Category Archives: beer & health

Advice for St. Patrick’s Day

Okay, so evidently St. Patrick’s Day isn’t just a day this year; it’s a whole friggin’ weekend. Which means that the madness and mayhem will commence tomorrow.

While I’ll personally be laying low this year, as I do around March 17 every year, many others will be running riot over the next four days, drinking beer and whiskey that they seldom if ever otherwise drink, calling anything that’s green “Irish,” including bog-standard lager dyed with food colouring, and generally using the feast day of an Irish saint as an excuse to get plastered. Which is fine.

But if you’re going to “do” St. Patrick’s Day, at least do it right! Which means paying at least a bit of attention to the following:

1) If you must shorten the name, repeat after me, St. Paddy’s Day. Not St. Patty’s Day or plain Patty’s Day. “St. Paddy’s Day.”

2) There are many more Irish whiskeys out there than just Jameson. Try one or two. You might just find yourself drinking Irish whiskey more than just once a year.

3) What I said above about whiskey? It applies equally to Irish stout.

4) If you must do shots — and on a day that is sure to be filled with drinking, I would counsel strongly against them —  limit yourself to just one or two. Five or six or more whiskey shots is a sure-fire route to drunkenness and eventual spewing.

5) Wear green, wear funny badges, wear silly hats if you wish, but accept that you are not, in fact, Irish. Not for a day or for a minute. (Unless, of course, you really are Irish.)

6) A cocktail made with crème de menthe is not by definition Irish. Neither is one made with Midori.

7) Imperial stout is not a beer built for all-day drinking.

8) The green-dye-in-lager thing? It shouldn’t need saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Just. Don’t.

9) Lining up to get into a bar is stupid. If there is a line-up, go somewhere else for a drink or two and return later to see if the line-up has dissipated. If it has not, just accept that it was never meant to be.. (The sole exception to this rule is when the line-up is covered, heated and licensed.)

10) That “Kiss me, I’m Irish” shirt? Leave it at home.


Filed under alcohol hysteria, beer & health, drinking quality, holiday beer rules, pubs

Bigger, Stronger, Hoppier…Just Stop It!

In case you missed it, a Scottish brewery called Brewmeister announced yesterday that they had topped their own record for the world’s strongest “beer” – reason for the quotation marks to follow – with a 67.5% alcohol liquid called Snake Venom. The bottle, The Scotsman reports, comes with a warning that no more than the contents of a single, 275 ml bottle should be consumed per sitting.

There is so much wrong with this that I scarcely know where to start. But I’ll try.

First up, unless Brewmeister has somehow come up with a way for yeast to survive in a ridiculously high alcohol environment, this is not a beer and neither is it the product of brewing per se. It is something that was once a beer before it was freeze distilled into a spirit, as are the slew of other “world’s strongest beers” that have come to market in recent years. (I’m looking at you BrewDog and Schorschbräu.) When you brew a beer, you ferment out sugars and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. When you concentrate that alcohol by eliminating a large amount of the water content, that’s distilling. Period.

Secondly, who cares?! Producing the world’s strongest “beer” is right up there with producing the world’s most caloric hamburger and the world’s most tannic wine. It’s an empty, useless gesture than has nothing to do with the item intended to be consumed and everything to do with laying claim to a pointless title.

Thirdly, this is irresponsible to a massive degree. The one bottle per sitting that the brewery recommends you not exceed contains an enormous amount of alcohol, 185.625 millilitres by my calculations. To put that in perspective, it is the equivalent in pure alcohol of drinking just under 62% of a 750 ml bottle of 40% alcohol spirits, or in other words, enough booze to potentially make a person very, very sick.

And fourthly, this kind of “bigger, stronger, hoppier” bullshit is precisely what craft beer is NOT about! Beer should be about flavour, not strength or massive, unbridled bitterness, and headline-grovelling attempts like this simply undermine everything that skilled and dedicated artisanal craft brewers around the world are trying to achieve. As Garrett Oliver once famously stated, no chef goes bragging about how they make the saltiest soup, and neither should anyone proud of their brewing skills be wading into the “bigger, stronger, hoppier” realm.


Filed under "extreme" beer, beer & health, beer & the web, beer industry, drinking quality, social commentary

A Word About Gluten

Some people, still a relatively small but by all accounts growing percentage of the population, have sensitivities to gluten. I know and have known several such people and have seen the effects on their health first hand. Of this there is no doubt.

Others have jumped on the “Wheat Belly” bandwagon and decided for reasons of their own to eliminate gluten-containing grains from their diets. Which is, of course, purely their personal choice and fine and dandy by me.

Although it is the first group that has much more to lose by ingesting gluten, it is the latter group that, to my experience, is more active in questioning issues of gluten in alcohol, and in some instances, perpetuating mythologies. So for the record, here are a few points about glutinous booze:

1) Beer contains gluten. Major brewery beers contain gluten and craft beers contain gluten. Wheat beers and rye beers and stouts and light beers and pretty much any other kind of beer you can name contains gluten. Period.

