04 Mar 2010 @ 10:03 AM 

Let’s be clear about something: Beer has alcohol in it.

No! Really! I wear no tin-foil hat! It is a scientific fact that one of the by-products of fermentation is ethanol which contributes to the feeling of fuzziness that you feel after a good pint.

You thought it was just the flavinoids, didn’t you? Maybe a carb high? Excess CO2? Hah! No. It’s alcohol.

I know. It’s a potentially dangerous topic. You see, in the early 20th Century, as your history teachers may have taught you, the creation, transport, and sale of alcoholic beverages was banned in the United States. It was crazy. You want to talk bullshit politics? They even amended the Constitution to do it – the one instance of an amendment to the Constitution of the United States that restricted freedom instead of expanded it.

Luckily, a few years later (only 13!) this Amendment was repealed by another, different, freedom-making-Amendment. What’s not often made clear is what led to alcohol being prohibited. Many people think that it was just a bunch of teetotalling windbags that happened to have gotten popular sway and managed to get 2/3 of the states to ratify an Amendment.

Just FYI: That’s a LOT of work.

But they’re not wrong. It was just a bunch of teetotalling windbags that happened to have gotten popular sway. It also happened to be a bunch of crazy religious windbags, but this is not about religion. It’s about windbags.

Let me tell you about windbags. Windbags know what’s good for you better than you do. Windbags come in many, many different colors. They’re Democrats. They’re Republicans. They’re white and black and hippies and yuppies and pretty much everybody with a half a brain who thinks that their shred of randomly sparking neurons makes them a better judge for what you do with your life than you are
There are even windbags amongst beer geeks. But those aren’t the windbags that I’m concerned about.

(In this part of the column.)

The turn-of-the-20th-Century windbags saw depravity at hand in the country. They saw problems in society, and they had this idea that rather than working toward a reasonable solution to the problems existent in the country by addressing the root and causes of problems, that they would instead work toward eliminating a symptom: drunkenness.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease and they squeaked a LOT. For years. Political battles were lost and, eventually, won on the topic, and our forefathers were treated to thirteen years of attempting to pleasantly escape reality using … well .. cigarettes, probably. Whippets, maybe. Not the dog.

As it turns out, drunkenness is a great human pleasure. We’ve been doing it for 4000 years, and we’ve made it this far – in fact, I’m sure that on some level that we made it this far because fermentation helped us get through some sort of sterilization procedure before we knew what those wild autoclaves in the forest did. People strove for drunkenness, even through Prohibition, and in the country came out of the other end much worse for the wear, not only in the realm of beer (where big industrial lagers were able to take the market in their hands), but across society which had been indulging in just as many depravities, except now they were increasingly more depraved because they had to be secret about it.

I’m rambling, extrapolating and hyperbolizing a lot, here. Bear with me.

As it turns out, there are still windbags out there who would like to restrict alcohol consumption and/or ban it altogether. Even the person who started MADD has said that it has become a neo-prohibitionist organization. They’re not alone. There are windbags everywhere, even (and especially) in other countries.

So, back to beer. Beer, as we said, has alcohol. We, the craft beer industry, love beer. Duh. Why the hell would there be a craft beer industry, otherwise?

A few weeks ago, there was a poll out in the intertubes asking:

If beer didn’t contain any alcohol, but still tasted the same, would you still brew/drink it?

Yes – 76%
No – 23%

The results show me that at least 23% of the people that took this poll were honest. I took this poll when it came out. I voted no. Why? I mean, I love the taste of beer. I probably would drink it if it didn’t have alcohol if I thought it would exist in society if it didn’t have alcohol in it. As much as I love it for all of its other properties, there’s no doubt that one of the beautiful things about it is the fact that it’s a mind-altering social beverage. Is the alcohol the only reason to drink it? No. Is it a part of the package? Most definitely.

On top of that, how many sodas, juices or other drinks do you consume that have astringent bitterness as a core flavor component? You wanna put some hops in that Coke or that apple juice to balance out the sweetness? Yech.

But that’s okay! There’s nothing to be ashamed of in liking alcohol and, dare I say it? Liking to get drunk! You can enjoy it without abusing it – the ability to do just that is the backbone of the craft beer market segment.

Here’s where the problem lies. There’s a thin line between the appearance of enjoyment and the appearance of abuse. The difference is between:

“I’m heading out to a beer tasting to try some awesome new beer.”


“I’m heading out to a beer tasting and I’m gonna get TOTALLY TRASHED.”

Please note: Most likely, both are true. I’m as happy about it as you are. But, craft beer industry, here’s my question: Can we let the latter go unspoken when we’re in public? At least MOST of the time?

Appearances are important. We are judged by our actions and our words in the court of public opinion, and nobody’s going to take the time to look for extenuating circumstances when they think they’re right before they hear us.

Beer geeks and brewery employees are the ambassadors of the products that we craft and love. While the “I’m getting totally fucking crunked” line will definitely pull in one section of the population to our cause, it doesn’t portray us as connoisseurs and enthusiasts. It doesn’t portray us as artisans and experts. It portrays us as drunks. And if we’re all coming off as drunks, we lose the collective respect of those NOT in the craft beer industry

I mean, we might be drunks. But we don’t have to advertise it, do we?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to be the windbag here: Go get drunk. Tell your friends. Enjoy it. Have a blast. I do. Just have some class.

Every once in a while, you’re going to end up telling the public at-large about the obscene amount of fun we’re all having. But can we at least attempt to tell them that the obscene amount of fun that we’re having just happens to go alongside intelligent discourse and honest appreciation and leave the “OMFG I’m sooooo trashed” for friends and trusted compatriots?

Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 04 Mar 2010 @ 11:01 AM

Categories: appreciation, marketing, op-ed


Responses to this post » (5 Total)

  1. Nate says:

    Erik, your brutal honesty astounds me.
    Seriously, i would have voted “somewhat.” Meaning, I’d drink beer, but about 98% less frequently. Yes, I love the alcohol in it. I love how it warms my cheeks. Frees my tongue.

    The TASTE is where preference comes in. I choose beer over other alcoholic beverages (wine, mixed drinks, Zima).

    As usual, great read here.

  2. Glenn says:

    “Beer makes you feel the way that you should feel without drinking beer.” Everything in moderation, nothing to excess.

  3. erik says:

    Everything in moderation, including moderation?

  4. Big Tex says:

    Good stuff. Beer… it makes me a jolly, good fellow. It helps me unwind, and sometimes it makes me feel mellow. 🙂

    Since we brought up prohibition, I was born on Repeal Day. woot!

  5. christopher says:

    The sad thing about social reform windbags is they believe that human problems are due to some external substance and are not internal issues. People will suffer and many will self medicate with alcohol, drugs, sex, work… Taking away their medication does not solve their problems (usually makes it worse) so everyone suffers and no one gains.

    I would drink alcohol-free beer if it were the same sans alcohol but it can’t be so the point is moot. The alcohol plays an important role in the beer beyond its mind numbing effects. I would like to see more craft beers in the 3-4.5% range tho. Its hard to enjoy many because most are so mind numbing.

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