaks with one voice on all matters alcoholic.

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The mythical monolith of “Big Alcohol” that doesn’t actually exist, but which Alcohol Justice believes should respond to their propaganda demands.

But let’s take a look at what we’re accused of this time. According to AJ, 25 years ago Alcohol was classified as a “carcinogenic.” That tidbit comes from their Alcohol and Cancer Risk “fact sheet” which states. “The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified beverage alcohol as a Group 1 (cancerous to humans) carcinogen since 1988.” That statement is footnoted by two studies. The first is the IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans VOLUME 96 Alcohol Consumption and Ethyl Carbamate and the second is Volume 100E A Review of Human Carcinogens: Personal Habits and Indoor Combustions (2012). And those two documents do indeed state that they “concluded that there was sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity for cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus and liver.” But is that the whole story? Hardly. Since that time, they’ve added colorectal and female breast cancer for a total of seven types of cancer, out of how many different types? Dozens? Hundreds? And for at least a few of those, moderate alcohol consumption reduces risk and for most of the rest is neutral, meaning there’s little or no effect. But AJ also claims that “Big Alcohol” has been somehow denying this for the past 26 years. How exactly has anyone been denying it?

But another questionable exaggeration is this, from AJ’s press release of February 26 of this year, where they attempt to take a position that the moderate consumption of alcohol is also unsafe.

While heavy drinking presents the greatest risk, daily alcohol consumption of as little as 1.5 drinks accounts for up to 35% of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths in the United States. Added [Director of Research Sarah] Mart, “The research is clear: There is no determined safe limit for alcohol consumption with regard to cancer risk.”

But that’s at least a little misleading. That claim comes from a 2013 study in the American Journal of Public Health entitled Alcohol-Attributable Cancer Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost in the United States. Here’s the relevant bit from the results, in the abstract.

Alcohol consumption resulted in an estimated 18,200 to 21,300 cancer deaths, or 3.2% to 3.7% of all US cancer deaths. The majority of alcohol-attributable female cancer deaths were from breast cancer (56% to 66%), whereas upper airway and esophageal cancer deaths were more common among men (53% to 71%). Alcohol-attributable cancers resulted in 17.0 to 19.1 YPLL for each death. Daily consumption of up to 20 grams of alcohol (≤ 1.5 drinks) accounted for 26% to 35% of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths.

Although they exaggerated the findings by saying “Up to 35%” instead of “26% to 35%,” which is a typical propaganda tactic, what that one study really found is that 26% to 35% of 3.2% to 3.7% of all US cancer deaths may have come from moderate drinking. Put another way, 0.83% to 1.295% of all U.S. cancers may be attributable to people who drank moderately. From that, AJ concludes that “The research is clear: There is no determined safe limit for alcohol consumption with regard to cancer risk.” If you think that’s clear, keep making those donations, because it makes no logical sense. Less than 1% of all cancer deaths up to as many as 1.3% may be attributable to moderate alcohol consumption, and that constitutes clear causation, ignoring all other factors, such as genetics, environment, and lifestyle.

The study itself claims that there’s “no safe threshold for alcohol and cancer risk” despite it representing only around one percent of all cancers in the United States. Not to mention, when you dig deeper into the data, that particular study is only examining six types of cancer. They ignore all other cancers, while still making sweeping pronouncements about cancer, and ignoring any mitigating benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, including the rather hard-to-ignore total mortality.

Here’s what I don’t understand about calling alcohol a carcinogen. If indeed it increases the risk for certain types of cancers, but not others, it seems to me it would have to increase the risk to all persons (or even most) for all cancers to be considered to show “sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of alcohol consumption.” My sense in reading through WHO literature over the years is that their mission is more about stopping people from drinking because as an organization they’re convinced that alcohol is always bad and has no positive aspects or benefits. When you only look for negative consequences, that’s all you find.