2) Gluten-free beers are, of course, the exceptions to the above rule. Unfortunately, very few of them taste much like actual beer. (Although not all, as per point 6 below.)

3) Distilled spirits, of whatever sort, do not contain gluten. This is because the process of distillation specifically involves the separation of alcohol from everything else, including the gluten in glutenous grains. But don’t believe me, believe!

4) Flavoured spirits may or may not be gluten-free, since said flavours are generally added post-distillation and few offer any details as to what is used in their flavouring. The same applies to liqueurs.

5) Wines are gluten-free, including Champagnes. Since they are made purely from grapes, I don’t understand why some people insist on challenging this fact.

6) Although I have not personally tasted all the gluten-free beers on the market today — as a class, it’s growing almost exponentially — the best I have sampled are those of Quebec’s Les Brasseurs Sans Gluten, marketed under the Glutenberg label. In particular, their seasonal Belge de Saison, a 7% alcohol ale brewed with Meyer lemon, is far and away the finest, more a “good beer than happens to not contain gluten” than any other I’ve yet tried. It deserves to be a widely-sold, year-round brand.


Filed under beer & health, beer & the web, beer industry, beer reviews

Sh*t Bar Patrons Do (But Shouldn’t)

Yesterday’s post highlighted a few common bartender sins – and yes, there are still more to come – so in the interest of fairness, and in answer to Couzin Ed’s request from the Comments section, here are a few examples of equally lamentable behaviour by customers.

1. By all means, when business is slow, chat with the bartender. Part of the job description is socializing with the patrons, and assuming that you’re both reasonable people, it’s likely that some common conversational ground can be reached. But remember that when things get busy, your ongoing chat comes in a distant second to the task of getting other people drinks, and when it’s three deep at the bar, well, that may not be the best time to start up a debate over the relative worth of an American versus a British style IPA or the best gin for a barrel-aged Negroni.

2. When you have a specific way you would like a drink mixed and/or served, tell it to the bartender. Do not wait until she serves it to you one way to declare that you’d prefer it differently.

3. Never, ever click your fingers/wave your bills/yell “Hey buddy!” to get the bartender’s attention. Wait your turn, catch his eye, and be pleasant. You’ll get your drink faster.

4. Know what you’re ordering. As per another comment on the previous post, do not order a drink simply because you heard it in a song or saw it on a television show and then try to return it because you don’t like it. You bought it, you’re stuck with it.

5. Treating the bartender like your personal servant is not cool. “Please” and “thank you” go a long way.


Filed under beer & health, beerbars, cocktails, drinking quality

Sh*t Bartenders Do (But Shouldn’t), Pt. 1

1. It’s a given, I think, that martinis should be stirred and not shaken, but I understand that some easily influenced souls actually prefer a diluted, cloudy mess in their martini glass. Still, when I specifically ask you to stir rather than shake my martini, please ONLY stir it. Don’t give it a stir and then plop it into one of those precious tiny shakers for a good shaking up at the table.

2. A Manhattan contains sweet vermouth, and a sizable amount of it, at that. Please do not mix my Manhattan as if it were a very dry martini.

3. I accept that you may be a very clean-minded individual who washes their hands regularly, but I don’t know that as fact. So please don’t hold my beer glass by the lip when you’re pouring my draft beer. I have to drink from that thing.

4. And speaking of draft beer, when the foam you have poured off one pint settles in a separate glass, it becomes flat beer, NOT beer that is suitable for using to top up my pint.

5. If I ask for a call brand of booze that I can plainly see on your back bar, please believe me that it’s there and what I want. Do not stare at me as if I’m some sort of idiot because you don’t have enough professionalism to actually know the brands your bar stocks.


Filed under beer & health, beer glassware, beerbars, cocktails, drinking quality

Gift Idea #10: Beer!

Of course, beer! What fool wouldn’t be delighted by a basket of carefully selected bottles and cans of ale and lager beneath the tree? This one, my friends, is a no brainer!

And with this post, I’m outta here! In a handful of hours, I will be boarding a plane bound for warmer climes, where I will spend a week with my beloved doing naught but relaxing, eating prodigious amounts and sipping freely proffered drinks. No phone, no computer, no blogging, no Twitter, no technology whatsoever!

I’ll be back after Christmas. Enjoy the break and drink something tasty!

Leave a comment

Filed under beer & health

Yet Another Insightful Study

As reported in The Guardian:

Parenting style is one of the strongest influences on how much alcohol a child will drink as a teenager and young adult, new research has revealed.

For this they needed a study?


Filed under alcohol hysteria, beer & health

Double Imperial Whatsit

I swear, I’m going to have to start sending Martyn Cornell thank you notes. Or a Valentine’s Day card. Such is the regularity with which he unearths jewels of information from yesteryear.

Take his post from today, for example. In one collection of tidbits/titbits – read it and you’ll understand – he unearths British beer in Australia in the 1820’s, reveals a delightful-sounding beer cocktail and debunks Vinnie Cilurzo – sorry, Vinnie – as the original developer of the double IPA.

