Friday, April 22, 2011

Going Loko Over "Blast"

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed yesterday, when this Huffington Post article caught my eye.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is joining a chorus of state and city officials calling for Pabst Blue Ribbon to reduce the alcohol content in Blast by Colt 45, a high-alcohol malt beverage being promoted by Snoop Dog.

Madigan made the request in a letter to Pabst Thursday, according to a release from her office. She also expressed concern over the product being marketed to minors.

Officials in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Guam, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Washington, and the San Francisco city attorney have all spoken out against the beverage, and some groups have accused Pabst of targeting African American youths specifically.
Apparently I'm a little late to the party. I hadn't even heard of Blast until seeing this article. But since I'm typically the only rational one around (hush...), let me offer my unsolicited thoughts.

First, I think the sheer number of states and politicians chiming in on this "problem" can only mean one thing: it's election season. 2012 is sure to be a hotly-contested, fiercely-debated election year, and the piranhas are swarming on any slow-moving, meaty cow of an issue that comes wading into Shit Creek. Mix that with the media industry's underlying desire to scare you into watching/reading what they have to say, and you get this type of "news". All of the fear-mongering cliches are there. "Targeting African American youths" [And where was all of the concern when alcohol first got thrown at inner city kids, back in the 70s and 80s? Or, for that matter, tobacco? Or a little something called crack?]. "Marketed to minors". "The 'brightly colored cans and fruit flavors' will attract underage drinkers to the 'binge-in-a-can.'" "Blast will kick down the front door of your home, stab you in the gut, and rape your children in front of your dying eyes!"

Okay, I may have made up that last one. Of course, I haven't checked Fox News for their take on the topic yet, so... You could also point to the notion that Snoop's endorsement is an attempt to target youths as preposterous, since Snoop's biggest fanbase at this point in his career are people in their early 30s. Sixteen-year-olds today look at Snoop the same way I look at Smokey Robinson.

Second, the part about bright colors and fruit flavors is particularly laughable. When Four Loko was laying waste to the life of everyone in the nation under the age of 25 six months ago (seriously, if you were one of the people feeding the hype about the "dangers" of Loko back then, you've got to feel like an idiot right now; if you don't, then you probably also think Sarah Palin's just a good ol' folksy, plain-speakin' gal who waves to Russia every morning), the media and moralists focused their harrumphs on the fact that the cans contained caffeine, not that they're brightly colored and come in a rainbow of fruit flavors. The FDA enacted bans on caffeinated alcoholic drinks, but not fruity ones. And now that the makers of Loko have removed the caffeine and put the very same bright colors and fruit flavors back on the shelves of stores, no one has so much as batted an eyelash. Hey, why bother being "concerned" about something if there's no ratings or prospective votes involved, right? And Loko certainly wasn't the first fruit-flavored alcohol. Remember St. Ides Special Brew? Or wine coolers? Or *gasp*

And then you have what might be the most outlandish shovelful from the pile behind the bull. Madigan states that, "A product like this only serves to glamorize alcohol abuse and promote binge drinking, threatening the safety of those consuming it." *sigh* Let's get a few things straight here:

  1. Products don't "glamorize alcohol abuse" or "promote binge drinking". True alcohol abuse is a guy working on his third half gallon of cheap gin at 2 pm while burning his kids with a cigarette and polishing his NRA member's license. Doesn't exactly sound like a Super Bowl halftime ad to me. And no matter what uptight parents groups try to tell you, getting drunk with your buddies on a Friday night isn't binge drinking. If every few days you treat alcohol like a bulimic treats the Pizza Hut lunch buffet, then yes, you're a binge drinker. And you need help. If you drink two and a half Four Lokos and then go out to the bar with 15 of your friends and happen to fall asleep while you're there? Not a binge drinker. Still sad? Perhaps (and fuck you). But not a binge drinker.
  2. Blast does not threaten anyone's life. The FDA, as easily bowed by rabble-roused public pressure as they may be, does have something to say about whether or not a liquid sold for human consumption has the power to kill you. It's the same reason you don't see bottles of Mountain Dew "Antifreeze Rush" behind the glass doors at your local convenience stores. The fact of the matter is, the person pouring the alcohol down your throat—which, 9 out of 10 times is you—is what determines whether or not that drink will harm you. Knowing your limits, or knowing if you have a problem that prevents you from knowing your limits, is the only real safeguard you need once a beverage has passed the FDA's primary screening. If the formula gets from the FDA's labs to your lips—without being contaminated by a third party somewhere along the line—and you die from it? Well, your family may not want to hear it, but your death is officially a suicide. There's simply no one to blame but yourself.
Ah, personal accountability...wouldn't that be something? But maybe that's too much work for you. If so, then feel relieved that there are always people like Lisa Madigan, people who are more than willing to let their foolhardy political greed be your babysitter.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Little Science Makes Everything Better