What AJ, WHO and many of these studies do is start with a premise and try to prove it, ending up cherry-picking the studies that support it and ignoring any that don’t. That creates a powerful propaganda tool but rarely stands up to any scrutiny. Luckily, as prohibitionist groups are well aware, few subject their propaganda masquerading as press releases to much, if any, scrutiny whatsoever. So their incentive to be more truthful is practically nil. So they can just make up whatever they want, like the mythical monolith of Big Alcohol, and then wonder why they won’t admit whatever prohibitionists says, no matter how twisted or distorted.

Elderly Imbibing

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The closer I get to old age, seemingly swifter with every passing year, the more I’ve been noticing that serious people younger than me are worried that senior citizens might be drinking a bit too much at the end of their lives. Hmm. A couple of days ago, the personification of the sheriff of the nanny state, Alcohol Justice, tweeted yet another such study, this one about “Binge Drinking US Seniors — http://bit.ly/1fse3ne — New research raises “‘Cause for Alarm.’” The link takes you to an article on Medscape entitled Binge Drinking in US Seniors ‘Cause for Alarm’ about elderly drinking. Here’s what alarmed the researchers.

A national cohort study of more than 4800 adults older than 64 years showed that almost 10% reported binge drinking ― defined as having 5 or more drinks in 1 sitting for men and 4 or more drinks in a single sitting for women ― in the previous 30 days.

They continue: “Alcohol consumption in seniors can be associated with cognitive decline and worsening of comorbidities, including hypertension, stroke, and osteoporosis.” But that’s false. Moderate drinking has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and increases in cognitive functioning, and there are similar benefits for strokes (“Studies now show that drinking up to 2 alcoholic drinks per day can reduce your risk for stroke by about half”) and osteoporosis (“The National Osteoporosis Risk Assessment studied 200,000+ postmenopausal women with no previous diagnosis of osteoporosis. The study found that drinking alcohol significantly reduced the chances of developing osteoporosis”). So that makes me question the validity or motives of the study.

Similarly, the recent Alcohol Research UK 2014 Conference had two presentations on the same subject: “Moderate Alcohol Use in Older Years” and “Alcohol Misuse in Older Adults.” I assume it’s because the largely self-centered baby boomer generation (of which apparently I’m at the tail end of, though I definitely don’t identify myself with) are aging so now research would turn toward the older boomers.

old-people-drinking
This is the image used by AJ with their tweet, but the people in this photo look like they’re having a great time, don’t they? Aren’t old people allowed to celebrate or have a good time? Is that the issue?

Here’s my gut reaction. In ten or fifteen years — assuming I’m still alive and kicking — when my kids have left the house, finished college and started careers and/or families; after I’ve retired and have no more deadlines to file, no more stories to write; maybe I can relax and drink a few beers. Maybe I’ll even drink five beers in a row, making me — gasp — a binge-drinking elderly person. If I decide to do that at the end of my days, choosing in that way to enjoy the remaining time I have with alcohol, I have just one thing to say to the do-gooders who are alarmed by such behavior: “go fuck yourself.” Seriously, do. As long as I’m not hurting you, please don’t presume to tell me how to live out the end of my days, that seriously pisses me off. Please take your “alarm” and shove it where the sun don’t shine. That has to be the most aggressively obnoxious, arrogant position I’ve heard recently. Please stop telling the rest of us how to live.

Besides the fact that defining binge drinking as five consecutive drinks is completely absurd, especially considering the most recent FDA Dietary Guidelines allow four drinks in a row for a man (with no more than 14 per week). So that means the difference between moderate, healthy imbibing and dangerous binge drinking is exactly one drink. Yeah, that seems reasonable.

There’s living and there’s living; just existing and being really alive. I’m planning on trying to enjoy the time I have left. If that means drinking a few beers on occasion, that is, and quite properly ought to be, my own business. If my family has a problem with that, I’m confident they’ll be sure to tell me. Everybody else, keep walking. I plan on being a unrepentant curmudgeon. There’s no reason to change now.

