Beer’s most expensive ingredient. Weighing in at a whopping 45% of the retail price, the most expensive ingredient in beer is… Government!
Hey! You didn’t brew that!
Beer’s most expensive ingredient. Weighing in at a whopping 45% of the retail price, the most expensive ingredient in beer is… Government!
Hey! You didn’t brew that!
The wheels of government grind ever on, and often in the wrong direction. But every once in a great while they do eventually get where they ought to go. For instance, through a trade agreement with Brazil, the United States has agreed to recognize the category of Cachaça as a trade designation, in return for Brazil recognizing our definition of Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskeys.
I wrote extensively on the background of these negotiations, and the efforts in support of them by major cachaça brand, Leblon. Leblon has had a great deal of fun with the process, and apparently sold a great deal of fire-water along the way. In fact, I’m wondering what the heck Leblon will do to promote its product, now that they have won their “insurgent campaign”….
I note the slowness of the government’s movement on this only because the post I reference above, wherein the deal already seemed done, was written in 2009.
It’s hard to have a “Bar Scene” unless you have a scene for your bars. The lesson not really being learned here is that the market will find ways to punish you for attempting to impose your will upon it.
I rise today in defense of Four Loko flavored malt beverage.
To be clear, I think it is a mind-numbingly stupid concept for a product, and I never have, nor ever will actually drink any of the stuff. Don’t buy it, if you value your reputation for class or maturity.
Via Allapundit at HotAir, I learned today that the Federal Government wants to ban the product, and all others like it. Malt energy drinks combine malt liquor with caffeine and other herbal stimulants, along with a hearty dose of sweet flavorings to hide the taste of the man ingredients. Drinking these things is like chasing your No-Doz with beer. This is a bad idea. Caffeine does not counter the effects of alcohol. It might keep you from passing out for one extra round, but that’s about it.
The President’s Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske, has encouraged the FDA to ban these products because they are designed to make it easier to binge drink, and I think that is certainly true. The only person who would actually ingest this crap would have to be an uneducated drinker who feels the need to get as stupidly hammered as possible, and doesn’t care about what is happening to his or her gastro-instestinal tract or their future reputation. A few people have poisoned themselves with these drinks. (But then people die from too much Sherry, too.) I won’t even go into what violence these drinks do to your taste buds.
In other words, this is one of those government actions that makes perfect sense…
…if you have the mind and depth of reasoning of a seven-year-old, as Gil Kerlowiske and the FDA apparently do. (along with such states as Ohio and Washington)
The ban is stupid from a practical standpoint, and hideously damaging to our nation from a civics standpoint. So of course, our politicians are falling all over themselves to push it through!
First, these drinks are just combinations of other legal products. Allapundit asks, “Aren’t kids looking for a Four Loko buzz now just going to mix Jolt Cola and Jack, say? From what I hear about Loko’s taste, JC&J might actually be superior.” The answer is no, Allapundit. They’ll just mix cheap vodka and Red Bull, which is what they were doing before the Four Loko type of product came on the market, with the exact same results. This will do nothing to address binge drinking. Ergo, it’s stupid.
Second, kabuki theater like this is much worse than a waste of time. It damages our faith in government when the proposed solution to a problem is utterly and completely ineffective. And worse, it damages our society by allowing us to pretend to ourselves that this kind of action will solve real problems. Banning a product is easy. Actually addressing this issue would be hard.
Mary Katherine Ham has started a Facebook event called Four Loko for Freedom! to call attention to this issue. An attendee named Jeremy Mis wrote this comment on the wall:
A comment from my local newspaper’s blog:
“This is great that they are banning this in NY.. Do you know how we get this banned in New Jersey? My daughter is 16 and her friends drink these at every party. I would like to have these banned before any of them end up in the hospital or worse. Please let me know who I can contact to get this started.
Worried mom of a teenager!!!!!”
Anyone see the real problem here????
Yes. The real problem here is the way we raise our children, and teach them about responsible alcohol consumption. (See this post for some thoughts on doing this.) But raising your kids is hard, and accepting responsibility for when it doesn’t go smoothly is even harder. So isn’t it much better to just let the government pretend it can do the job, and feel much better about yourself?
Further update: Welcome, all you folks who got here via World of Beer or the Four Loko for Freedom Facebook page. Please look around while you are here. In addition to occasional bouts of booze politics ranting, I mostly write about the finer and sillier aspects of good cocktails.
More Update: Also, you can be sure that many legitimate, tasteful, not used for binge-drinking beverages will get hit by this too.
I’m just a bill.
Yes, I’m only a bill.
And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill.
But I know I’ll be a law someday
At least I hope and pray that I will…
Well, I don’t want you to become a law, at least if you are H.R. 5034.