A little cheerful news to toast to at happy hour, courtesy of the American Chemical Society:
Researchers are reporting discovery of a scientific basis for extending the shelf life of beer so that it stays fresh and tastes good longer. For the first time, they identified the main substances that cause the bitter, harsh aftertaste of aged beer and suggest that preventing the formation of these substances could help extend its freshness. Their findings appear in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Thomas Hofmann and colleagues point out that beer can develop an unpleasant, bitter aftertaste as it ages. Unlike wine, scotch whiskey, and bourbon, beer tastes best when consumed fresh. Experts estimate that the average beer goes bad after 6 to 12 months of storage. Scientists have identified several dozens of the key bitter-tasting substances formed during beer manufacturing — mostly so-called "prenylated polyketides" derived from hops. Until now, however, nobody had solid information about the bitter substances that form as beer ages.

The scientists analyzed a variety of commercial beers both before and after storage. They identified 56 substances that contribute to beer's bitter taste, including five that appear to be largely responsible for its harsh flavor after aging. "The present study offers the scientific basis for a knowledge-based extension of the shelf life of the desirable beer's bitter taste and the delay of the onset of the less preferred harsh bitter aftertaste by controlling the initial pH value of the beer and by keeping the temperature as low as possible during storage of the final beverage," the study concludes.
Raise your hand if you ever thought you'd see me quote the American Chemical Society on this page? Yup, me neither.

So we have come one step closer to eliminating skunky beer once and forever. I, for one, will certainly drink to that. Now if only they could find a way to create the bottomless mug...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Social Drinking Excellence: Ryan James Stephens

This one's quick and involves a simple lesson: When you're drunk and the police aren't concerned with you, turn and stumble away.

From CBS News:
An Ohio man has been charged with a misdemeanor for barking at a police dog.

It happened in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason - the police report says 25-year-old Ryan James Stephens is charged with teasing the K-9, which was in a patrol car.

Officer Bradley Walker wrote that while he investigated a car crash at a pub early Sunday morning, he heard the police dog barking uncontrollably inside his car. Allegedly, Stephens - the "animal impersonator" - was making barking noises and hissing at the real thing.

Walker reported that when he asked the barking Mr. Stephens why he was harassing the canine, he said "the dog started it." The officer also said Stephens appeared highly intoxicated (which is actually reassuring in this case).
If you're ever so drunk that you decide to grab the attention of a cop who isn't paying you any attention...yup, you deserve to end up where Mr. Stephens did. And you don't deserve to drink. All you're doing is wasting a perfectly good inebriation. Maybe instead of bothering with all of the paperwork and taking up the court's time, the cop should've just opened the car door and let the dog exact its own revenge. I'm sure it would have left quite the toothmark on Stephens' memory.

Mr. Stephens, your Rummy's in the mail. It has a built-in dog whistle, in case you want to communicate with your canine friends again.

Props to TK for spotting this one.

Breakfast of Champions

Who among us—and when I say "us", I of course mean experts in the field of boozing—haven't partaken of a morning beer before? There have been the random Saturday or Sunday mornings when I've awoken parched and hungover from the previous night's shenanigans and instinctively cracked open the nearest beverage, which just happened to be a beer. Much more frequently there have been "Kegs & Eggs" days, when the action was much more deliberate. Days like St. Patty's Day and the Pirates' Home Opener are annual traditions steeped in this ritual, wherein a cold can of beer is in my hand at the same time a hot cup of coffee is in that of my eventual arresting officer. And of course there are beach trips, when mornings are spent sitting on the deck with a beer while recounting how you got sand in places that soap has rarely seen.