EU Negotiating For Protected Beer Names

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Apparently in Washington, our Congress is hard at work negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU. Not surprisingly, the EU is asking for protective status of European products that are traditionally from Europe. You can’t really blame them. For instance they’re asking for the names “feta” and “parmesan” only for cheese made in Europe. I don’t know the history of those cheeses, but I’m guessing Greece and Italy do, and believe their cheeses to be the true expressions of them. They’re also asking that “‘bratwurst’ be allowed on only European-produced sausages.” Again, I don’t know the history but given that German and other European immigrants came to America and started businesses making bratwursts a hundred years ago, or more, it seems a tough sell. I likewise assume it was Italians in the U.S. who began marketing parmesan cheese here long before Kraft got in the game.

But according to an article in the USA Today, Senators: Back off our brats, beer, they’re not stopping there. I might have expected that Belgian beer might be part of the negotiations, since Belgian brewers aren’t thrilled about American beers labeled as “Belgian” instead of “Belgian-style.” But it’s “Oktoberfest” they object to. According to the story, “[i]f U.S. negotiators agree to European demands, U.S. manufacturers would have to change product names to “Oktoberfest-like ale.”

But since an “Oktoberfest” beer has certain style parameters that just about any brewer worth his salt could replicate, I can’t see how that one makes sense. I’ve never known German brewers to complain about that the way that I’ve heard Belgian brewers, but maybe I’ve missed that. Can a beer style, once created in a geographic area, sometimes because of the locally available ingredients or water source, only be made in that same place to be considered authentic? I think we can say yes for lambics, but others? What do you think?

There’s also countless local American Oktoberfest events throughout September and October each year, some have been taking place for decades or longer. Does Germany object to those, too?

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Beer Birthday: Tom McCormick

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Today is the 57th birthday of Tom McCormick, Executive Director of the California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA). Tom’s also owned and ran a distributorship and the Pro Brewer website, worked with Wolaver’s for a time, but has found his true calling promoting and defending small brewers in California. Tom is the most unflappable person I’ve ever met, and hands down one of my favorite people in the industry. Join me in wishing Tom a very happy birthday.

Tom McCormick, Nancy Johnson & Dave Buehler @ Wynkoop
Tom, with Nancy Johnson and Dave Buehler at Wynkoop for GABF last year.

Stan Hieronymus & Tom McCormick @ Great Divide
With Stan Hieronymus Great Divide’s annual media reception.

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Tom with Amy Dalton, from All About Beer magazine at the World Beer Cup dinner in San Diego.

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Tom and Nancy Johnson at a BA dinner.

Global Association Of Craft Beer Brewers Founded

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Here’s an exciting development and a sure sign that the world of beer is growing smaller as the reach of better beer extends around the globe. Today in Berlin, the formation of a new international trade organization was announced: The Global Association of Craft Beer Brewers (GACBB).

From the press release:

The Global Association of Craft Beer Brewers was founded last month, becoming the first international organisation for independent craft beer brewers. Sebastian Mergel, co-founder of the Berlin craft beer brewery Berliner Bierfabrik (formerly beer4wedding), was elected the association’s founding president. The association’s goal is to empower smaller independent brewers by connecting them on an international level, and to provide resources via association tools and collaborations with other members. With its international reach, the association also looks to provide its members with access to material goods and services that allow them to expand into new international markets.

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The founding board members represent breweries in five different continents.