And speaking of “double” and “imperial” beers, please note that the beer being imported to Tasmania in the early 19th century was Barclay Perkins imperial double stout porter. Strong and hoppy, one must presume, or else it would most assuredly not merit the use of twin descriptors.

Hoppy? How about “Extra Hopped India Beer” – surely the same as modern double or Imperial IPA – from, of all places, Scotland in 1868? Martyn has the evidence, and so we must return to rewriting our beer histories yet again.

Thanks, Martyn. Brilliant stuff.


Filed under "extreme" beer, beer & health, beer blogs, beer style

BS From the BA

The United States Department of Agriculture has released a new set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, something I would normally note with about as much interest as I would a statement from the Department of Health and Social Services. But then the forces of the Beer Institute, the Brewers Association and the National Beer Wholesalers Association combined to release a joint statement commenting on the Guidelines, and my BS detector went wild.

(You can find the dietary guidelines here. Most of the material regarding alcohol is in Chapter 2.)

Here’s what I see as the most offending part of the statement:

The idea of a ‘standard drink’ is misleading to consumers since it does not reflect how liquor is served or consumed. Not all alcohol is equal, meaning one alcohol beverage can have significantly more or less alcohol content than another. For example, depending on the proof of alcohol used, the mixer, and the bartender’s pouring habits, a so-called ‘standard’ mixed drink may contain 2, 3 or even 4 times more pure alcohol content and calories than the average light beer. It is common knowledge that two martinis consumed over the course of two hours could certainly produce a different effect than two light beers consumed over the same period. Furthermore, the false premise of a ‘standard drink’ is even more confusing considering that significant variations in alcohol concentration exist among the three product categories and even within each category. Beer remains the beverage of moderation with an average ABV of under 5%, compared to distilled spirits, which average between 35 – 40% ABV.

This kind of gobbledygook may be fine for the Beer Institute and the NBWA, since their members are primarily concerned with big-selling beers like Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite, each of which is below 5% ABV, as the statement suggests. But for the BA, whose members are responsible for the vast majority of the so-called “extreme” beers, this rings especially hollow.

Let’s look at some of the problems I see:

Not all alcohol is equal, meaning one alcohol beverage can have significantly more or less alcohol content than another.

Very true, and something that applies equally to beer, wine and spirits. Singling out a drink with spirits as having potentially 4 time the alcohol of a light beer, however, is ridiculous, as you would require close to 5 ounces of 40% alcohol spirits to hit that level, and how likely is that to happen, especially without the imbiber being aware of what’s going on in their glass?

(And incidentally, one pint of 12% alcohol barley wine will also meet that lofty mark of 1.92 ounces of pure alcohol.)

It is common knowledge that two martinis consumed over the course of two hours could certainly produce a different effect than two light beers consumed over the same period.

Assuming said martinis were 3 ounces apiece, of course! And the same could be said about two glasses of Californian cabernet or zinfandel, some of which hover in the realm of 14% – 15% ABV, or six 4 ounce tasters of high-octane craft beers.

Furthermore, the false premise of a ‘standard drink’ is even more confusing considering that significant variations in alcohol concentration exist among the three product categories and even within each category.

By which the statement is implying that alcohol content varies wildly among spirits, which are the main subject of the statement. In fact, spirits are without question the most consistent in their 40% ABV, while craft beer is almost certainly the least consistent and thus the most unpredictable in its effect. (Particularly given the habit most restaurants and bars have of not listing the strengths of the beers they carry.)

Beer remains the beverage of moderation with an average ABV of under 5%, compared to distilled spirits, which average between 35 – 40% ABV.

If you look at beer in terms of volume, yes. But if you count up all the individual brands of beer on the market today and work out the average alcohol content among them, I’m betting the picture would be much different. Further, comparing alcohol contents of beer and spirits is ridiculously disingenuous, since the former is normally consumed in 12 and 16 ounce portions — a bottle and a pint — while the latter is typically served in 1.5 or 2 ounce portions.

Now, I like beer, as I’m sure all visitors to these pages know, and I support the BA in its efforts to further the craft beer gospel across the United States and around the world. But considering the members’ products they represent, their signature on this release smacks more than a bit of throwing stones in glass houses.


Filed under "extreme" beer, alcohol hysteria, beer & health, beer industry, social commentary, spirits

Four Loko and Other Stupid Drinks

I’ve been wavering back and forth over whether to address the whole “banning caffeinated alcoholic beverages” thing in this space, largely because while I think those beverages are ridiculous, I support the right of people to drink whatever idiotic drinks they wish. Otherwise we could run a campaign to ban insipid lagers, white zins and Slippery Nipples, right?

(This is my drinks spin on the old axiom of “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend with my life your right to say it.” Okay, maybe not with my life, in this case.)

Then Doug Winship at the massively entertaining Pegu Blog wades in with a reasoned and wise take on the matter, and I realize that all I need to do is write a post like this and direct you to his post. So that’s what I’m doing. Go read it, here, and while you’re at it, subscribe to his blog. You won’t be sorry you did.


Filed under alcohol hysteria, beer & health, beer & the web, beer blogs, drinking quality, social commentary