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The Buzz

A Beerfly's view. If you see anything here that seems crazy, click here.

Vintage Buzz

2007 Buzz

Sept. '07: Flat Tire

August '07: Peanuts & Salmon

July '07: Tastier

June '07: Blind, But now I see

May '07: They're Baaaack...

Apr. '07: Deadly Serious

Mar. '07: Defined or Divided?

Feb. '07: Intro to Blog

Jan. '07: Best of 2006

2006 Buzz

Dec. '06: 10 Predictions

Nov. '06: Cold November Rain

Oct. '06: Just Because You Can

Sept. '06: It's Worth It

August '06: Messin' With Us

July '06: Break the Chains

June '06: Viva El Hefe!

May '06: Just Like Wine

Apr. '06: Mixed Messages

Mar. '06: We Print the Truth

Feb. '06: The Fairer Sex

Jan. '06: Best of 2005

2005 Buzz

Dec. '05: Look at Me Drink!

Nov. '05: Malt Monsters

Oct. '05: Sweetness

Sep. '05: When to Fold

Aug. '05: Little Nightmares

July '05: American Spirit

June '05: Miller Time 

May. '05: Breathing Beer 

April '05: Now It's Personal

Mar. '05: 7% Ain't Enough

Feb. '05: Down to 18 

Jan. '05: Best of 2004 

2004 Buzz

Dec. '04: Joys of the Dark 

Nov. '04: The Next Store 

Oct. '04: Beer's Image 

Sept. '04: Clearly Insane 

August '04: Love of Lager

July '04: Speak Up!

June '04: Get Drafted

May '04: Shedding Tiers

April '04: Keg Party

March '04: Ultra Madness

February '04: Case Law

January '04: Best of 2003

2003 Buzz

Dec. '03: Wine good!

Nov. '03: Say Anything

Oct. '03: Shots at Saveur

Sept. '03: Pay For It!

August '03: Subtlety

July '03: RIP, Corner Bar

June '03: Screw 'Em!

May '03: Extreme Beer?

April '03: Liquor Taxes

March '03: St. Patrick's

February '03: Coffee

January '03: Taxes

October, 2007

A Six-Pack of Thoughts

Despite all the wonderful recent advances in my favorite drinks – great growth in sales and respect for craft beer, ditto for American and Scotch whiskey, and new products springing up across the board – the world continues to have a drinking problem: they don’t know how to handle it. Governments love it for taxes and punish it for bad drinkers, retailers sell it stupid and complain about police harassment, and consumers use it in pathetic ways and can’t figure out who to blame. Oh, woe is booze. Hence: a six-pack of booze problems for you.


Beer Violence in the UK – Alcohol-related violence is a serious problem in the UK. A man was kicked to death this summer by drunken teenagers after he went outside to yell at them for kicking his car. Taxes are already very high, some of the highest in EU, yet the knee-jerk response to alcohol-fueled violence is to raise taxes (what about raising taxes on boots?). Seven countries in the EU have higher alcohol consumption per capita, yet Luxembourg, the highest, has no street violence like the UK, and has beer taxes that are one-tenth what they are in the UK. Spain and Portugal are similar situations.

The problem, as it is here, as it is in New Zealand (where the hand-wringers want to jack the LDA back up to 20 after five years at 18), is not the tinkering booze laws, the failed attempts to legislate behavior. It’s the drinking culture, the way people learn to drink to get drunk. Changing taxes, changing LDAs, changing drinking hours: it’s rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We need to figure out why people drink dangerously before we can make intelligent moves about how to change it. Increasingly harsh punishments won’t do the trick.


Zimbabwe Drunk on Cheap Beer? – Beer is the whipping boy in Zimbabwe. Faced with an estimated inflation rate of 6,500% – that’s right, six thousand five hundred per cent – Zimbabwe put price controls on beer and "other commodities." The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s governor, Gideon Gono, now blames that cheap beer for fiscal disaster in Zimbabwe. "We are creating a nation of drunkards because beer is so cheap," he said in a public address recently. "By doing what we did to beer, we are causing disharmony in families because husbands are coming home drunk every day." In some instances, decision makers at various levels (who are under the influence of the cheap beer) are making tragic decisions, he said. And that’s all you heard in most "Booze is the Devil!" reports. Here’s the rest of the picture, from a story by global news agency AHN: "The crowd, which contained army service chiefs and government ministers erupted into laughter." Faced with such a blatant attempt to distract attention from failed economic policies, I’d have laughed too.