You shouldn’t want this bill to pass either. Entitled the Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act (CARE), this bill is a classic example of most things that are wrong with federal lawmaking today. (This post updated with additional important awfulness. See the end.)
To be fair, there is a legitimate issue at the root of this bill, so let’s start there. Over time, states have passed a variety of regulations about the interstate sale of alcoholic beverages. Wine tends to be at the center of these controversies, but all alcoholic beverages come into play. Intentionally or not, these laws tend to restrict consumer choices, especially of smaller and start-up brands. Recently, the internet and modern culture have both expanded consumer desire for these more diverse choices, so more and more people want to engage in interstate mail order to purchase brands they cannot obtain locally. Wine and spirits and beer makers have to contend both with 50 different sets of rules of how to do business, and with a variety of markets whose governments don’t want them doing business there at all. States find it difficult and/or expensive to enforce their laws.
As usually happens in situations like this, lawyers ensue. (As an aside, I like virtually every attorney I’ve ever met. But if every lawyer in America simultaneously switched professions to bartending, I suspect we’d immediately have a more efficient and effective system of conflict resolution.) The federal courts have gotten involved in challenges to these laws, effectively making some law of their own. Not to harp on judicial activism, but the only people who generally make worse laws than legislators are judges, and these federal rulings have led to even more confusion and chaos from state to state.
intends purports to restore the ability of the states to regulate their own alcoholic beverage markets. On its face, I could not agree with it more. It strikes down often over-reaching and conflicting federal judicial decisions, and restores power to the states that does not belong to the Federal government. On its face, it is a Federalist wet-dream.
But here’s the problem: As with, well, most legislation, the effect will not be what is supposedly intended. In lots of ways.
As I said before, the net effect of much of the body of state law in question is to restrict or prevent interstate commerce. One of the most critical driving forces that led to the Constitution was the need to prevent states from restricting interstate commerce. I would contend that the federal rulings in question are less judicial overreach and 10th Amendment abuse, and more simple employment of Article I, Sections 8 and 10. So a law supposedly written for Federalist aims more likely undermines the Constitution. Note, of course, that with or without this law state are working hard to get around these restrictions.
As a simply practical matter, the bill is anti-consumer. The net effect will be to make it impossible for most Americans to legally obtain hundreds, if not thousands, of legitimate, mostly American-made, products that they desire. This is where my personal ox is being gored. If it means I can’t get Creme de Violette for my Aviations anymore, it’s on.
Finally, and most emblematic of what is happening to us these days, the bill is both a product of and enabler of further Crony Capitalism. Simply put, Crony Capitalism is the unholy marriage of big business and government regulation that results in competitive advantages for those with the right connections. The only “capital” in this kind of “capitalism” is the capital spent buying the rules-making process. Whether you are Conservative or Progressive, part of the Reality-Based Community or a Tea Partier, your first and foremost desire as a citizen should be to wish that it die in a fire. In fact, the only people who benefit from Crony Capitalism are a few
public servants and the very largest owners of the largest corporations. The other 300 million of us get screwed.
In Crony Capitalism, regulations are written in response to damage wrought by large companies, but the regulations tend to disproportionately hamper small competitors, while not impacting (or even exempting) the firms who prompted the new restrictions. New nutritional information disclosure laws will destroy medium-sized restaurant chains, and prevent small chains from growing. Big chains win. Mattel imports toys containing lead, and new laws are passed that will devastate the used toy market and small, innovative toy makers, but Mattel itself gets exempted from enforcement!
Suffice it to say, H.R. 5034 was both largely written by lobbyists from, and is being forcefully supported by, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America and the National Beer Wholesalers Association. The powerful members of these organizations are the most threatened by open consumer choice and interstate direct sales. But don’t worry, they are only thinking of the children! (I deleted three paragraphs here about this “argument” because I realized that anyone with the mental acuity of a Buick Roadmaster and three seconds to think will admit it’s horsehockey. “Child protectors” feel free to engage in the comments, if you dare.)
For more information on stopping these cronies from taking away your access to Beefeater 24, Bols Genever, or Smith & Cross, I direct you to StopHR5034.org, established by the Specialty Wine Retailers Association, whose ox is most directly being gored by this bill. Their Facebook page is here. There is information there on how you can get involved, and a lot of links to various news stories on the controversy from a variety of perspectives. If my own brilliant pontification has not settled the matter for you, the links they have will save you a Google search and the risk of accidental pr0n linkage. I don’t know how searching for this subject would lead to boobies, but I’m sure Google could think of something….
UPDATE: 5034 also has provisions that are incredibly poisonous to premium spirits distillers, large and small, as well. It would allow individual states to determine what legally defines a specific spirit. Lance Mayhew, at My Life on the Rocks, tipped me to this odious provision. Read his post to see why this is such a bad idea.
