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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Saturday, 28 March 2009

National newspaper in anti-beer bias shocker

Today The Independent carries a hatchet job on 'extreme beer', claiming that the likes of Brew Dog and Thornbridge are targeting young binge drinkers.  It uses my recent Beer 2.0 piece for The Publican as background research, and creates a master class in hypocrisy that would be funny if it wasn't for the fact that it might damage brewers I care about who spoke to me in good faith, and find themselves featured here as a result.  Here's an extract (sorry, but if you read this blog regularly you know I'm unforgivably wordy) of my response to the editor and the journalist concerned.  If this issue makes you angry, please write to the paper and complain:
  • It is entirely inaccurate to suggest that these beers are targeting the 18-25 age group.  They may ‘remind’ the guy from Alcohol Concern of alcopops, but Alcohol Concern is a pressure group funded by anti-alcohol campaigners which is regularly quoted in articles like yours as if it is an official health body.  It’s not.  Some of these beers are marketed in a stylish and modern way – that is not the same thing as targeting younger drinkers.   Each of these brewers has a strong corporate feel to their range, so how can you imply that the 8% beer has been designed and packaged to appeal to younger drinkers any more than the 4% beer has?  To suggest that stylish packaging can only be appreciated by the under-25s is patronising to the people these beers are really aimed at – affluent, stylish drinkers in their late twenties and older – in other words, your readership.  Secondly, As Martin Dickie points out, these beers are expensive.  One of Brew Dog’s beers may be sold in Tesco, but as a rule they are sold by specialist beer shops, beer bars and online retailers, and cost upwards of £4 a bottle.  Anyone simply seeking high ABV is going to buy something else first.  My Publican feature even points out that one of the brewers you’ve mentioned – Otley – actively refuses supermarkets who wish to stock their beers and sell beer at steep discounts.  Thirdly, anyone who works in the drinks industry would tell you that the trend among young binge drinkers is for drinks that combine a high alcohol content with an unchallenging flavour.  The whole point of these beers is that they are full-flavoured, designed for savouring and almost impossible to glug quickly.
  • The alcohol levels in these beers are not ‘mind-blowing’ - this is entirely inaccurate, misleading and potentially damaging.  Some of these alcohol levels may be cause for concern if the beers were sold in pints, with the expectation that several would be consumed in one sitting.  But these beers are hardly ever, if at all, sold on draught.  As your feature points out, they are sold in 33cl bottles.  They are designed for sipping and savouring.  Wine is sold in 75cl bottles, which are commonly shared between two people.  If a 33cl bottle of beer at more than 10% is more than daily recommended alcohol intake (and almost all the beers you mention are not this strong) what’s half a bottle of wine (37.5cl) at 12-14%?
  • Building on these points, Saturday’s Independent demonstrates breathtaking hypocrisy which does a disservice to its readership.  The magazine carries its usual page of wine hagiography (funny how you hardly ever feature beer in this way, even though a cursory look at TGI readership data would show you that your readership are enthusiastic consumers of quality beer).  This week  Anthony Rose talks us through Italian whites.  In total 18 different wines are given enthusiastic endorsement.  There’s not even a single mention of the alcohol content of any of these wines.  And yet I can promise you that every single one of them has a higher ABV than any of the “mindblowing” beers in your extreme beer article, three of which are illustrated with alarmist starbursts drawing attention to their alcohol levels – levels  that are so low that if wine was to be produced to that strength, EU law would prevent it from being called wine because it would be too weak.  
  • But it gets better.  In the main paper, 24 pages after the “extreme beer” feature, there’s an article entitled ‘War of the rosés’, about a scheme to make French rosé wine more popular.  Here is a direct quote from that piece: “If we are forced to put the word ‘traditional’ on our bottles, people will think, especially young people, that it is a fuddy-duddy wine, an old-fashioned kind of drink.  That will ruin everything we have achieved.”  That’s from a winemaker.  And here’s the journalist himself:  “Young people, especially, have taken to rosé as a fun drink, which is refreshing, uncomplicated and relatively cheap.  (Anjou rosé sells in the UK at between £5 and £8 a bottle.  Other French rosés sell for as little as £3 a bottle.)”  Despite the clear admission that rosé winemakers are targeting younger people, despite the fact that rosé wine is being sold cheap and marketed in a contemporary fashion in order to lure these drinkers, there is no worried quote from Alcohol Concern.  No sensationalist headline.  No mention of the ABV of rosé wines.  The attractive illustration of three glasses of rose – unlike your illustration of extreme beers – carries no bold starbursts.  The inference is clear: when winemakers admit that they are selling cheap wine (12-14% ABV) and actively targeting young people with 750ml bottles for as little as £3, that’s OK.  But when a brewer creates a beer (6-12% ABV) and sells it in a 33cl bottle that retails from £4 upwards, and tells you it is emphatically NOT targeting young drinkers, you run the piece with a ‘health fears’ headline and a subhead that claims the beers are, in fact, targeting younger drinkers – despite the fact that this is a lower ABV drink, being sold at a higher price. 

18 comments:

ATJ said...

It’s diabolical but I suppose an ailing (no pun intended) paper needs to garner headlines some way — it’s always been this way, when Glenn Payne was bringing in Worldwide Stout for Safeway, this was targeted because of its strength; at £7 a 330ml bottle it was pointed out that your average binge drinkers would not be going for it.
Have you had a response — or are they yet another bunch of idiots lost without trace up their smug finger-wagging buttholes who never deign to talk to those who have different opinions?
And this was the paper that used to have Michael Jackson in every Saturday…

Jeff Pickthall said...

