All About Beer Magazine - Volume 28, Issue 4
September 1, 2007 By

Yesterday’s newspaper offered information that all soda pop—including the so-called “diet” stuff and excepting maybe root beer—is destructive to tooth enamel. In other words, my old college swimming coach was perfectly correct when he told us, some 60 years ago, that we would be better off drinking beer than Coke, because the latter would surely rot our young, healthy teeth.

In my long career as a swimming coach, I passed that information on to all of my swimmers when they had reached an age where such knowledge would profit them. (Actually, at 81, my teeth are in fairly good shape; I retain most of my original 32, not bad for a person of my advanced age. And don’t forget, I still consume a fair amount of chocolate.)

There are other perils of drinking soda pop, including increased risk of obesity and cancer. The average American 14-year old boy is consumes something like eight cans of that swill every day. If he lived in Belgium, he’d probably substitute a couple bottles of 2.5 percent table beer and be slimmer and healthier for that.

I cannot help but wonder what would happen to a kid who dared to bring a bottle of NA beer (non-alcohol: that is, containing less than 0.5 percent alcohol) to school in his or her lunch box. That might be fun to observe, but we can be certain that person would be in genuine trouble. Don’t forget—we’re dealing with zero tolerance here.

The Over-21 Club

The United States is one of only four nations (along with South Korea, Malaysia and Ukraine) that restricts alcohol consumption to those 21 and over. If we include Iceland, Japan and New Zealand, we can round out the only seven alcohol-drinking countries in the world (and a few Canadian provinces at 19) not embracing 18 or 16 and over as the drinking age.

One can scarcely open a newspaper these days without discovering that our children are being lured into the so-called “evils” of drink at a precipitous rate. No country on the planet has as much trouble with youth drinking as we do. Here, alcohol consumption is a genuine “rite of passage”—an exceedingly dangerous one, we should note. This rite mandates that our young people educate themselves in managing one of the world’s most pervasive so-called “drugs.”

We can be assured that most young people who follow “the crowd” will end up drinking in someone’s car, if only because that is pretty much the only place where they can drink. We can also be assured that when these young folk turn 21, they will binge on hard liquor, after being encouraged by their friends to attempt to drink 21 shots for their 21 years. Every year we lose a number of young adults that way.

And make no mistake: it is our (full-grown adults over 21) fault. We do absolutely nothing to educate these fragile young people to manage their drinking, especially when we know that seven out of ten of them will choose to drink most of their adult lives. Will we ever learn? Most of our youth drinking problems are a leftover from our defunct religion-based Prohibition. That Prohibition was a total failure. I repeat: total failure.

The very idea repulses most rational people—yet we feel it’s not only proper, but wise to cram prohibition and zero tolerance down the throats of these, our 18- to 21-year old citizens. We rely on them to defend our country, pay their credit card debt and fight our wars and non-wars, yet we treat them like children. Citizens, but only to a point—and it’s not fair.

Odd Country Out

Needless to say, Europeans view this matter quite differently than we do. There is little social pressure to drink, and great intolerance for alcohol abuse. Alcohol beverages are considered normal fare, even offered in some high school cafeterias. Some places in Belgium, as I noted earlier, young children are allowed taefelbier at 2 percent ABV. But, of course, that’s “old” Europe.

More to the point, Europeans rarely have the kinds of problems with their kids that we continually have with ours. Drinking is no big thing, as far as most of them are concerned: this, mostly because the drinking ages are more realistic.

In this country, we know that our college students will seize any excuse to party, often merely because it is totally forbidden to them. For example, we can see what happens with the so-called “dry” college parties: participants get drunk before the party starts; they’ll do that off-campus or in their car; they’ll drink more and faster, so the buzz will last; and they’ll drive to the party drunk, and drive home afterwards still drunk.

It has been suggested that if we raise the price of beer (which is what most of these folk actually imbibe), that will reduce consumption. It will probably reduce consumption of beer, but since they drink for effect, they don’t care what they drink. These people are not drinking for the enjoyment of it. If the price of beer were out of their range, they’d easily find some cheap hard liquor. There will always be something they can get, just for the effect.

Alcohol will always be part of the college experience. Always. The only way we can bring such drinking under control is to treat these young adults like the full adults we have declared them to be. Remember, they get their alcohol beverages from legal-aged adults upon whom they also rely to teach them about drinking.

Sadly, responsible drinking is rarely taught at home or anywhere else in our country. Where does our strongly anti-alcohol stance come from? In almost every case, it is the result of our religiosity. Some religions (Jewish, Catholic, most Protestants) and ethnic groups (Italians, Greeks, Germans, Dutch, Jews) are friendly to alcohol libations. If you have ever been to a Jewish or Italian wedding, you might have some idea of the alcohol consumption that goes on in that setting.

Other than Muslims, it is Evangelical Christians that are the bedrock of the prohibition of alcoholic beverages. (This despite the fact that the first miracle of Christ was to get booze—“firkins” in the King James version!—for a wedding.) One has to wonder how they ever came to believe that Christ offered grape juice at his Last Supper. But the Taliban Christians don’t seem to need a good reason for what they do. Zero tolerance will continue until all tolerance is eliminated.

The Three Percent Solution

As we have seen (AAB July), an “intoxicating” beverage was defined during Prohibition as a one with a rather arbitrary alcohol content of 0.5 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) or more.

In 1933, the U.S. Congress was able to relax Prohibition by exempting 4 percent beer (4 percent ABV equals the famous/infamous 3.2 percent ABW, alcohol by weight). The reader should note that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision affirmed that each state has full responsibility for its own alcohol control laws. Could not that be interpreted to mean that a state could legislate something like 3 percent ABV as “non-intoxicating”? Then it would be legal for 16- to-20 year olds to imbibe beer of such strength.

Or, friends, what if the states could change the under-21 prohibition to allow something like that (or an even lower 2.5-3 percent ABV) on-premise for 18-20 year olds? Perhaps we could even include 16-17 year olds, when accompanied by over-21 adult family members? And remember this is on premise, supervised and in the company of older drinkers, not to mention the bartender. These young adults won’t be wandering the countryside in automobiles, as they must do these days if they wish to drink.

Let’s just do it. Declare 3 percent ABV beer “non-intoxicating,” on a state-by-state basis, and let the stupid Feds figure that one out. We can easily produce great tasting, yet weak, 3 percent beer to train our young people in the management of alcohol consumption and still maintain the over-21 limit for other alcohol privileges. Such low alcohol brew would be welcome in other ways, too. I’d certainly enjoy drinking a flavorful, low-caliber beer when I want to drink and smooze with friends in some tavern without getting inebriated.

It is time we ended this double standard in our society between young adults and old adults.