  • Sebastian Mergel, Bierfabrik, Berlin, Germany
  • Mark Andries, Browerij De Vlier, Belgium
  • David Cohen, The Dancing Camel, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • John Kyme, Stringer’s Beer, Ulverston, United Kingdom
  • Kristian Strunge, Stronzo, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Jakub Veselý, Pivo Falkon, Zatec, Czech Republic
  • Alex Acker, Jing A, Beijing, China
  • Eric van Heerden, Triggerfish Brewing, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Aleem Ladak, The Big 5 Brewery, Nairobi, Kenya
  • Diego Rodríguez, Barbarian, Lima, Peru
  • Diego Perrotta, Cerveza Zeppelin, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Nathaniel Schmidt, Agua Mala Cerveceria, Ensenada, Mexico
  • Rodrigo Silveira, Cervejaria Invicta, Ribeirão Preto, Brazil
  • Shane Welch, Sixpoint Brewing, Brooklyn, NY, United States
  • Kevin Watson, Elysian Brewing Co., Seattle, WA, United States
  • Dan Kenary, Harpoon Brewery, Boston, MA, United States
  • Ricky Stilla, Birra & Blues, Valencia, Spain
  • Tiffany Needham, Magpie Brewing Co., Seoul, South Korea
  • Shawn Sherlock, Murray’s Brewing Co., Port Stephen’s, Australia

To be a member of GACBB, breweries must be “local, independent, and creative.” The group’s first event will take place later this summer in Berlin, which they describe as a “celebration of craft beer from around the globe. The GACBB Global Craft Beer Festival, Craft Beer Award, and Craft Beer Conference will all take place this July in Berlin on July 25th through 27th, 2014.” The downside is that’s the same weekend as the Oregon Brewers Festival. On the other hand, it’s been awhile since I’ve been in Berlin.

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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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A Historical Look At English Drinking Habits

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This is an interesting report from the British Parliament, specifically from the Health Committee. It’s a memorandum by Dr. Phil Withington and Dr. Angela McShane entitled Fluctuations in English Drinking Habits: An Historical Overview.

The overview includes a chronology beginning around 1550 and discusses increases and decreases in alcohol consumption in five periods since then, which they summarize as follows below.

In terms of consumption (inevitably crudely measured at times) it can be seen that England experienced a significant rise and consolidation of drinking levels during the “early modern period” (1550-1750). Between 1550 and 1650 there was a commercialisation of “old world” production and distribution plus the introduction of tobacco. The 100 years after 1650 were in turn characterised by the assimilation of, and moral panics about, new commodities, in particular coffee and gin. In the following two hundred years, which coincided with industrialisation and massive increase in population, there was a marked decline in the consumption of alcohol. The post-industrial or post-modern era (post-1960) seems to have returned to the kind of trends in the early modern period: increased consumption—especially conspicuous and public consumption among certain sections of the population—facilitated by powerful business organisations that are extremely competent at managing their relationship with political authority.

The dense information about continuities, discontinuities and gender is fascinating reading, but takes time to digest. It’s still marinating in my brain. I’m especially intrigued by this statement. “The medical industry now has the technology, knowledge, and incentives (especially commercial) to identify and treat many of the biological consequences of alcoholic consumption. This is in definite contrast to previous centuries, when medicine was more likely to use alcohol as a treatment rather than cure its related maladies, and when the primary impact of medical practitioners was, it seems, to create, legitimise and/or popularise new kinds of intoxicants.” The memorandum also notes that “[i]ncreased female consumption of alcohol may go some way to explaining the increases in general consumption since the 1960s since half the population was tacitly barred from drinking before then.” So that would suggest that per capita consumption is actually falling if one of the primary reasons for an increase is essentially a twofold increase in the number of people consuming alcohol.

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As prohibitionists incessantly nip at the heels of drinkers, doing everything they can to curb consumption, I think it’s constructive look at the bigger picture. Patterns of consumption tend to ebb and flow, and are affected by a variety of factors: economic, social, legal, and others. So whenever some prohibitionist group claims their new law, or awareness campaign, or what have you, has caused consumption to go down — or more often claims whatever they’re proposing is necessary precisely to decrease peoples’ drinking — it’s important to remember that people have always enjoyed alcohol, and will continue to do so, and changing the laws merely changes those patterns, it doesn’t really effect much over the long haul. I wonder if anyone has taken a similar look at historical drinking patterns in America?