Via Instapundit (and numerous other places), comes this video from the libertarian outfit, Reason. Apparently, Virginia’s new governor, Bob McDonnell, has elected to take the leap and privatize the state’s liquor stores.
I was raised in Georgia, where liquor store have always been private operations, at least in my lifetime. When we moved to Ohio, the stores here were government operations, just like Virginia’s are now. The stores here were, if possible, even more bland and boring than the one shown in the video above. The selection, even to my then pretty unsophisticated eye, was pathetic. The employees were, frankly, deserving of daily beatings for their customer service.
In the early 1990′s, Governor Voinovich browbeat the legislature into a sort of privatization of liquor retail operations. While the state still owns package stores’ inventory, the marketing and merchandising are a private sector concern now. While which items are available statewide are still at the mercy of the Liquor Control Board, the breadth of offering that you can actually find has improved greatly. (Don’t get me wrong, booze sales in Ohio still suck, just not as much as they did when the state ran the whole shebang.)
Just before two minutes into the video, the narrator utters the money quote:
While the state may raise more money, the real benefit will go to consumers.
The argument for privatizing liquor sales in Virginia, as it was in Ohio, was couched in the potential cost savings and potential revenues for the state government. Nice, but it shouldn’t be the real issue. The state exists to serve the people. The actions the government takes should first consider the betterment of service to private citizens.
It’s a no-brainer choice. Why is it that so many times, the no-brainer choice is so hard to get accomplished? I hope Governor McDonnell manages to get this one through, and the people of Virginia are allowed a broader choice and competition for their drinking dollar.
Elsewhere in the Cocktailosphere, Marshal has additional thoughts in a more industry-minded vein at Scofflaw’s Den
They call their
movement Legalize Cachaça! You can visit their website here. The idea is to mobilize justice-minded citizens of America to take to the streets in peaceful protests to pressure the government to free Cachaça from rum’s iron-handed moniker. From New York to New Orleans, grassroots supporters of
Brazil’s Noble Spirit have taken to the streets in large, loud protests.
Sure they have.
Cachaça is a liquor that is gaining in popularity in the United States, due in part to the cocktail renaissance we are enjoying, and in part to edgy (Not Entirely SFW) and creative marketing by various brands. I’ve written about it several times in the past, and I like a good Caipirinha quite a bit when it’s hot out.
While Cachaça is sometimes referred to as
Brazilian Rum, Cachaça is most definitely not rum. It doesn’t taste like rum, you can’t use it in place of rum, and while both come from the sugarcane plant, instead of rye, corn, or potatoes, the Cachaça process is fundamentally different from rum’s. Hell, even this guy knows
Ka-Cha-Ka is it’s own distinct booze.
Ooops! Did I say Cachaça is sometimes referred to as
Brazilian Rum? Actually, if you want to sell a bottle of Cachaça in the United States, you have to label it
Brazilian Rum. It’s a federal trade regulation that all Cachaça makers must mislabel their product, folks.
The Cachaça industry, and the Brazillian government have finally woken up to this issue and have begun lobbying the Treasury Department’s Tax and Trade Bureau to correct this old rule. This will allow them to quit calling their product something it isn’t, and also prevent somebody from setting up a still in, say, Costa Rica, making
Brazillian Rum, calling it Cachaça, and selling it here. Their efforts are being aided greatly by the desire of many American distillers to prevent, say, Eastern Europeans from selling whiskey in Brazil and calling it Bourbon or Tennessee Sour Mash.
In fact, correcting this silliness is largely a done deal. It is uncontroversial. The revision to the regulation has been written and agreed to by all parties. The only hang up now is that our august Administration has not found someone who has paid enough of his or her taxes to be confirmed as the appropriate Deputy Treasury Secretary who can sign the paperwork.
So, I might suggest you pick up a bottle of Cachaça and put it away in storage. One day, your grandkid can put it on a display shelf in his basement bar and bore his guests to death with the same moldy old story about how the ancestors used to be such idiots as to call Cachaça… you get the picture.
Now, while they wait, the various Cachaça makers would like to sell you as much
Brazilian Rum as they can. And one maker, Leblon Cachaça has decided that if they must deploy diplomats and hire lobbyists to demand change (Change!) from Washington, they might as well deploy street protesters, sign declarations, shout slogans, and generally make a big ruckus in the streets of America. The fact that any attention they garner might lead those so attracted to say, try come Cachaça, is strictly incidental….
What you see pictured above is a very clever, effective, and a bit silly example of a practice called Astroturfing. Astroturfing is where a lot of money wants to advocate some political action but wants to hide thier involvement and instead make it look like a
grass-roots movement, i.e. a group of private, ordinary citizens who are so moved by a cause that they rise up almost spontaneously and speak out.
