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Dec. '04: Joys of the Dark 

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2003 Buzz

Dec. '03: Wine good!

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May '03: Extreme Beer?

April '03: Liquor Taxes

March '03: St. Patrick's

February '03: Coffee

January '03: Taxes


March, 2006

(I apologize for the lateness of this one. I had total laptop problems on a trip in Canada (my problem, not Canada's!), and was not able to post anything to the Web as I was planning. Good trip, though, and you'll see it soon at Cold Hard Football Facts and The Latest.)

"We Print The Truth"

There is a story by the late Anthony Boucherby that title. A small town newspaper editor is granted a wish by an itinerant typesetter late one night, and in a fit of indignation over events of the day, the editor points to the motto on the newspaper's front page: "We Print The Truth." And he tells the typesetter -- who was evidently more than just a roving craftsman -- that all he wants is for that to always be true. 

Little by little, he finds that his innocuous wish has been granted, though not in any way he'd imagined. An innocent typo reveals that indeed, anything this particular newspaper prints is the truth. Things change, people remember things differently once they're reported in the paper, and the editor comes to realize what a powerful gift he has been granted. But not long after he begins to use the power for good, he learns the truth of Lord Acton's epigram. He warps the acts of the people around him, he begins to believe he can change the world, just by printing things he knows are not true, and making them true by the act of printing them. 

I read that story when I was in my early teens, and it's stuck with me. So much so that when I was involved in a discussion about the media machinations of the anti-alcohol interests, "We Print The Truth" came back to me. It was a discussion on the Brewers' Association Forum about the legal drinking age, and I was responding to another brewer's post about an ad he'd seen during the Olympics: 

I just saw an ad during the Olympics in which a major U.S. brewer vows to win the "fight" against underage drinking.  While I understand that it behooves the brewing industry to promote responsible alcohol consumption, is it wise to use such aggressive terms, especially when referring to something as dubious as America's high drinking age?

The high drinking age in the U.S. is unique (in the western world), controversial and of doubtful utility.  Many statistics can be cited showing that treating our young adults like children has done little (if anything) to limit their alcohol consumption.  Furthermore, at the age of 18 one can get married, own property, work, pay taxes, and go to war (and a whole lot more).  Heck, one is even allowed to drive in NYC traffic at 18!  We treat 18 year-olds as adults in every way except for allowing them legal access to alcohol.

Is it wise to be pandering to the neoprohibitionists by running ads that declare there is a war on "underage" drinking?  An argument can be made that we should not actively seek to change drinking age legislation; it would seem too selfish.  But can't we elect to keep our mouths shut?

My response was that keeping our mouths shut was how we wound up with "alcohol and other drugs" on the lips and minds of everyone in the country. We let the neo-drys set the terms of the debate ("Alcohol is a drug, and therefore..."), we let the neo-drys set the conditions of the debate (any attempts by the alcohol industry to promote responsible drinking are self-serving and suspect), we let the neo-drys set the very subject of the debate ("Age 21 Law [is] Not Open For Debate" screams the Marin Institute). Well, guess what? If we let them set the terms, conditions, and subject of the debate...there is no debate. 

Their latest bastardization of the truth is the message that brewers don't want nutritional labels on their beers. The industry doesn't want it, they say, but consumers demand it. Does everyone forget that the ATF fined Bert Grant for putting a nutritional label on his beer back in the early 1990s? The truth is that there are regulations against such labels, but CSPI and groups like it want to force a nutritional label of their own design on the industry as part of their attrition campaign of constantly making new demands that require new labels and new lawyers and new spending. It's not about labels. It's about costing the industry money any way they can, and making the industry look bad every time they can.

By keeping consistently on-message, by constantly going on the attack, by equating the alcohol industry with baby-killers and greed-monsters, the anti-alcohol conglomerate of researchers, publicists, fundraisers, and hatemongers have become the editor in "We Print The Truth." They flood the news desks of newspapers and television and radio stations with their crafted press releases every week, every day, and because the only thing the alcohol industry ever puts out (besides tons of announcements about new products, and new ad campaigns, and new sponsorships) is news of how they're contributing to responsible drinking campaigns -- which the neo-drys spit on and smear -- what the anti-alcohol groups say, unchallenged, becomes what the public reads, sees, hears...and believes.

 Not on my watch. I'm just one guy, but e-mail makes me mighty. I've got a couple of Google Alerts going that bring me booze news from around the world, and when some neo-dry spouts off another misrepresentation, I gin up an e-mail with the real truth, in courteous but disbelieving language, and fire it off to the editor in question. Lots of them get published. I get e-mails back from readers; one of them's even invited me to stop in for a beer if I'm ever in her neck of the woods. 

And the truth is out there. Among the great responses on the legal drinking age/alcohol as drug issue from brewers both on the Forum and off was one from Garrett Oliver, brewer at Brooklyn Brewery and noted speaker for beer. Garrett took on the whole "Alcohol and other drugs" proposition quite neatly. I asked him if I could use it, and his response was "please do use it, and often!" 

So here it is:

Obviously, this is a large question, but I wish to dispute your assertion that alcohol is a drug. It is not. Beverage alcohol is food. The difference is that a drug has no caloric value and cannot be metabolized by the body for energy. Alcohol has lots of caloric value (unfortunately) and unused calories can be stored as fat. This does not meet the pharmacological definition of a drug. However, like many foods, in moderation, it is good for your health. And like other foods, overindulgence can lead to poor health or even death. This is true even of water.

If you think this is semantics, it isn't. Alcoholic beverages are a fundamental part of human society, and to claim that we are making drugs when in fact we are making food is a dangerous mistake. The logical extension, of course, is that we are drug pushers. As far as I'm concerned, I'm essentially a chef, not a drug dealer. Drug dealers don't do cheese tastings, last I checked.

Feel free to paste that right into your next letter to the editor. And then that newspaper will be able to say, We Print The Truth. One paper at a time is how we have to fight this for now. What we need is an honest, non-spin-doctored institute with real integrity to present the opposing viewpoint. At this point, I'm sorry to say that the Beer Institute, the Wine Institute, and the Distilled Spirits Council are all too scared of the power of the anti-alcohol conglomerate to stand up to it. They try to appease it instead of meeting it with facts, or sponsoring research of their own. Until that day, though, it's going to be me against the neo-drys. Care to join me? We'll Print The Truth.  


Copyright 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. 
Fee required for reprints in any commercial media.
Revised: April 01, 2006