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
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.