Beer: From Congress to the Kremlin
Every week, it seems, we read about another health study that reveals that moderate drinking can lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, prevent dementia, etc. In February, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)—the new agency that was established to take over the ATF’s regulatory functions—ruled that manufacturers of alcoholic beverages may print these findings on their labels.
The catch is that there are so many conditions and caveats that few labels will have enough space to include all the fine print.
First of all, the TTB, in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration, has to verify the claim. (Vague generalities like “Guinness is good for you” will not be permitted.)
Second, the label must disclose “the health risks associated with both moderate and heavier levels of consumption.”
Third, the label must outline “categories of individuals for whom any alcoholic consumption poses risks.”
Even if the label merely contains a directional statement—such as “See your doctor to discuss the issue in greater detail”—the manufacturer must also print a disclaimer: “This statement should not encourage you to drink or increase your alcohol consumption for health reasons.”
And all this is in addition to the federally mandated warning that every alcoholic beverage must carry.
The TTB probably intended to make it as difficult as possible to print health claims. Administrators remember what happened in 1999, when the ATF first approved health language for alcohol labels. An angry Senator Strom Thurmond threatened to eliminate the agency’s budget, forcing the ATF to rescind its ruling. Senator Thurmond has since retired, but the beer, wine and spirits industries have plenty of other detractors in Congress.
The TTB is also taking aim at the current crop of ready-to-drink (RTD) or malternative beverages. The great majority of these beverages derive the bulk of their alcohol content—as much as 99 percent—from spirits-based flavorings, rather than from fermentation. The TTB thinks this type of product is not in keeping with its definition of “malt beverage.” So the agency has issued a notice of proposed rule making, suggesting that alcohol from flavorings should contribute under 0.5 percent of the product’s total volume.
Without naming names, TTB specialist Charles Bacon said that most of the category leaders would require reformulation. Otherwise, the government would tax these brands at the much higher spirits rate. In addition, their manufacture would be confined to licensed distilleries, and some state laws would severely limit their distribution.
Look for Diageo, which makes category leader Smirnoff Ice, and other producers to register their protests during the 90-day comment period.
Happy Days Are Here Again
April 7, in case you missed it, marked a major anniversary. Seventy years ago President Franklin Roosevelt and the newly elected Congress put an end to the so-called Noble Experiment, re-legalizing beer. The Brewers’ Association of America hoped to get at least 200 breweries nationwide to commemorate “New Beer’s Eve” with banners, promotional material and press releases.
Even if you missed the celebration, you can still party later this year. The 18th Amendment, which dried up the United States, remained in full force and effect even after April 7, 1933. What Congress did was to alter the definition of “intoxicating” to permit 3.2 beer. Granted, it wasn’t full-strength, but it was better than the tepid cereal beverages marketed as near beer, not to mention illicit alternatives like bathtub gin and homebrew fermented with baker’s yeast. Prohibition didn’t officially end until December 5, when Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, giving Repeal the necessary two-thirds majority to become the law of the land.
Russian President Drinks German Beer
President George W. Bush is an abstainer. But what does his counterpart in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, drink when he’s thirsty? According to a press kit from the Binding-Brauerei in Germany, Putin prefers Radeberger Pilsner, a brand brewed near Dresden in the former Soviet sector. Putin allegedly acquired a taste for the beer while serving in the Soviet secret service in East Germany.
Radeberger was one of eight German beers served at Michael Jackson’s annual tasting at the National Geographic Society, held March 19 in Washington, DC.
Greg Kitsock is editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, a long-time resident of Washington, DC, and a frequent contributor to beer-related publications.