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.

Beer In Ads #1165: Uta Hagen For Blatz


Friday’s ad is for Blatz Beer, from 1951. The ad is part of Blatz’s “I lived in Milwaukee, I ought to know” series from the Fifties that featured prominent celebrities, sports figures and famous folks from Milwaukee claiming to know “Blatz is Milwaukee’s Finest Beer” because they lived there, or near there, at some point in their lives. This one features Uta Hagen, an actress born in Germany but raised in nearby Madison, Wisconsin.

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Beer Birthday: Alan McLeod

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Today is also beer blogger extraordinaire Alan McLeod’s 51st birthday. Alan runs a good beer blog, called — curiously enough — A Good Beer Blog. I’m not sure what came first, the goodness or the blog. Anyway, though I’ve yet to meet Alan in person I feel as if he’s already a great, not just good, friend through our many conversations via e-mail and commenting on one another’s blogs. If you haven’t read his essay in the book Beer & Philosophy yet, rush right out and buy yourself a copy. He also recently published The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer, with Max Bahnson, available as a Kindle single on Amazon. Join me in wishing Alan the very merriest of birthdays. Cheers, mate.

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Alan pondering the mysteries of Stonehenge at age 7.

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A night with bald pate, circa 2002.

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Contemplating a jump near Prince Edward Island a dozen years ago. Happily, he decided against getting wet.

Budweiser Beer Tumbler 1879

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I came across this interesting patent design for a beer tumbler this morning for Budweiser that was patented on June 10, 1879 by C. Conrad. Liquor importer Carl Conrad is one of the more forgotten names from the history of Anheuser-Busch. He was at least partially responsible, along with his longtime friend Adolphus Busch, for the original recipe of Budweiser and in fact early bottles of Bud, prior to the 1920s were sold under the company name “C. Conrad and Co.” before A-B got the rights from Conrad. He apparently also designed this glass for the beer in 1879. I”m not sure if they were ever made, but they certainly look somewhat familiar. Anybody know?

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The Hoplist

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I got a press release yesterday from a Julian Healey about a project he’s just launched. His new website from Australia is The Hoplist, and includes information on at least 268 varieties of hops, which they claim is the “biggest list of hops … ever.” And that seems right, most of the hop guides are put out by the hop growers and sellers, and focus on just the varieties that they carry, whereas the Hoplist is at least attempting to be complete. For each hop, there’s a description of the hop and nearly two-dozen bits of information about it. I’ll be in Melbourne in just over a week, so perhaps I can share a beer with Julian. I think I’ll suggest something hoppy.

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Next Session Focuses On Local History

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For our 87th Session, our host is Reuben Gray, from The Tale of the Ale. For his topic, he’s chosen a local theme, all about Local Brewery History. He’s asking you to “give your readers a history lesson about a local brewery,” and here’s the details:

In Session 87, I want you to give your readers a history lesson about a local brewery. That’s a physical brewery and not brewing company by the way. The brewery doesn’t need to still exist today, perhaps you had a local brewery that closed down before you were even born. Or you could pick one that has been producing beer on the same site for centuries.

Stipulations?
The only thing I ask is that the brewery existed for at least 20 years so don’t pick the local craft brewery that opened two or three years ago. This will exclude most small craft breweries but not all. The reason? There’s not much history in a brewery that has only existed for a few years.

Also, when I say local, I mean within about 8 hours’ drive from where you live. That should cover most bases for the average blogger and in many, allow you to pick one further away if you don’t want to talk about a closer one. For instance, I live in west Dublin and the closest brewery to me is The Porterhouse, but they only opened in the late 90′s. The most obvious brewery of course is Guinness, but enough people get told the history of Guinness by a very clever marketing team so I can’t bring myself the re-hash the same old tales about the 9000 year old lease and all that. So I will be picking something else on the day.

Some of you may already know a lot about the history of a local brewery and others might have to do a little research. If you do pick a dead brewery, see if there are any connections today! Perhaps the brewery is dead but the brand was bought by another brewery and lives on today.

The most important goal is to have fun with your research.

Wappen

So put on your historian’s hat and let’s tell some histories to make Maureen Ogle proud. On Friday, May 2, blow the cobwebs off of your local, possibly now defunct, brewery’s story and give us your best chronicle.

Also, as Reuben generously pointed out, we have a number of open slots for upcoming Sessions. If you’re a contributor, but haven’t yet been a host, please consider signing up for one. We need a host for June, along with August and beyond.

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Beer Birthday: Neil Miller

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Today is the birthday of New Zealand beer writer Neil Miller. He writes regularly for Beer and Brewer magazine, the beer blog at Real Beer NZ and the Malthouse Blog. Though born in Scotland — Broxburn — he now calls Wellington his home. I met Neil when he was vising the states with Luke Nicholas and other New Zealand beer aficionados for the Craft Brewers Conferences in 2009. They came over early to tour the west coast before CBC began in San Diego that year. We met up at my local brewpub, Moylan’s, and Neil hilariously tells a story about that meeting that I was completely unaware of at the time. Thanks to the series of tubes known as the internet, we’ve managed to keep in touch since then. Join me in wishing Neil a very happy birthday.

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Neil in his cups at his table at the Malthouse

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Behind the bar at the Mussel Inn.

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With recently married Kate Pullar. The correct caption: “when are you going to buy me another of these Epic Armageddon IPAs?”
[Note: Photos Purloined from Facebook.]

Beer In Ads #1164: Budweiser Is For Girls


Thursday’s ad may not be a real ad, I’m not entirely sure. It’s for a Brasserie Belden, which I can’t find any information about at all. And the nature of the ad, more like a political attack ad, makes it seem more like a spoof than a real ad that someone might have actually ran. It has the look of an older ad, with the paper staining, at least after World War II, although it’s easy enough to fake that using PhotoShop. I don’t recall where I found this one and the fact that I can’t find any additional information about it on the interwebs further leads me to suspect its veracity, although it’s too funny not to share all the same. “Be a man. Drink Belden.”

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Beverage Industry’s State Of American Beer Report

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The Atlantic magazine had a good round-up of the State of American Beer, based on a report from the trade publication Beverage Industry. Beverage Industry’s March issue had a series of articles on different segments, including Craft brewers’ sales growth continues, Domestic beer case sales decline, Mexican beers dominate imported beer growth and Hard cider draws in consumers from outside the beer category. In addition, at the same time they released a separate report, the 2014 U.S. Beer Category Report.

You could spend the time to read through all of them (and I’d encourage you to do so) but to get an overview of the reports, The Atlantic’s coverage provides the highlights (and even does a better job with the charts). For example, here’s the top craft brands from 2013.

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And here’s case sales by brand in a piechart.

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And this last one, the percentage change in case sales, is amazing because is shows just how fast Lagunitas is growing, though Stone’s doing pretty well on the growth front, too.

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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.

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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.