Session #102: A Beery Landscape

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For our 102nd Session, our host is Allen Huerta, who writes Active Brewer. For his topic, he’s asking us to look at the big picture, the entire landscape of beer; yesterday, today, and/or tomorrow, or as he more fully explains what he has in mind for the August Session in his announcement, “The Landscape of Beer:”

SURPRISE, SURPRISE! The Landscape of Beer in America is changing. It has even begun influencing beer in countries all around the world. Everyone has their opinion on Local vs Global, Craft vs Macro, and Love vs Business. Those who were at the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference in Asheville this past weekend had a brief talk about how “Small and Independent Matters”. Something that quite a few people say matters to them, but where is the upper limit? Does a purchase of another brewery still allow a brewery to fall into the Small and Independent camp?

Our topic this month is, “The Landscape of Beer“. How do you see that landscape now? What about in 5, 10, or even 20 years? A current goal in the American Craft Beer Industry is 20% market share by the year 2020. How can we get there? Can we get there?

Whether your view is realistic or whimsical, what do you see in our future? Is it something you want or something that is happening? Let us know and maybe we can help paint the future together.

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Because the weekend’s all but over, I decided — as usual — not to follow instructions per se, and instead found four literal landscapes of beer’s constituent parts in my library of photographs.

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The River Trent, in Burton upon Trent, although the brewing water actually comes from an aquifer deep below the town (but the photo of the aquifer is pretty dull).

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Barley growing in the San Luis Valley of southwest Colorado.

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Hops in the Yakima Valley, Washington.

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Yeast bubbling at White Labs in San Diego.

A Landscape View Of Beer For The Next Session

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For 102nd Session, our host will be Allen Huerta, who writes Active Brewer. For his topic, he’s asking us to look at the big picture, the entire landscape of beer; yesterday, today, and/or tomorrow, or as he more fully explains what he has in mind for the August Session in his announcement, “The Landscape of Beer:”

SURPRISE, SURPRISE! The Landscape of Beer in America is changing. It has even begun influencing beer in countries all around the world. Everyone has their opinion on Local vs Global, Craft vs Macro, and Love vs Business. Those who were at the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference in Asheville this past weekend had a brief talk about how “Small and Independent Matters”. Something that quite a few people say matters to them, but where is the upper limit? Does a purchase of another brewery still allow a brewery to fall into the Small and Independent camp?

Our topic this month is, “The Landscape of Beer“. How do you see that landscape now? What about in 5, 10, or even 20 years? A current goal in the American Craft Beer Industry is 20% market share by the year 2020. How can we get there? Can we get there?

Whether your view is realistic or whimsical, what do you see in our future? Is it something you want or something that is happening? Let us know and maybe we can help paint the future together.

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So start painting your thoughts in broad strokes, and give us your take on the beer landscape. To participate in the July Session, leave a comment to the original announcement, on or before Friday, August 7.

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Your Favorite Beer State By State

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Here’s another interesting map of the U.S., supposedly showing the most popular beer for each state. I have no idea how the data was compiled as the creator of the map, and presumably the data behind it, CubeYou, all day yesterday presented you with the following error message when you click on State by State Favorite Beer: “Error establishing a database connection.” And you get that same message even trying to visit their home page so either they’ve been inundated with visitors today (doubtful) or something’s going on with their website (but whatever it is has been going on for several hours). This morning it was finally back up, but we’re no closer to understanding their methodology. They state that “the Beer Map below illustrates the beer brands that have the highest popularity in each state. Popularity indicates how popular a beer is in each state compared with the national distribution.” But that really doesn’t tell us much. And not having any information about who’s in second, third, etc. also makes it difficult to rely on their data.

There are a lot of local favorites, and of course the big boys hold sway in a number of states (10 for ABI beers and 2 apiece for Coors, Miller and Pabst). A few I can’t quite make out because of the size of the map so my own analysis may be off accordingly. Lagunitas owns both California and Illinois, where they have breweries. Heineken’s got Nevada and Hawaii (damn tourists) and imports rule in a few more states, sadly. A few more curious spots: Coors in Washington, and more surprising, Alaskan Brewing in Oregon. Given how fiercely loyal the state is toward their beer, that surprises me most of all, but maybe it has to do with how many strong brands their are in Oregon and that causes them to cancel one another out (or maybe it’s just wrong).

