More information always seems like a worthy idea. But the truth is a complicated thing and some people are very skilled bullshitters — able to spin a rare species of lie from saying something entirely accurate, which carefully exploits ambiguities in someone’s question or levers off errors in their background understanding. ‘Beer the Beautiful Truth’, a new campaign launched by the Brewers Assocation,1 is sadly just this kind of bullshit. It’s the opposite of what beer needs right now.
This piece originally appeared in the summer edition of SOBA’s magazine, The Pursuit of Hoppiness. A few recent discussions1 of whether (and how) we should more-openly mix our politics and our pitching or purchasing have reminded me to belatedly post it here.
Introducing himself and his mission, Michael Jackson (the drinks writer, not the other one — as the inevitable caveat goes) often said “I want you to think about every beer you put to your lips”. He definitely didn’t just mean taste; he always talked about history, and context, and companionship. But my suspicion is that he wouldn’t have stopped there, and I submit we should add ethics to the list: sometimes, the behaviour of the people who make or sell a beer is reason enough to avoid it entirely. I’m even fairly agnostic about the details. I just want to see more people drawing a line somewhere.
One of the two real constants in my Philosophy Of Beer is that drinking is drug-taking.1 You can say this without being puerile or Prohibitionist; it is, after all, just the plain and literal truth. A lot of things are drug-taking ― from my morning coffee and daily antihistamines to things like morphine and amphetamines ― and there’s no point pretending otherwise or ignoring the wider context, variable as it is. The “drug” concept is (like everything) fuzzy at the margins, but I’m most interested in the ways it entails the need for some kind of moderation in your personal life (which I’ll return to later) and some kind of regulation in society.2 Needless to say, the details vary wildly with the character of the particular drug, and it’s entirely possible to strike the balances very badly indeed. For now, as a warmup to tackling trickier issues later, let’s address one specific rule ― age3 ― and how compliance with it is tested.
The Police regularly conduct “controlled purchase operations”, where an underage person is recruited to attempt to purchase alcohol from, say, a supermarket or a bar. That person can lie when asked their age, but they don’t carry fake ID. Recently, Dominic Kelly ― proprietor of beer bar Hashigo Zake and its importing arm Beer Without Borders ― criticised the practice, labelling it entrapment, and describing it as ‘seedy’, ‘inherently unfair’ and ‘appalling’. Now, I like Dominic. I count him a friend and consider him one of the country’s unsung beer writers; through his editorials in B.W.B.’s entertaining newsletters and his occasional blog, he’s a strong and valuable voice on its regulatory and business aspects. But here, he’s almost completely wrong.
Here’s my contribution to the teetering pile of Reinheitsgebot-related reckons that are surfacing around the thing’s putative 500th birthday ― which is being celebrated despite the old law no longer being in force, the new law not being so old (obviously) nor so simple, and the whole thing being colossally pointless in the first place. I wrote the below for the most-recent edition of SOBA’s Pursuit Of Hoppiness magazine but have added back in a few asides that had to be cut from the print version for space and/or tone. Think of this as the Extended Edition. If I had the coding skills to better-emulate the famous footnotes for David Foster Wallace’s The Host, I’d do that. This’ll have to suffice. If you need more Bonus Material, I’ve ranted down these lines before. For the record, the original text was written entirely under the influence of Kraftwerk and Reinheitsgebot-compliant beers. The latter was a complete coincidence, only realised in hindsight. To compensate, the annotation and uploading was undertaken while drinking beers that firmly had their thumb in the Purity Law’s eye.
This year marks the five-hundredth anniversary1 of a surprisingly-short text2 that came to be known as Reinheitsgebot, the (‘Bavarian’ or ‘German’) Purity Law. It mandated that “the only ingredients for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water”3 and its mythology has proven so strong that it’s still not uncommon4 to see breweries in New Zealand namedropping it in marketing material and referring to it as part of their mission or philosophy — half a world and half a millennium away.
I say “mythology” because the law is vastly overhyped, misunderstood and of basically no relevance to a properly broad view of beer. Almost all of the original 1516 decree concerns the price of the product,5 not its process, and its list of only three permissible ingredients renders brewing impossible since it predates the discovery of, and therefore omits, yeast. That may seem pedantic, but it’s a healthy reminder that old laws and not necessarily good laws. Few of us would be keen to visit a hospital that followed Sixteenth Century standards of hygiene.
A hopefully-exhaustive summary for the apparently-perplexed:
Q — When should I use gender tropes in pitching my product and in the targeting or tailoring of my marketing?
A — Never.1
1: That should do it for this topic. It isn’t complicated. We shouldn’t need to keep having this conversation. Seemingly inevitably, though, it came around again just recently and doubtless it will do so once more soon enough. I’ve been in the beer-selling business for a decade now and I’m still not sure things are improving. So fine. I’ll elaborate, if I must.
Last week, for example, New World (a local supermarket chain) started pushing Facebook ads introducing the winners of various categories in their recent beer and cider awards. One beer was pitched “for your mate”, another was “for your boss”, while the only cider featured was suggested as “for the missus” — falling into the boring old stereotype that cider is for women while beer is for men. To their credit, the PR team yanked the ad very quickly and sent the marketing people back to do it over — and they avoided resorting to the usual ‘nonpology’ formula of “sorry if you were offended”. But in a conversation with their representative they ran the line that there’s a long debate to be had on a role of gender in advertising, on which many points of view can be held — which is understandable and even predictable for a PR firm, but still a little depressing and worth addressing, because there really is nothing to this. Relegating my reasoning to a footnote is my little protest.
A version of this post originally appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of SOBA’s quarterly magazine Pursuit of Hoppiness. The idea came to me during a guest spot on the Ale Of A Time podcast — though I didn’t realise at the time that I could just reuse and rework the standard acronym — and I was recently reminded of the point while Em was on holiday last week and managed to visit the Wheatsheaf (in Adelaide) before me and without me.
The Fear Of Missing Out is an ancient impulse made ever-sharper and more problematic by modern communications technology bringing news of happenings that are too far-flung or ill-timed, or both, to personally enjoy. It crops up often in the beer world, often rendered as “FOMO”1 — both for brevity’s sake and to encompass the wider emotions of anxiety, sadness, and jealousy that also so-naturally accompany missing out. But let’s recalibrate our f-word, so to speak.
So last week, Asahi bought Mountain Goat. And earlier this month Heineken bought half of Lagunitas, then the company which makes Budweiser acquired something called Golden Road, and just under three years prior to that Emerson’s was subsumed within Lion.1 Meanwhile: Russia re-annexed Crimea, Pixar has so far spent a decade in the belly of Disney, India smack-merged with the Eurasian Plate fifty-million-or-so years back and (geologically speaking) threw up the Himalayas, and in four billion years our galaxy will non-violently combine with Andromeda and send countless millions of worlds swirling into new orbits until something else supermassive comes along ― plus ça change plus c’est la même chose.