The Mythical Monolith Of Big Alcohol

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

Big Alcohol will never admit #3 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.

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.

Beverage Industry’s State Of American Beer Report

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.


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


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.


Top 50 Breweries For 2013

The Brewers Association has also just announced the top 50 breweries in the U.S. based on sales, by volume, for 2013. This includes all breweries, regardless of size or other parameters. Here is the new list:

Here is this year’s press release.

Not too much movement again this year, except for a few small shufflings, and no changes at all in the top ten. Only three new breweries made the list; Ballast Point, Narragansett (which had been on the year before in 2011) and Left Hand Brewing.

For the past six years, I’ve also posted an annotated list, showing the changes in each brewery’s rank from year to year. This year, the BA thoughtfully has already done that, saving me a lot of time and math. If you want to see the previous annotated lists for comparison, here is 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006.

Top 50 Craft Breweries For 2013

The Brewers Association just announced the top 50 craft breweries in the U.S. based on sales, by volume, for 2013, which is listed below here. For the seventh year, they’ve also released a list of the top 50 breweries, which includes all breweries. Here is this year’s craft brewery list:

Three breweries are new to this year’s Top 50 Craft Breweries list; Sixpoint Brewing, Gordon Biersch (the production brewery, not the brewpubs) and 21st Amendment Brewery & Restaurant. Here is this year’s press release. For the past six years, I’ve also posted an annotated list, showing the changes in each brewery’s rank from year to year. This year, the BA thoughtfully has already done that, saving me a lot of time and math.

New Study Reveals We Can Identify One Trillion Distinct Smells

A new story in the Washington Post’s Health, Science & Environment section, entitled Human nose can detect at least 1 trillion odors — far more than thought, says study of smell, appears to upend conventional wisdom about the number of smells that humans can identify. The general number has been around 10,000 as long as I can remember. By contrast, we can see “a few million different colors” and our ears can take in around 340,000 different tones. So while smell used to be a lot farther down on the sensory spectrum, this study would appear to rocket our sense of smell to the front of the line. For beer lovers, that can’t be a surprise, because our nose conveys so much more about a beer than seeing or hearing it can, and not even tasting it comes close, as any person who’s had a head cold can tell you, after trying to taste a beer without a working sense of smell.

The study itself, Humans Can Discriminate More than 1 Trillion Olfactory Stimuli, will be published in the journal Science. Here’s the abstract:

Humans can discriminate several million different colors and almost half a million different tones, but the number of discriminable olfactory stimuli remains unknown. The lay and scientific literature typically claims that humans can discriminate 10,000 odors, but this number has never been empirically validated. We determined the resolution of the human sense of smell by testing the capacity of humans to discriminate odor mixtures with varying numbers of shared components. On the basis of the results of psychophysical testing, we calculated that humans can discriminate at least 1 trillion olfactory stimuli. This is far more than previous estimates of distinguishable olfactory stimuli. It demonstrates that the human olfactory system, with its hundreds of different olfactory receptors, far outperforms the other senses in the number of physically different stimuli it can discriminate.

It will be very interesting to see if further studies corroborate this finding, but frankly it makes a lot of sense (no pun intended).

Science also has a short interview with Andreas Keller, one of the scientists who worked on the study, where he explains some of the reasons his team thinks that their study has shown we’re capable of so many more aromas than previously thought.

Craft Beer Growth Continues Rapid Acceleration In 2013

The Brewers Association today released the preliminary numbers for beer sales last year. I thought last years numbers were great, but the 2013 numbers look unbelievable, and accelerate the momentum for craft beer. The preliminary numbers indicate that “craft brewers saw an 18 percent rise in volume, representing a total of 15.6 million barrels, and a 20 percent increase in retail dollar value.”