UPDATE: Now that I’m able to see the map larger and make out all of the name on it, even more problems emerge. In Minnesota and Tennessee, Midwest Supplies is listed as those states’ most popular beer, even though it’s a homebrew supply store. Arkansas and Montana have listed “Craft Beer On Tap,” a generic logo and not a brand at all as far as I can tell. Ceres, the Danish beer, in Florida seems questionable and as a reader pointed out, Yuengling is not even distributed in the state of Maine so it’s hard to see how it could be the most popular beer there. And as another reader mentioned, Dogfish Head not being the most popular in their home state of Delaware stretches credulity, as well, and all of these issues in total are making this exercise veer toward farce or chicanery. Whatever CubeYou’s actual methodology might have been, it’s hard to see that they produced any legitimate results. I had wished once their website was back up that there would be more transparency about how the data was collected and perhaps even a way to peek into the raw data itself. Unfortunately, if anything, they seem to have gone out of their way to obfuscate how they arrived upon the results.

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Cancer Charities Grow Cancerous

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One of the byproducts of keeping a close watch on prohibitionist groups and other so-called non-profit organizations is that I’ve become quite jaded not just about those particular ones, but about the charitable industrial complex in general. It’s really become big business and, in my opinion, most have strayed very far from the (hopefully) good intentions that spawned them. Longtime readers will recognize this thread, that many of the charities and organizations that choose to attack the beer community from the high moral ground, are themselves often in no position to take such a lofty nose-in-the-air position.

In recent years, several cancer charities have criticized the alcohol industry for our fundraising efforts while hypocritically working with KFC and other unhealthily partners, as I detailed a few years ago with Biting the Hand That Feeds You. Between several of these cancer charities, and the usual prohibitionists, people who work in the alcohol field who want to do good and raise money for a cause that’s dear to them are routinely insulted and criticized for doing so. But taking a closer look at the charities themselves, as I started doing a few years ago, it’s not always clear how much actual good they’re really doing.

Just how many charities are there? In the U.S. alone there are a staggering 1.5 million non-profit organizations, the vast majority of them characterized as public charities. That’s essentially one charity organization for every 213 people in America. Of those, I don’t know how many are involved with cancer, but you can bet it’s a lot. In a partnership between the Tampa Bay Times, the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting, and CNN (who joined the partnership in 2013), they examined all of the charities and created a list of America’s 50 Worst Charities. Of the top ten, the second worst charity in the U.S. is a cancer one, the Cancer Fund of America. In fact, fully four of the top ten are cancer charities. In the full list of the top 48 worst charities, ten of them involve cancer. A surprising number of them are also about missing children, veterans and police and fire fighting groups, sad to say.

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But what prompted this was a report on Mashable I saw recently entitled Cancer charities allegedly misused $187 million for concerts and dating sites, U.S. says. Apparently, “Law enforcement from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, along with the Federal Trade Commission” charged four of them — Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, Children’s Cancer Fund of America and the Breast Cancer Society — “with taking money that donors had given to help cancer patients and using it to on themselves as well as their families and friends,” in an amount in excess of $187 million. The money was used “to buy cars, trips, luxury cruises, college tuition, gym memberships, jet ski outings, sporting event and concert tickets, and dating site memberships,” and even for providing lucrative jobs to friends and family. Two of the charities, Children’s Cancer Fund of America and the Breast Cancer Society, will be shut down. I don’t know why the other two would continue.

The Washington Post also detailed the story, and also published their 5 reasons why it took the feds so long to catch on to the cancer charities scam.

I find it incredibly sad that the state of charities has become so deplorable. It’s to the point where you don’t know whether you can even trust someone soliciting donations, no matter how worthy the cause might sound. The odds are becoming increasingly likely that it may very well be a scam. And undoubtedly that hurts however many charities remain that are actually staying true to their purpose, because at least in my case I’m not giving to anybody until I’ve had a chance to look into the charity asking for my donation. And without the time to adequately do that most times, my default position is a blanket no. So I think the state of the charitable industrial complex has itself become a cancer of sorts, eating itself. With trust in non-profits understandably plummeting, what will that mean for the good work of the few? The sham charities are harming not only the people they bilk out of their cash and savings, but making many others, I have to assume, reluctant to donate to any charity without first knowing more about them. There must be a special circle of hell reserved for these people, praying on people’s better natures with their own worst.

