Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The occasional idiot

I ran across a story on the BBC about BrewDog's newest concoction: it's called Tokyo*, and it's just shy of 20% alcohol (by volume). Intrigued (given that BrewDog brews a beer called The Physics, how could I resist?), I read the article.
I was disappointed to find that several 'watchdog' groups and governmental entities were condemning the beer, complaining that "it is utterly irresponsible to bring out a beer which is so strong at a time when Scotland is facing unprecedented levels of alcohol-related health and social harm." In her own words, a spokeswoman for the British Liver Trust argued:
"The notion of binge-drinking is to get drunk quick, so surely this beer will help people on their way?"
Are you serious?
Has any one of these detractors ever tasted beer? Do they not understand that you drink cheap, watery beer (Coors, Bud, Pabst, Tennents, Carlyle, etc) to get drunk, but a good beer is like a good wine or a good loaf of bread - it is to be savored, enjoyed, understood in all its complexity? Who among you, I charge, would by a bottle of beer that was almost $20 and "chug" it?
BrewDog's response - that brewing high-quality, intricately flavored beers (this particular brew includes jasmine and cranberries) couldn't contribute to Scotland's binge-drinking problem - is completely reasonable. No drunk at a bar on a Friday night is going to choose the most expensive alcohol to "help [him] on [his] way" to further drunkeness. Anyone who purchases a beer from a brewery like BrewDog is doing so because they enjoy beer, not because they enjoy getting drunk. There is a difference, and it's really not so subtle.
The real problem here is not BrewDog's 18.2% a.b.v. beer. The real problem is the occasional idiot in government, the one who only reads the headline without finishing the rest of the article, the one who can see no farther than "more alcohol equals more bad." Soon, I suppose, they will turn on the whiskey distilleries with the same argument - surely, since distilled liquors are so high in alcohol content, their only purpose is to get people drunk quickly? Surely all alcoholic beverages have precisely the same taste because, as we all know, it's not the taste which the drinkers are after?
The real problem is the clash between people who believe that alcohol is intrinsically bad, the teetotallers and prohibitionists, and those who wish to do nothing but drink to get drunk. That dichotomy creates all of the tension, all of the strife, and all of the problems inherent to the system. Those of use in between - who know moderation is good, who enjoy the intricacies of the brewing process, who understand the difference between "drink" and "drunk" - we are caught in the crossfire, our liberties trampled by the one side, and our sensibilities trampled by the other.

UPDATE, July 30th:
Just a couple days, and already the BBC has waffled: "Confusion fuels alcohol misuse." Oh, right.

UPDATE, September 28th:
In response to the anger over BrewDog's "heavy" brew, a new one has been released. Take that, Scotland!

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