Rising Material Costs – As I reported on the blog, the price of barley’s going up; maybe because of The Stupid Ethanol Boom, maybe because of bad harvests, but it’s going up, perhaps as much as 100%. Hops are going up, because of bad harvests in Europe, because they’re a pain to grow and some growers cut back on their acreage, and because we’ve had some fires in the U.S. hop-growing areas this year. Glass continues to go up thanks to rising energy costs in that energy-intensive industry, and transportation costs continue to go up for the same reason. Imported beer prices are getting hiked by a weakening dollar.

Beer prices will inevitably go up, and that’s bad news for all of us. It’s worse news because brewers probably won’t see a dime of it. Craft brewers have held the line on price increases for too long, and now they’re finally forced to take a large increase to pay for these costs, and they will be hard-pressed to stick a little profit in there. Don’t curse them when you have to dig deeper.


Pennsylvania Booze Laws Still Suck – The whole Sheetz issue – can a gas station/convenience store that has a sit-down dining area get a tavern license and sell six-packs for off-premise consumption only – has gotten right out of hand. Talk about how many barleycorns can dance on the head of a zwickel; I see many bars that have what amounts to a separate six-pack store, with its own door, selling only to-go sixers. Where’s the difference? It’s about competition, it’s about selling beer at a gas station (which for some reason makes legislators sure that people will grab a cold six-pack and guzzle it down behind the wheel…as opposed to all the other places they buy six-packs and then drive home?), it’s about not fiddling with the system.

I got news for you: the system sucks. It sucks all the way from the case law to the by-God stalinist system of state-owned booze stores. I can’t believe we’re still paying the 18% Johnstown Flood Emergency Tax 80 years after the flood, I can’t believe that the state claims that they keep the state stores in place to combat underage drinking when they don’t even do compliance checks on underage sales in them, I can’t believe we have to buy beer by the case except in bars. Change is coming: the Sheetz case is going up to the state Supreme Court, and there’s finally a six-pack law coming up that’s got a decent chance of passing. But you know what? It’s still going to suck.

Malt-based Energy Drinks Kill Children and Puppies – Thirty state attorney generals (pedants, please see the link at top of page) have called for an investigation into what they initially refer to as alcoholic energy drinks (that’s such a confusing term: are they energy drinks for alcoholics?). They later made it clear that what they were truly ‘seriously concerned’ about was brewery-produced alcohol energy drinks: wake-up beers. The "concern" listed first was that these drinks are dangerous because they’re full of alcohol. Um…drinks with alcohol in them are completely legal, brain trust. Then they claim concern because the caffeine in the drinks makes "young consumers" think they’re not really drunk. Where were these guys 60 years ago when Joe Sheridan was inventing Irish Coffee, which has real amounts of caffeine and a solid slug of whiskey in it?

But the real concern of these attorney generals is money. After they lard up the letter with plenty of "save the children" banana oil up front, they get down to the real nut. It’s all about classifying these drinks as distilled rather than brewed; they want to be sure the ATTTB checks each one of these drinks for distilled alcohol content. Is distilled alcohol different from brewed alcohol, somehow more dangerous to children and fluffy bunnies? No, dearie, but it is taxed at a much higher rate, which makes it much more appealing to states and their treasuries. It just slays me that the New Drys always accuse booze companies of putting profit ahead of safety.


Bar Licensing has Unintended Consequences – I read a news story recently about a bar in Philadelphia near UPenn making customers hand over credit cards in order to charge everyone in their party fifty bucks if anyone in the party pukes in the bar. You know, I hate puke in bars. I've stepped over way too many puddles of it (one, would be way too many). I hate pie-eyed drunks in bars (I've been one; not too often, but it has happened, and I hated that, too). Bar owners and bartenders can't like it, either. Why do they let it happen? Why do they over-serve people?

Some of it's drinking culture; we can't say no. But a lot of it is the unintended consequences of licensing laws. Too many states allow auction sales a of limited number of licenses. Licenses go for over $1,000,000 these days. That's a MILLION BUCKS for a stinking piece of paper; add that to your monthly mortgage/lease payment, and all the overhead, and you've got one hell of a big nut to make. And they expect you to stop your bartenders from serving another drink? You're conflicted, at best, you're cynical at worst. It's a recipe for abuse, and it gets served up in a steaming pot of bar puke. Sweet. 

You want to tinker with laws to change how we drink in this country? Make liquor licenses cheap again, and bring back the corner bar. Give them incentives not to overserve people, not threats


That's the six-pack. Take it home and think about it. Because that's what this month's Buzz is about: thinking. When you read headlines blaming the booze industry or bars or beer stores for things...think about what's really going on. Complex issues, folks. Go deep.


Copyright © 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. 
Fee required for reprints in any commercial media.
Revised: October 02, 2007