The Moot Case Against Big Beer

The Independent today published a scathing analysis of the extreme beer “craze”. Among their points:

  • these beers have “intense flavours”, “alcohol contents of up to 12 per cent”, and “10 times as much hops as a traditional pint”
  • they are produced by “young entrepreneurs trying to capture the attention – and cash – of lager-guzzling twentysomethings”
  • drinkers may be “unaware of the strength of the new products” which may “exceed [the] daily recommended alcohol intake”

Most frustratingly, the article quotes the head brewer of BrewDog saying, “There’s no way someone can drink 20 a night. It’s probably the least economic way of buying alcohol. You can get a bottle of vodka for £5.” Somehow they just ignore this perfectly reasonable, well-articulated point.

Fortunately, there is some rational writing about beer out there as well. For example, that of Pete Brown. His clear, thoughtful, and bulletproof reply includes several important points:

  • “To suggest that stylish packaging can only be appreciated by the under-25s is patronising to the people these beers are really aimed at – affluent, stylish drinkers in their late twenties and older – in other words, your readership.”
  • “Thirdly, anyone who works in the drinks industry would tell you that the trend among young binge drinkers is for drinks that combine a high alcohol content with an unchallenging flavour. The whole point of these beers is that they are full-flavoured, designed for savouring and almost impossible to glug quickly.”
  • “Wine is sold in 75cl bottles, which are commonly shared between two people. If a 33cl bottle of beer at more than 10% is more than daily recommended alcohol intake (and almost all the beers you mention are not this strong) what’s half a bottle of wine (37.5cl) at 12-14%?”

Because it is so eloquent I will just quote entirely the last two bullet points (emphasis mine).

* Building on these points, Saturday’s Independent demonstrates breathtaking hypocrisy which does a disservice to its readership. The magazine carries its usual page of wine hagiography (funny how you hardly ever feature beer in this way, even though a cursory look at TGI readership data would show you that your readership are enthusiastic consumers of quality beer). This week Anthony Rose talks us through Italian whites. In total 18 different wines are given enthusiastic endorsement. There’s not even a single mention of the alcohol content of any of these wines. And yet I can promise you that every single one of them has a higher ABV than any of the “mindblowing” beers in your extreme beer article, three of which are illustrated with alarmist starbursts drawing attention to their alcohol levels – levels that are so low that if wine was to be produced to that strength, EU law would prevent it from being called wine because it would be too weak.

* But it gets better. In the main paper, 24 pages after the “extreme beer” feature, there’s an article entitled ‘War of the rosés’, about a scheme to make French rosé wine more popular. Here is a direct quote from that piece: “If we are forced to put the word ‘traditional’ on our bottles, people will think, especially young people, that it is a fuddy-duddy wine, an old-fashioned kind of drink. That will ruin everything we have achieved.” That’s from a winemaker. And here’s the journalist himself: “Young people, especially, have taken to rosé as a fun drink, which is refreshing, uncomplicated and relatively cheap. (Anjou rosé sells in the UK at between £5 and £8 a bottle. Other French rosés sell for as little as £3 a bottle.)” Despite the clear admission that rosé winemakers are targeting younger people, despite the fact that rosé wine is being sold cheap and marketed in a contemporary fashion in order to lure these drinkers, there is no worried quote from Alcohol Concern. No sensationalist headline. No mention of the ABV of rosé wines. The attractive illustration of three glasses of rose – unlike your illustration of extreme beers – carries no bold starbursts. The inference is clear: when winemakers admit that they are selling cheap wine (12-14% ABV) and actively targeting young people with 750ml bottles for as little as £3, that’s OK. But when a brewer creates a beer (6-12% ABV) and sells it in a 33cl bottle that retails from £4 upwards, and tells you it is emphatically NOT targeting young drinkers, you run the piece with a ‘health fears’ headline and a subhead that claims the beers are, in fact, targeting younger drinkers – despite the fact that this is a lower ABV drink, being sold at a higher price.

Independent, you just got lawyered.

Also, finally some coverage (warning: website issues) in the “Newspaper Iowa Depends On” of Iowa’s big beer debate. Some background: in Iowa, any beer over 6.25% alcohol is considered liquor. There are three ramifications for this:

  • brewers wishing to make such beer must hold a distiller’s license (even if they don’t wish to distill)
  • strong beer must be sold through the state only
  • good beer is unavailable in Iowa, because brewers don’t want to deal with the state

The article doesn’t seem to take a position but what do you expect from the Reggie?

Tags: , , , , ,

One Response to “The Moot Case Against Big Beer”

  1. Mr. Izzle says:

    I agree with everything you’re saying except that don’t you want your news to be presented unbiased-ly? And, that’s kind of surprising for Reggie as they usually take some sort of subliminal stance.

Leave a Reply