Monday, 7 February 2011

How the media could help, but choose not to

Today, somewhat surprisingly, some links to online newspaper articles in the Daily Star and the Daily Mail appeared on a few Twitter feeds. I say 'somewhat surprisingly' because they broached the subject of the sale of a new type of uber beer, a 32% (The Star) and a 41% (the Mail). These radical new beverages wore the staggering price tag of £55 per bottle and were made in such limited quantities that there is a waiting list for their order. Moreover, one of these beers is the strongest in the world.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Sink the Bismarck have been on sale for over a year now, neither are made in such limited quantities that there is a waiting list (they sell quickly mind you, so if you want one and don't get in quick you might have to wait, but that is not the same thing) and neither are the strongest beer in the world, and haven't been for quite some time. Yes they are quite expensive, but £55 is probably a bit much. Still, if you can get it, well done. Thankfully both articles explained the difference between the two beers. Oh sorry, no they didn't.

None of that is new, or even news. Its not particularly interesting either, except to people who become especially irritated by lazy journalism aimed at the lowest common denominator. In other words, me.

That is what this blog is all about really, how the media can have such a negative affect on a good thing, or a catalyst effect on a bad one.

Sensationalism sells newspapers, so facts really aren't that important. According to the Mail 'One GULP of this beer would send you over the drink drive limit' the Star were equally adamant, stating that 'One SWIG' would have a similar effect. To the best of my knowledge, which in this arena isn't too bad, neither swigs  nor gulps are standard measurements for the sale of alcohol. This is the UK, not a Spanish resort.

So why not research your article properly - at the very least get the facts right - and write something that actually explains what the beer is? I can only imagine that the truth, despite actually being very interesting not to mention highlighting what the brewery (BrewDog) were getting at in the first place (invention, creativity), isn't 'exciting' enough.

So the outcome of either article could have been so much more positive, the readers might have learnt about freeze distillation, about different beer styles and about the potential benefits of the craft beer movement in encouraging people to drink less and savour more. Instead, both talked about 'cynical marketing'* and 'a potential increase in binge drinking'.

Now, I could be wrong but if you write a fairly indepth commentary on how that kind of beer is produced you have far less chance of creating a drinking culture off the back of it, than by simply writing nonsense to make people needlessly excited/aggitated/self righteous.

Brewers (and the drinks industry as a whole) are constantly chastised about their efforts to promote 'responsible drinking'. Yet the media are allowed to publish such utter drivel, a far from responsible way of presenting a UK brewery and completely missing the point of high abv craft beers.

All very sad

*in a personal message to Jack Laws of Alcohol Focus Scotland - and one that he will never read - Mr Laws, you accuse BrewDog of cynical marketting and yet every single time they are in the newspaper for something that no sane or rational person could ever claim will add to the already serious drinking problem in the UK, you leap on it like Steve Coogan on a lapdancer, desperate to get your name and cause in the paper. I'd say thats pretty cynical, wouldn't you?

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Education is the solution

I have just finished reading another histrionic undercomplicated arguement as to why high abv beers are the greatest threat to mankind since some bloke said 'I bloody am Jesus, now go and write a book about me and my dad'.

Now, I am quite certain I could write several very long poorly informed pages on why no MP should ever be allowed to influence the social framework of this country, how big breweries are the scourge of the earth and why minimum pricing is a brilliant idea, but will never be implemented because the decision takers and policy makers lack the courage to stand up to big business.

No, my time would be better served operating on my own genitalia using a heated spoon and a can of Special Brew. It is impossible to pinpoint exactly why the UK has such a destructive drinking culture but one thing is for certain, the government have got it horribly, catastrophically wrong.

The Review of Alcohol Taxation published by the powers that be at the end of last year was a quaint little read. Researched and written by a small group of deaf and blind miners from Patagonia, aided by some government policy makers who were guided helpfully by various consumer groups who have no vested interest in protecting the price of beer which is around 4%, like CAMRA and breweries who have no interest in protecting the price of beer which is around 5%, such as Heineken, AB In-Bev, Molson Coors and Diageo. Of course other independent contributors were much less biased, such as Macro, the wholesaler, a popular shopping venue for the high abv beer consumer. Cynical? No, just fact.

Looking at the claims made by the government about the UK's drinking problems. Which can be found here; . You can only marvel at the level of hypocrisy, it is truly impressive.

- More than 30,000 people were admitted to hospital with alcohol poisoning in England in 2007-08 (13,400 men and 16,700 women) – that’s more than 500 every week - This is a beer blog so I'll skip over the details, but how many of those almost 17k women do you reckon were admitted to hospital because they'd over done it on the Cantillon? I'm guessing very few... How ever it would be 'infair to penalise the responsible drinkers of wine and spirits'.

-  Around 40% of patients admitted to Accident and Emergency departments (A&E) are diagnosed with alcohol-related injuries or illnesses.

These are just two of the statistics on the governments website. Do they seriously think that these stats were created by a small group of beer geeks and a few scruffy chaps sitting on benches shouting at people? No, but it would be 'unfair to penalise premium beers which are generally under 7.5% abv in strength'.

Put it this way, if you see a fight on a street corner on a Saturday night you can be pretty sure that neither of the protagonsists is a beer geek or a homeless bloke, but its a safe bet that at least one of them will have traces of what the government describes as 'premium beers' and what the rest of us describe as industrial swill, in their system

So to the beer geeks, the price insensitive social hooligans who have the audacity to go to a local independent store to hunt out something made with passion, creativity, care and integrity and then walk home in a civilised manner and sit on the sofa enjoying this rarity, taking notes and discussing this treasure with friends.

It is up to us to purge our society of the menace we provide, it is up to us to solve the ills we project and the problems we create. We must educate those around us, explain our behaviour. Its not our fault, its an addiction and those graced with the power to resist tasty well made and expertly crafted beers need to understand our compulsion. We are the true bane of society, we'd love to just hit the pub, sink 10 pints of Stella, fight someone we've never met and end up in a police van or an ambulance. We're just not the type, sorry.

We have a drinking culture in the UK which needs to be changed and education is key. Traditional education is no good, teenagers are invincible, so telling them that drinking 6 cans of cheap lager in a graveyard is going to give them liver disease will have no impact whatsoever. Trips to breweries, vinyards and distilleries are no good either because unless you are a super geek, these places are just plain boring. You will never instill passion amongst the masses by talking about valves and stainless steel.

No, young people need to be educated and educated by people with passion and understanding. People who can articulate how drinking responsibly can be fun. Get these people in to schools, get the pupils to try different beers (yes, I did say that), smell different hops, taste different malts and educate them on how the ingredients produce the different products. Empower them, give them a choice, and I guarantee their attitudes to drinking will change.

It won't eradicate the problem but you'd see one hell of a difference. Alternatively, price them out of interesting beers, leave them with no knowledge, no power and the disillusioned premise that Peroni is the epitomy of quality.

Wake up and smell the hops.