Industry Braces for Controversial Report
Beer lobbyists and anti-alcohol activists are trading angry barbs over a report on underage drinking that has yet to see the light of day.
In 2001, Congress gave $500,000 to the National Academy of Sciences to find ways to combat teenage drinking. The National Beer Wholesalers Association endorsed the effort until it learned who would be conducting the study. Reportedly, seven of the 12-member panel have ties to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a health-related non-profit that has called for higher beer taxes and other anti-industry measures.
“It’s an insider group dominated by neo-Prohibitionists,” asserts NBWA president David Rehr of the NAS panel.
In addition, the NBWA has questions about the selection of University of Virginia law professor Richard Bonnie to chair the panel. According to Rehr, Bonnie has publicly called for the decriminalization of marijuana. “We absolutely oppose underage drinking, but I think most parents in America are far more scared of illegal drugs,” commented Rehr. “That’s like a 10; illegally consuming beer is a 6.”
The report was due out in June, but the release date, as of press time, had been pushed back to September. Fearing an anti-industry diatribe calling for more taxes and advertising restrictions, beer lobbyists have tried—and so far failed— to get an advance copy for peer review.
In response to a complaint by Rehr, 138 members of Congress signed a letter to the NAS, urging it to follow its original mission, which was to develop a strategy for fighting underage drinking and not bash the beer industry.
George Hacker, director of alcohol studies for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has decried the “thuggish behavior” of the wholesalers. He charges that the NBWA wants to quash the report for financial reasons, citing one estimate that underage drinkers account for as much as 20 percent of the alcohol consumed in the United States.
The figure of 20 percent “was made up by Joseph Califano and CASA [the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse],” asserts Rehr. “That number has been debunked by The New York Times, but they keep using it because it gives their agenda some credibility.”
Beer Bottle Diplomacy
US diplomatic relations with Germany have been frosty since the NATO allies parted company over the invasion of Iraq. When German foreign minister Joschka Fischer visited Washington in July, Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to break the ice by giving him a case of beer—more specifically, a case of German empties with the swing-top caps refastened.
“I could not find anyone who would take these back,” quipped Powell. Whether Fischer found the joke funny is not known. However, the Washington Post reported that Powell, with his deadpan delivery, brought down the house at the State Department luncheon.
Powell had brought back the beer from a recent trip to Berlin. He’s said to favor the swing tops because you can reseal a half-finished bottle and keep it fresh for later.
The Brewers’ Association of America, which represents the small- and medium-sized brewers, held a birthday bash of sorts to honor the Class of 1988: 14 craft breweries founded that year and now celebrating their 15th anniversary. Also feted was Matt Brewing Co. of Utica, NY, a bit more mature (but still spry) at 115.
The celebration took place in a Capitol Hill hall normally occupied by the Senate Appropriations Committee. On hand to cut the three-tiered cake adorned with beer labels were Steve Hindy of the Brooklyn Brewery; Richard Pfeffer and Ed Stebbins (owners of Gritty McDuff’s brewpub in Portland, ME); and Sebbie Buhler, regional rep for Rogue Ales of Newport, OR.
Other members of the Class of ’88 include Great Lakes Brewing of Cleveland; Goose Island Brewing of Chicago; Wynkoop Brewing of Denver (whose founder, John Hickenlooper, is now mayor of the Mile High City); and Deschutes Brewery of Bend, OR.
Over 120 members of Congress and their staff dropped by to toast the honored guests with 30 beers from 10 of the breweries.
“This is an amazing group of breweries,” said BAA President Daniel Bradford. “As we celebrate American Beer Month during July, what better way than with a celebration of these select 15, all quintessential American success stories.”
Greg Kitsock is editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, a long-time resident of Washington, DC, and a frequent contributor to beer-related publications.