Moa, a brewery in New Zealand, it seems, recognizes this niche in the market and intends to seize it.

From the New Zealand Herald:
The cherry-flavoured, wheat lager by Marlborough brewery Moa is described as "a beer the ladies can enjoy too ... if you're having a champagne breakfast but don't fancy champagne, have a beer instead".
Sounds like an idea whose time has come. But like with anything in the world these days, this idea has ruffled the the angelfeathers of the holier-than-thou crowd. Time Magazine blogger Megan Gibson even went so far as to joke:
Moa co-owner Geoff Ross said that his company isn't recommending problem behavior, rather pointing out that if it's part of the culture, alcohol can be consumed safely at all times of the day.

There's no word if he said this between beer bong hits, but obviously that's what we're assuming.
Really? Not only is that comment lacking in humor, the use of it is lacking in logic. Where is it etched in stone that any person consuming beer in the morning—or at any time of day, for that matter—will never be able to stop at one bottle/can? These aren't potato chips; most people can have just one. Even though Gibson cites the Herald article, she only seems to have read the first half of it. Had she continued on, she would have found a few of the comments offered by citizens whom the Herald polled, including this one from a 33 year old communications advisor:
"I'm Irish, and in Europe it's acceptable to have a beer at 11am. Some breakfast beers are taste enhancers ... it doesn't mean I'm going to have 10 drinks."
Common sense is always a refreshing chaser. Gibson could have exercised a balanced approach to this topic, but turned a blind eye to such journalistic ideals. Instead, she chose only to use her blog post as a cheerleading routine for New Zealand's National Addiction Centre, whose director Doug Sellman called Moa's marketing plan "breathtakingly bold":
[Sellman] said people might be inclined to drink a "breakfast beer" because they were risk-takers.

"It's a completely irresponsible stunt from a health and addiction perspective, because it is normalising pathological behaviour."
The hypocrisy of this soundbite is cringe-worthy. It's "irresponsible" of Moa to suggest their product to people whose culture entails drinking an alcoholic beverage in the morning, but it's not irresponsible to say that the customs of cultures foreign to your own are "pathological behaviour"? What Mr. Sellman (and his hype-woman, Ms. Gibson) would appear to be saying, then, is that any and every person who has ever put an alcoholic beverage to his or her lips prior to noon is a socially-deviant alcoholic in need of counseling.

Wouldn't you just love to be stuck in a corner with these two at a party?

Not only is that line of thinking reckless for the average person, it seems particularly disingenuous when coming from someone who is purported to be an expert in addiction. True authorities on alcoholism will tell you that the disease grows from psychological factors much more complex than, "I'm going to drink a beer in the morning to be edgy." Is there risk that people with alcohol dependencies will fuel their problems with a beer marketed for mornings? Certainly. But what Sellman and Gibson are missing is something that should be quite obvious: People with this type of serious problem already drink "breakfast beers", whether the products are marketed as such or not. Alcoholics don't drink in the morning because a brewer says its product can be consumed at that time of day, they do it because they're alcoholics.

Furthermore, there is an inherent risk in the marketing of any product that someone with an irrational mindset can misuse. And yet, I haven't seen outcry over TV commercials for Power Ball or the various state lotteries and the potential harm they could do to people with gambling addictions. How many sex addiction experts are protesting the annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show? To deride a company's marketing as negligent simply because a small subgroup of the population have an inability to control their use of the product is preposterous. And where is the consistency of Sellman's "message"? Shouldn't he be shouting down all marketing campaigns built around alcoholic products? He won't, though, because then far fewer people would listen to him. Maybe not even Megan Gibson.

Mr. Ross, if Moa wants to bring their product to America, let me know. I'd be happy to toast to your company's success before showering away the sand some morning on my next summertime beach trip.