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Beer Excise Taxes By State 2015

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Back in 2009, I wrote a post about Beer Excise Taxes By State, based on data from by the Tax Foundation, and they also created a nice map of the 50 states with the individual beer excise tax brewers in each state has to pay in addition to the federal excise taxes, too.

They’ve now updated that map with more recent tax rates as of January 1, 2015. As they note, “[t]ax treatment of beer varies widely across the U.S., ranging from a low of $0.02 per gallon in Wyoming to a high of $1.29 per gallon in Tennessee.” They also acknowledge that “taxes are the single most expensive ingredient in beer, costing more than labor and raw materials combined,” citing 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.”

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The Most Distinctive Causes Of Death By State

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This is somewhat interesting, though it was little to do with beer. The CDC released the results of an analysis of the “most distinctive cause of death for each state and the District of Columbia, 2001–2010.” I never realized this, but it makes sense. The CDC uses a standardized List of 113 Selected Causes of Death, based on the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision. This is to help the data collected be more useful, and allows comparisons to be drawn if the data is not affected by local bias or custom. Then the data used was “age-adjusted state-specific death rate for each cause of death relative to the national age-adjusted death rate for each cause of death, equivalent to a location quotient.”

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The analysis that went into creating the map was done by Francis Boscoe, who’s a researcher at the New York State Cancer Registry. Here’s the main findings, from the CDC website:

The resulting map depicts a variety of distinctive causes of death based on a wide range of number of deaths, from 15,000 deaths from HIV in Florida to 679 deaths from tuberculosis in Texas to 22 deaths from syphilis in Louisiana. The largest number of deaths mapped were the 37,292 deaths in Michigan from “atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, so described”; the fewest, the 11 deaths in Montana from “acute and rapidly progressive nephritic and nephrotic syndrome.” The state-specific percentage of total deaths mapped ranged from 1.8% (Delaware; atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, so described) to 0.0005% (Illinois, other disorders of kidney).

Some of the findings make intuitive sense (influenza in some northern states, pneumoconioses in coal-mining states, air and water accidents in Alaska and Idaho), while the explanations for others are less immediately apparent (septicemia in New Jersey, deaths by legal intervention in 3 Western states). The highly variable use of codes beginning with “other” between states is also apparent. For example, Oklahoma accounted for 24% of the deaths attributable to “other acute ischemic heart diseases” in the country despite having only slightly more than 1% of the population, resulting in a standardized mortality rate ratio of 19.4 for this cause of death, the highest on the map. The highest standardized mortality rate ratio after Oklahoma was 12.4 for pneumoconioses in West Virginia.

A limitation of this map is that it depicts only 1 distinctive cause of death for each state. All of these were significantly higher than the national rate, but there were many others also significantly higher than the national rate that were not mapped. The map is also predisposed to showing rare causes of death — for 22 of the states, the total number of deaths mapped was under 100. Using broader cause-of-death categories or requiring a higher threshold for the number of deaths would result in a different map. These limitations are characteristic of maps generally and are why these maps are best regarded as snapshots and not comprehensive statistical summaries.

Notice that despite prohibitionists claiming that alcohol is the “3rd-Leading Preventable Cause Of Death,” it’s actually not even on the list. It’s not even on the list of 113, apart from the more specific “Alcoholic Liver Disease.” Also, cancer isn’t among any of the top cause for any individual state, which is surprising given that it’s usually listed as the number two cause overall. Some of the stranger ones include Oregon and Nevada, whose leading cause is “legal intervention.” Then there’s Alabama and Tennessee with “accidental discharge of firearms,” while in Arizona and Arkansas it’s “discharge of firearms, undetermined intent.” Is anyone else bothered by the fact that in four states you’re most likely to die by being shot, whatever the reason?

What 3,465 Breweries Are Doing To The Hop Supply

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I admit there’s a certain “duh” factor to this, but it’s still interesting to see the numbers. With IPA and other hoppy beers accounting for over 20% of the craft beer market, there’s not enough hops being grown to keep up with current demand, and it will only get worse as interest continues to grow, as it seems likely the popularity of hoppy beers will be with us for the foreseeable future. This is from the May 2015 issue of Popular Science, which has a short article entitled Craft Beer is Annihilating the Hop Supply, which adds that demand for hops has “nearly quadrupled in the past decade.”

