Why Should You Care?
In order to solve the “malt liquor problem,” the Center for Science in the Public Interest has called for legislation that will restrict the alcoholic content of all malt beverages to 5 percent by volume. Should such legislation ever pass, beer styles such as barley wines, winter warmers, strong lagers, old ales, bock beers, imperial stouts and many India pale ales would be banned and unavailable. This would affect every brewpub, every microbrewery, most importers, and millions of beer drinkers in the United States who would no longer be able to find the beers they enjoy. And that is why you, as a beer drinker, should be paying attention to the debate over malt liquor.
A Glass in Parting
The future is not bright for malt liquor. In 2002, beer market analyst and former business school professor Robert Weinberg noted, “Any economist knows the cheapest way to put alcohol in your system is fortified wine. Beer is a very expensive way to put alcohol in your system.” Weinberg also noted that malt liquor consumption in the United States was in decline. In 1997, it accounted for 4.3 percent of malt beverage sales; in 2001, just 2.6 percent.
Brewers, however, seem either unwilling or incapable of letting go of the profits that come from malt liquor, in spite of declining sales and consistently negative press.
In the end, it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, and you don’t do it without paying a price. Malt liquor is an artificial beer style, a style that requires human engineering to override limits placed by nature. It is unnatural for a fermented malt beverage to have this much alcohol, and the consequences should not be wholly surprising. In place of flavor, sociability and a cultural experience, you have a quick ride to intoxication that seems to bring out the worst in everyone, even in the people who object to it. Greed, despair and destruction on one side–lies, bombast and posturing on the other.
It’s a story without heroes.