In 07/08 Alcohol Concern, a "charity", received £4991 in public donations and £515,000 from the Government. You can find it on http://fakecharities.org/

Put the boot in!

Dublin beekeeper said...

Don't you know all crops have litle tiny creatures that live in them that cause alcohol made from them to be either good or bad. Grapes has good creatures that lead to pleasant effects. Particularly in the middle class. Wheat and Barley are full of nasty creatures that when combined with the working class lead to fights and greyhound racing. Worst of all are apples which when turned into alcohol drive teenagers mental.

Oh wait am I confusing brewing with scientology again?

Bailey said...

I've written to both the Guardian and the Independent in the past asking why they're so much more interested in wine than beer. I've never had a response. I guess they're very busy turning press releases from pressure groups (e.g. Alcohol Concern) into "stories".

Fatman said...

Well done for raising this Pete - and a very comprehensive argument you've made. I will write to them too.

I suppose I'll be taking the Sun from now on.

Sid Boggle said...

The Independent was useless before the new editor took over, and he's managed to get rid of their best feature writers and reduce any 'news' content even further. It's just a comic for wet liberal hand-wringers.

Camra used to place beer 'advertorials' in the magazine, but I trust they'll stop this practice and condemn this crap loudly.

Screw 'em, all of the so-called 'upmarket' dailies peddle this poxy middle-class colour supplement lifestyle, and wine is part of the shorthand they use to kid on their readership. Another one for the 'moron' file...

Paul Garrard said...

I saw this and commented on line for all the good it will do!

BLTP said...

PB: I'm increasingly depressed by most newspaper's especially online content which seems to be written just to produce reaction and drive traffic to their sites. This looks like that sort of thing.

BTW.Did you see the wall to wall prizes in observer food awards last week for small local producers like brew dog, no they must have been hiding behind the winner a man who boils sea water to get salt if only good beer was as easy to make.

Ten Inch Wheeler said...

Hmm - the Fourth Estate isn't exactly known for its moderation. I've worked for the Indie, and been drinking with some of the staff many times - most of whom seemed to drink wifebeater or those vase-sized glasses of red. I don't think any of our group ever left before last orders. Mind you, that was back when it was a good paper.

ATJ said...

I know it’s not your ideological bent but today’s MOS Live magazine has a lovely spread on oysters and stout (page 30/31) by Parker Bowles; as well as stepping off the well-trodden Guinness path (stouts Palmers, Adnams and Whitstable Brewery are recommended), there are also other dark beer suggestions including Kostritzer, Budvar Dark and Zeitgeist. I suppose because of their past involvement with beer writing (Protz and Jackson), people expect more of the same from the Guardian and the Indie, but not any more i’m afraid. Rose revolutionaries indeed.

Zak said...

What utter crap, riddled with inaccuracy and misinformation.

Ethan John said...

Well said. More folks need to make sure that the traditional association of beer with drunkenness is stamped out and replaced with an image of every other alcoholic drink.


No one seems to write these kinds of articles about the low-end vodkas that are available in gallon jugs. Maybe we need James Bond to ask for a Chocolate Stout in his next action movie.

ZakAvery said...

And having re-read the extract of your letter morning (why does my son insist on waking at 4.30am? WHY??), I have to say that I eagerly await their response to this beautifully honed barb.

Alex Cooke said...

How wonderful it is to see such a gulf between the Indy’s attention grabbing Googlesnagging headline and reality. Strangely the trumpeted 'health fears' never actually materialise in the copy and especially not in the form of a quote from anyone within the medical establishment. As for the ‘craze’ element, only one of the ales listed in available in supermarkets while the rest are mostly sold by the on-trade or via the shelves of a few specialist retailers, where they are ‘boldly marketing’ apparently, with labels! On the bottles!

Credit must go to the paper though as the words ‘over’ and the reported speech ‘extreme beers’ are both correct.

Jeffrey said...

Pete - please, please be more succinct! I'm sure you're making good points - and you're better placed than anyone to be making them, it would seem - but that just looks like a rant and is unlikely to be read in full! Seriously!

Jeffrey said...

Jeff Pickthall: In 07/08 Alcohol Concern, a "charity", received £4991 in public donations and £515,000 from the Government. You can find it on http://fakecharities.org/

Put the boot in!


Now come on, Jeff. Just because something is a registered charity doesn't imply it receives most - or indeed any - of its funds from public donations. It just means it's registered as a charity and therefore complies with the various requirements to do so.

Pete said...

Thanks for the advice on how to write Jeffrey - I'll bear it in mind.

Laurent Mousson said...

Hmmm, the idea of teenagers possibly getting plastered on some IPA clocking in at 150 IBU is indeed a very interesting one

Mind you, my nephew's 16, i.e. of drinking age 'round thees parts, and loves bitter beers, being very much of an exception among his peers who prefer sugary, bright-red bubble-gum flavoured boozy concoctions.
One out of a hundred, five hundred, a thousand teenagers, even more ?

Yet I suspect he'd nevertheless wince a tiny bit at that kind of bitterness level... I'll have to give it a try one of these days. ;o)