The article is subtitled “why that might be a good thing,” presumably alluding to the increased demand, but never really answers that question satisfactorily. There’s a quote from the former director of the Hop Growers of America, Doug MacKinnon, saying “Craft brewing is sucking up every pound of hops in the U.S. Growers can’t expand fast enough,” and suggesting that’s opening up the market beyond Washington, Oregon and Idaho, where U.S. hop growing has been concentrated at least since prohibition ended.

The article cites as proof that “single-acre hop operations are popping up on other types of farms across the country, including “Growers in New York, Minnesota, and Colorado,” and I’m also aware of similar efforts with commercial farms in Maine, Wisconsin and California, and I’m sure I’m forgetting somebody. Hops-Meister, which is near Clearlake, started in 2004 and grows ten different varieties on at least 15 acres. Co-owner Marty Kuchinski will be talking to my class tonight about hop farming. California used to grow more hops than any other state prior to prohibition, but never rebounded as farmers here found they could make more per acre growing grapes, but it’s why that legacy includes the town of Hopland and the Hop Kiln Winery. And New York used have an entire hop industry in the 19th century, until a downy mildew problem and other issues forced many to move production out west. So it’s little surprise that, with more modern farming methods, this growing demand would bring back hop farming to many parts of the country, not to mention a strong desire for brewers to have more local ingredients.

But the numbers just seem crazy: 27 million pounds of hops in 2014, and an estimated 31 million pounds this year.

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Where Do The Moderate Drinking Guidelines Come From?

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For as long as I can remember, the recommended daily allowance to remain within moderate drinking guidelines has been one drink for a woman and two for a man. With the USDA’s new 2015 Dietary Guidelines open for comment, Modern Drunkard magazine, through their Brutal Hammer news blog, attempted to discover where those longstanding “2 for a man/1 for a woman” (2m/1w) guidelines came from, and wrote up their efforts in The CDC Is Stonewalling Us. In some ways it’s a silly piece, hinging on the CDC’s website comment apparatus not working, but the overriding question is sound. While the rest of the document about the Dietary Guidelines is heavily footnoted, with numerous references to the basis for their recommendations, the 2m/1w guidelines is suspiciously and conspicuously absent of any underlying scientific support.

Nowhere is it apparent how they came to that determination. No footnotes, no citations of scientific studies, not a damn bit of evidence to support it. Granted, my bourbon binoculars (the classier version of beer goggles, but they see deep into the truth of things) can only take in so much information at a time, but I couldn’t find a shred of reasoning for these arbitrary numbers.

I’d never thought about that before, but it’s a valid question. Where did they come up with that? And it’s not an unimportant one. The guidelines for defining moderate consumption are not the same worldwide, and in fact vary widely.

For example, Professor David J. Hanson at the State University of New York notes. “The fact that alcohol consumption guidelines are arbitrary is demonstrated by the wide variance in maximum limits recommended around the world. For example Poland’s recommended limit is 12.5 units per week whereas Australia’s is 35. Indeed, much research finds better health and greater longevity associated with drinking above the recommended guidelines published by most countries.” To contrast the U.S. guidelines, “Canada recommends that men on average consume no more than three drinks per day, five days per week, for a total of 15 drinks per week. For women it recommends, on average, no more than two drinks per day, five days per week, for a total of 10 drinks per week.”

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A British examination of 27 European nation’s guidelines found “a remarkable lack of agreement about what constitutes harmful or excessive alcohol consumption on a daily basis, a weekly basis and when driving, with no consensus about the ratios of consumption guidelines for men and women.” Hanson concluded. “Thus, it appears that the differences in recommended guidelines are not based solely on the scientific medical evidence, but on cultural and political considerations. That is, the guidelines are highly arbitrary.”

And in some cases, capricious, as well. It was revealed in 2007, twenty years after the guidelines for the UK had been set in stone in 1987, that they were simply made up. One committee member who’d worked on the guidelines remembered that they were simply “plucked out of the air” and had “no basis in science” whatsoever, which I detailed at the time in Target: Alcohol. Without a clear basis on which our own guidelines were arrived upon, how can we be certain ours are any less fabricated inventions?