Here’s more on the news, from the press release:

In 2013, craft brewers reached 7.8 percent volume of the total U.S. beer market, up from 6.5 percent the previous year. Additionally, craft dollar share of the total U.S. beer market reached 14.3 percent in 2013, as retail dollar value from craft brewers was estimated at $14.3 billion, up from $11.9 billion in 2012.

As for the runaway brewery count, the number of breweries races closer to 3,000.

The number of operating breweries in the U.S. in 2013 totaled 2,822, with 2,768 of those considered craft, demonstrating that craft breweries make up 98 percent of all U.S. operating breweries. This count includes 413 new brewery openings and 44 closings. Combined with already existing and established breweries and brewpubs, craft brewers provided 110,273 jobs, an increase of almost 2,000 from the previous year.

And here’s all of that good news, fermented into a colorful infographic.


Offline Sales Traffic Drivers

Earlier today there was an interesting infographic tweeted by the Wall Street Journal, by their WSJ Graphics division, entitled Offline Sales, showing how “retailers rely heavily on consumer products to drive store traffic.” In the top spot was “food and alcohol,” with 99% of $884 billion in sale made in stores, and only 1% online. That’s not too much of a surprise, as it’s somewhat a pain in the neck to order food or alcohol online, and in some states it’s even illegal (for the alcohol, at least). Even where it is, it’s prohibitively expensive for most beers. The majority of beers bought online, I’d guess, are of the rarer, hard-to-find variety. But the chart also suggests that beer is therefore very important to retailers trying to persuade customers to get off their laptops and drive down to their brick and mortar stores.


Beer Excise Tax Rates by State, 2014

The last time I saw the Tax Foundation look at beer excise taxes was in 2009, but recently they updated their map of Beer Excise Tax Rates by State, for 2014, taking into account several states who changed their rates over that time.

Tax treatment of beer varies widely across the U.S., ranging from a low of $0.02 per gallon in Wyoming to a high of $1.17 per gallon in Tennessee. Check out today’s map below to see where your state lies on the beer tax spectrum.

A few state rates changed since we released last year’s data. Namely, North Carolina’s tax per gallon increased by nine cents, and there were slight increases in Arkansas (+2 cents), Kentucky (+2 cents), and Washington, D.C. (+2 cents). Washington’s tax decreased by 50 cents, and Minnesota’s number was one cent lower than last year. (See the 2013 edition of our Facts & Figures booklet for last year’s numbers.)

There isn’t much consistency on how state and local governments tax beer. This rate can include fixed-rate per volume taxes; wholesale taxes that are usually a percentage of the value of the product; distributor taxes (usually structured as license fees but are usually a percentage of revenues); retail taxes, in which retailers owe an extra percentage of revenues; case or bottle fees (which can vary based on size of container); and additional sales taxes (note that this measure does not include general sales tax, only those in excess of the general rate).

The Beer Institute points out that “taxes are the single most expensive ingredient in beer, costing more than labor and raw materials combined.” They cite an economic analysis that found “if all the taxes levied on the production, distribution, and retailing of beer are added up, they amount to more than 40% of the retail price” (note that this may include general sales tax and federal beer taxes, which are not included in the estimates displayed on the map). Last year, we did a podcast with Lester Jones, Chief Economist at the Beer Institute on tax treatment of beer, which is worth a listen.


Top Beers In The US By State 2008-2013

Here’s an interesting piece of data. There’s not a lot of background for it, but from what I can tell it’s an interactive map showing the “Top Beers In The US By State 2008-2013,” by Perlinnoise. Since it was tweeted by RateBeer, I can only assume it’s based on their ratings over that six year period of time, from their top 100 list. Only 18 states had beers that made the list, and from the interactive map, holding your cursor over a colored state brings up a list of the beers that made their list. It also includes the number from each state. California has the most, by a wide margin, at 128. Second is Michigan, with 46, followed by Indiana (24), Florida (19), Colorado (18) and Oregon (17). Unfortunately, one glitch with the interactive map is that you can actually scroll down and see the whole list of beers from California.