BS From the BA

The United States Department of Agriculture has released a new set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, something I would normally note with about as much interest as I would a statement from the Department of Health and Social Services. But then the forces of the Beer Institute, the Brewers Association and the National Beer Wholesalers Association combined to release a joint statement commenting on the Guidelines, and my BS detector went wild.

(You can find the dietary guidelines here. Most of the material regarding alcohol is in Chapter 2.)

Here’s what I see as the most offending part of the statement:

The idea of a ‘standard drink’ is misleading to consumers since it does not reflect how liquor is served or consumed. Not all alcohol is equal, meaning one alcohol beverage can have significantly more or less alcohol content than another. For example, depending on the proof of alcohol used, the mixer, and the bartender’s pouring habits, a so-called ‘standard’ mixed drink may contain 2, 3 or even 4 times more pure alcohol content and calories than the average light beer. It is common knowledge that two martinis consumed over the course of two hours could certainly produce a different effect than two light beers consumed over the same period. Furthermore, the false premise of a ‘standard drink’ is even more confusing considering that significant variations in alcohol concentration exist among the three product categories and even within each category. Beer remains the beverage of moderation with an average ABV of under 5%, compared to distilled spirits, which average between 35 – 40% ABV.

This kind of gobbledygook may be fine for the Beer Institute and the NBWA, since their members are primarily concerned with big-selling beers like Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite, each of which is below 5% ABV, as the statement suggests. But for the BA, whose members are responsible for the vast majority of the so-called “extreme” beers, this rings especially hollow.

Let’s look at some of the problems I see:

Not all alcohol is equal, meaning one alcohol beverage can have significantly more or less alcohol content than another.

Very true, and something that applies equally to beer, wine and spirits. Singling out a drink with spirits as having potentially 4 time the alcohol of a light beer, however, is ridiculous, as you would require close to 5 ounces of 40% alcohol spirits to hit that level, and how likely is that to happen, especially without the imbiber being aware of what’s going on in their glass?

(And incidentally, one pint of 12% alcohol barley wine will also meet that lofty mark of 1.92 ounces of pure alcohol.)

It is common knowledge that two martinis consumed over the course of two hours could certainly produce a different effect than two light beers consumed over the same period.

Assuming said martinis were 3 ounces apiece, of course! And the same could be said about two glasses of Californian cabernet or zinfandel, some of which hover in the realm of 14% – 15% ABV, or six 4 ounce tasters of high-octane craft beers.

Furthermore, the false premise of a ‘standard drink’ is even more confusing considering that significant variations in alcohol concentration exist among the three product categories and even within each category.

By which the statement is implying that alcohol content varies wildly among spirits, which are the main subject of the statement. In fact, spirits are without question the most consistent in their 40% ABV, while craft beer is almost certainly the least consistent and thus the most unpredictable in its effect. (Particularly given the habit most restaurants and bars have of not listing the strengths of the beers they carry.)

Beer remains the beverage of moderation with an average ABV of under 5%, compared to distilled spirits, which average between 35 – 40% ABV.

If you look at beer in terms of volume, yes. But if you count up all the individual brands of beer on the market today and work out the average alcohol content among them, I’m betting the picture would be much different. Further, comparing alcohol contents of beer and spirits is ridiculously disingenuous, since the former is normally consumed in 12 and 16 ounce portions — a bottle and a pint — while the latter is typically served in 1.5 or 2 ounce portions.

Now, I like beer, as I’m sure all visitors to these pages know, and I support the BA in its efforts to further the craft beer gospel across the United States and around the world. But considering the members’ products they represent, their signature on this release smacks more than a bit of throwing stones in glass houses.

2 Replies to “BS From the BA”

  1. The BA (brewers association, I assume) is an industry marketing organisation. Why would you be surprised that they sprout bullshit – isn’t that exactly what marketing is?

  2. Australia has been using the ‘Standard Drink’ marking for as long as I’ve been drinking. A 341ml bottle of 5% alcohol is 1.5 standard drinks, 30ml of whisky is 1 standard drink and so is a glass of wine. A 2 oz martini is 2 standard drinks.

    The rule of thumb is that men can drink 2 standard drinks in the first hour and one standard drink every hour thereafter while remaining below the .05% blood-alcohol level. For women it’s one every hour.

    The BA’s understanding of the ‘standard drink’ measure, seems to show they don’t quite grasp the issue and are generally against any change in their industry.

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