The other issue that’s never adequately addressed is the split for men and women. Supposedly, it’s because “Women tend to be smaller, but also have different body compositions and different metabolic enzymes.” But we know that weight matters. It’s how we figure out how much an individual can drink before they’ll be drunk or at least reach a specific blood alcohol level, because the rates are fairly precise when accounting for weight plus intake. So why do we ignore that simple knowledge with the guidelines? There are, of course, plenty of small, light men as well as many heavier women. It’s just a reality that people are diverse.

The International Center for Alcohol Policies or ICAP, somewhat disingenuously claims that the “Recommendations are based on scientific data regarding drinking levels at which risk increases,” yet never reveals where this “scientific data” comes from. And the fact that the guidelines vary widely from country to country would seem to suggest otherwise. Because if there was hard scientific data it would be the same everywhere, and the guidelines would not vary by as much as they do.

The closest thing I can find in the U.S. is at the Recommended Alcohol Questions on the NIH and NIAAA website states that the guidelines are “based on recent epidemiological studies on alcohol intake and risks which have demonstrated that for estimating risk of mortality, morbidity (including injuries) and other problems including drunk driving and social harms.” But then where are the citations for these epidemiological studies, and how could they possibly quantify such subjective issues as “social harms.” Quick answer: they can’t, not and remain purely scientific as the guidelines really should be.

I had never stopped to question the 2m/1w guidelines before, and it appears neither did almost anyone else. While there are plenty of citations for many aspects of the dietary guidelines, when it comes to alcohol, the government suddenly goes silent. But it doesn’t seem like too much to ask that the scientific basis for them be revealed and transparent. I’m not even arguing against them, and have always thought they were somewhat reasonable, especially in their current incarnation with the addition of the weekly limits. But we really should be able to see how they were arrived at, and what science, if any, they were based on.

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Top 50 Craft Breweries Infographic

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This is pretty cool. Vinepair took the list the BA released on Tuesday, the Top 50 Craft Breweries For 2014, and created an infographic showing where the top fifty are located. It’s interesting to see the pockets where there are only smaller breweries, those ranked 51-3000+. It does appear that the top 50 are concentrated in a few broad areas.

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Click here to see the infographic full size.

USDA Dietary Guidelines Under Fire Again From Prohibitionists

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Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, updates its quinquennial Dietary Guidelines. They’re described as providing “authoritative advice for Americans ages 2 and older about consuming fewer calories, making informed food choices, and being physically active to attain and maintain a healthy weight, reduce risk of chronic disease, and promote overall health.” Since the last guidelines were published in 2010, it’s time for the new ones, and they’ve been proposed and are are now open for comments before being finalized.

In the 2010 Guidelines, a change was made to the structure of the recommended amounts of alcohol people should consume, if they’re going to enjoy drinking alcohol and are, of course, of legal age. At the time, the government took the radical view, to prohibitionists, that:

The consumption of alcohol can have beneficial or harmful effects, depending on the amount consumed, age, and other characteristics of the person consuming the alcohol. Alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects when consumed in moderation. Strong evidence from observational studies has shown that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Moderate alcohol consumption also is associated with reduced risk of all-cause mortality among middle-aged and older adults and may help to keep cognitive function intact with age. However, it is not recommended that anyone begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits because moderate alcohol intake also is associated with increased risk of breast cancer, violence, drowning, and injuries from falls and motor vehicle crashes.

I may not agree with some of the characterizations in the last sentence, but it does serve to demonstrate how conservative the guidelines are, and that they’re not cavalierly telling people to start drinking. Plus, unlike some anti-alcohol groups, I’m not trying to willfully mislead people about what they say. They also have a handy chart of key definitions.

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So what that second definition means is that if you’re a woman, you can enjoy 3 alcoholic drinks a day (or less), so long as you don’t have more than 7 during the same week, and you’ll be considered to not be a heavy drinker or engaging in high-risk drinking. A man, however, may enjoy 4 alcoholic drinks a day (or less), so long as he doesn’t have more than 14 during the same week, and he’ll likewise be considered to not be a heavy drinker or engaging in high-risk drinking. That, in effect, relaxed the “1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men” axiom that had been in place for a long while. When those changes made the rounds five years ago, the prohibitionists threw a temper tantrum and accused the government of all manner of bias and corruption, which is almost funny given how conservative they really are.

The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, for 2015, are now going through the comment period, and once again the prohibitionists are apoplectic. Alcohol Justice, for example, whines that the government “proposes a risky and harmful shift in its definition of moderate drinking, and promotes drinking as a healthy dietary behavior. It suggests that a two-to-threefold increase in daily consumption limits is safe, and that questionable claims of health benefits outweigh known, substantiated risks of alcohol consumption. The Report represents a significant departure from previous Dietary Guidelines, and does so without sufficient scientific basis to justify such a shift.”

So how honest is that statement? Let’s take a look. First, what is the “risky and harmful shift in its definition of moderate drinking” from 2010 to 2015? The “new” language is on Page 105 of 107, constituting the proposed guidelines for 2015.

2015 Language:

Moderate alcohol consumption — Average daily consumption of up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, with no more than three drinks in any single day for women and no more than four drinks in any single day for men.

And here’s the old language below. Notice the difference? No? That’s because there really isn’t any. There are a few of the words that are different, numbers replaced by the word written out, some different punctuation, but that’s about it. The meaning is entirely the same.

2010 Language:

Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. Heavy or high-risk drinking is the consumption of more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 per week for women and more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 per week for men.

There is no shift. If anything, this version of the guidelines merely confirms changes made to the 2010 Guidelines. “Regarding alcohol, the Committee confirmed several conclusions of the 2010 DGAC, including that moderate alcohol intake can be a component of a healthy dietary pattern, and that if alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation and only by adults. However, it is not recommended that anyone begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits.”

AJ says the “Dietary Guidelines should recommend ways to reduce and prevent alcohol-related harm, not increase it,” but of course that’s not at all what they say. That’s just more whining because they don’t like what the USDA is proposing. They didn’t like it five years ago, and they don’t like it now. They go on to claim that with “current and growing evidence regarding risk of disease and harm from drinking even low levels of alcohol, the Dietary Guidelines should include recommendations for Americans to drink less alcohol – not more.” Of course, that’s another misleading statement. They can, and often do, cite single studies that say what they want, but as detailed in Studies Show Studies Don’t Show Much, most are not worth the paper they’re printed on, but they keep hammering on them because it makes for effective propaganda, especially in the school of “if you repeat a lie often enough ….”

AJ further believes that the proposed guidelines say “that a two-to-threefold increase in daily consumption limits is safe.” But this mythical increase is just that, a fantasy. The 2010 guidelines said the same thing. There’s no proposed increase, just a confirmation of the last version. And guess what happened with the 2010 change? Nothing, that’s what. The country did not fall to ruin from people suddenly drinking too much because they believe the guidelines told people they should, or could.

Then they accuse the guidelines are based on “questionable claims of health benefits [which] outweigh known, substantiated risks of alcohol consumption. The Report represents a significant departure from previous Dietary Guidelines, and does so without sufficient scientific basis to justify such a shift.” What utter bullshit. Do you know what constitutes a “questionable claims of health benefits?” Anything that AJ doesn’t agree with. And how they define “known, substantiated risks of alcohol consumption?” That’s easy, it’s one they like that agrees with their skewed world view. As shown, this is absolutely NOT “a significant departure from previous Dietary Guidelines,” but is virtually identical to the 2010 version. And their statement that there is not “sufficient scientific basis to justify such a shift” is laughable because they’ll never except any scientific evidence that disagrees with or contradicts their dogma. Here’s how the USDA explains how they arrived at the alcohol guidelines.

As alcohol is a unique aspect of the diet, the DGAC considered evidence from several sources to inform recommendations. As noted above, moderate alcohol intake among adults was identified as a component of a healthy dietary pattern associated with some health outcomes, which reaffirms conclusions related to moderate alcohol consumption by the 2010 DGAC.

No matter how you slice it, there is nothing new regarding the alcohol guidelines in the proposed dietary guidelines for 2015. But to hear Alcohol Justice tell it, this is “a radical change,” despite being almost exactly the same as five years ago. This is their action plan for the faithful sheep that follow them, [with my rebuttal in brackets]:

THE PROPOSED CHANGE:

Without providing any explanation or evidence for a radical change [they do explain the reasons, citing that there’s evidence supporting their decision], the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee proposes to increase limits used to define “moderate” drinking. [No, they don’t. All they do is confirm the changes made five years ago.]

The current (2010) U.S. Dietary Guidelines define moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men (daily limits) [that’s not all they say, they also cite the weekly allowances]. In contrast, the proposed change would base these 1/2 limits on average rather than daily consumption and suggests it is safe for women to drink up to 3 drinks in a day and men up to 4 drinks in a day so long as the averages are not exceeded [exactly as they did in 2010]. This effectively triples (the daily limit for women and doubles (the daily limit for men). [Not this time, it doesn’t.]

Furthermore, the report implies that drinking is recommended as part of a healthy lifestyle: “the U.S. population should be encouraged to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables …; moderate in low and non fat dairy and alcohol (adults).” [Oh, no! The horror. Frankly, what’s more surprising is that, given their findings that total mortality is improved with the moderate consumption of alcohol, they’re so conservative in their suggestions. But it makes sense in the context of anti-alcohol groups that throw tantrums any time their world view is challenged. But their statement that “the report implies that drinking is recommended as part of a healthy lifestyle” is complete and utter nonsense, and could even be called grandstanding because the language of the proposed 2015 guidelines also includes this: “However, it is not recommended that anyone begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits.” So it’s pretty crystal clear that the USDA is not recommending people start drinking “as part of a healthy lifestyle.” AJ just made that up.]

THE PROBLEM:

Since most adult drinkers in the U.S. don’t drink every day, the proposed change effectively encourages consumption right up to binge drinking levels, thus increasing health risk. [That identifies the problem with the definition of binge drinking, as I’ve written about numerous times. That’s the problem here, not encouraging people to drink moderately. After all, if they did, they might live longer. We wouldn’t want people to know that, would we?]

Binge drinking (4 or more drinks per occasion for women; 5 or more drinks per occasion for men) causes more than half of all alcohol related deaths each year in the U.S., and impairment and increased risk begin below those levels. The proposed changes are, therefore, dangerous for public health. [Again, that’s a problem with the definition of bingeing, which used to be more vague, making it hard to quantify. So it’s been narrowed over the years, and made easier to quantify, bringing more and more people into the specter of binge drinkers, artificially inflating statistics about its dangers.]

There are no randomized studies showing any health benefits from any level of alcohol consumption as well as no evidence that moderate drinking promotes a healthy lifestyle. [Poppycock. They’re hanging their hat here, one presumes, on “randomized” studies, but it’s unlikely even that’s true. The USDA itself in 2010, looked at meta-analysis of a wide range of studies, concluding just the opposite of AJ’s position. But AJ keeps ignoring that “evidence” because they don’t like it. It’s easier to just keep saying what they want to be true.]

It’s hard to know what to make of so dishonest a piece of propaganda as this is, raising unfounded fears, not to mention being littered with just out and out misinformation. It’s one thing to be in favor of promoting “evidence-based public health policies and organiz[ing] campaigns with diverse communities and youth against the alcohol industry’s harmful practices” but quite another to watch how that plays out in reality. “Evidence-based” seems to really mean anything they agree with and “the alcohol industry’s harmful practices” includes literally every single thing we do. I wish that was hyperbole, but I’ve never seen any action taken by an alcohol company that AJ didn’t find fault with, from donating cans of water to Haiti after the devastating earthquake there to their “‘charge-for-harm’ approach, which is based on the assumption that anyone who drinks deserves to be punished.” And another similar group stated at a 2013 conference that “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.”

This is getting seriously out of hand. as anti-alcohol groups get bolder and more obviously prohibitionist, their divisiveness makes any meaningful discussion increasingly impossible. And unlike these prohibitionists, most people I know in the beer world, and the real world for that matter, recognize that while moderate drinking of alcohol is a good thing for a majority of adults, it’s not for everybody. Some people can’t handle it, and they often ruin it for the rest of us. Because those are the people that anti-alcohol folks always use to represent everyone who drinks, ignoring that they’re minority and that most of us can have a few drinks and not plunge the world into turmoil. But as long as they keep painting us as all the same, they’ll never be able to admit anything but an absolutist view of drinking, no matter how ridiculous that is, and no matter how ridiculous it makes them seem. When you start accusing the conservative USDA of ignoring science and encouraging people to start drinking, you’ve definitely jumped the shark.