If you don’t know what Astroturfing is, you should. And if you do know what Astroturfing is, please don’t think I’m accusing Leblon of any of the underhandedness usually associated with the term! (Fair disclosure, Leblon sent me a bottle of their Cachaça to review last Fall. Thanks guys, it’s good.)
Leblon has run two of these events that I know of, one in New York (pictured above), and the other in New Orleans, at Tales of the Cocktail. The Tales protest, which accompanied the signing of the Cachaça Declaration of Independence, was more performance art than Astroturfing. Of course, given that it was in New Orleans, this may be what serious political protests actually look like down there….
Here’s a cool video Leblon produced about the New York City
protests. Look at how effectively they have done this. It looks big. We are treated to the artful shot of a police car, and some of the protestors are wearing masks. The signs are all legible to the video camera. The people have several clearly understandable and organized chants. The interview with Steve Luttman (the man behind this promotion) is nicely done, as is the clip of the slightly bemused Brazilian tourists.
These little marketing events look like that they are supposed to look like, real, live, big protests.
In fact, the big lesson you should take from this is this: If this protest looks so real to you, how many of the protests you’ve seen over the last decade only looked real too?
There are ways, of course, that you can tell Leblon’s stunt is Astroturfing. And they are worth studying so that you can use these same techniques to tell if any
real political protest isn’t so real either. Beyond the subject matter (Americans do not take to the street in the rain to protest obscure governmental bottle labeling stupidity), these protesters’ signs are too good. They are professionally made, and scaled for the cameras, by someone who knows good production values. You see the same sign duplicated many times. The camera is always positioned to make the crowd seem bigger than it really is. The protesters go off frame in one place and return in another, increasing the apparent size of the protest. You see some of the same faces of rank and file protesters in cities hundreds of miles or more apart. There are no Belgian Beer Purity activists or whatever hanging around in the back of every shot, trying to gravy train on the main protest….
Oh, and there can be no really well-run Astroturfing campaign without protest babes.
I wrote to Steve Luttman for some more information and a few pictures. And I asked him about Astroturfing too. I was amazed that he had not even heard of the term! This is a practice that has been developed over decades. Millions are spent on Astroturfing all the time. And Steve and a few dudes in his graphics department duplicated the whole industry, near letter perfect, in a few days, probably while consuming at least a modicum of
Astroturfing in politics is designed to do two things, neither of them very savory. They want to misrepresent the strength of the movement, to intimidate politicians. And they want to misrepresent their numbers to trigger the herd instinct in ordinary people.
The reasons Leblon’s promotion is clever and fun, rather than underhanded, are varied. First, the signs are all in Leblon’s corporate typeface and colors. Also, Leblon’s advertising slogan,
Live. Love. Leblon. is on many signs. In short, it’s almost impossible, if you know even what Cachaça is, not to know this is a Leblon paid event. Finally, Leblon and the other Cachaça makers have embarked on a mundane, legitimate, already about to be successful lobbying effort, and this
political action isn’t really aimed at that effort. They are out to make a buck and have some fun. What is more legitimate and American than that?
My snarky comments in my last post about scientific studies came back to me this afternoon, as I perused my iPhone at the park.
A week ago I read (and I bet a lot of you did too) an article in the New York Times, entitled
If no one contests the fact, why is it controversial?
You don’t follow politics much, do you?
Here is what lots of scientists are saying to argue that the obvious advice that arises from this fact should not be given:
“The bottom line is there has not been a single study done on moderate alcohol consumption and mortality outcomes that is a ‘gold standard’ kind of study — the kind of randomized controlled clinical trial that we would be required to have in order to approve a new pharmaceutical agent in this country,” said Dr. Tim Naimi, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This a completely valid scientific point, but also a terrible basis for debate. How’s it both? Well, the central assertion that correlation is not causation is critical to good science. And that critical rule is the most often ignored best practice in science, by both lay people and scientists themselves. So it certainly is reasonable to say that you should not take this statistical fact alone as advising moderate drinking.
But there are numerous other studies that show more direct causation between alcohol consumption and a variety of specific health benefits and risks. How do we balance them? Dr. Naimi’s suggestion that we employ a process similar to the FDA’s approval process for new drugs is flawed for various reasons. First, as the article notes, the only sponsor for such a test that might allow the results to be trusted by both sides would be the Feds. And they won’t pay for such a process because whichever side comes out behind will hate them. Further, I would suggest that using a process that would reject Aspirin or Penicillin as possessing too many risk factors to be allowed, would certainly find against alcohol. Which is more an indictment of the government’s process of approving drugs than it is of alcohol. The fact is, like everything else on Earth, alcohol has benefits and risks. If we want to know how those sides tend to balance, I’d suggest that we have a study already done, to the goldest of standards, about how those risks tend to balance. The sample size is humanity….
To be fair, the argument Dr. Naimi and some others (don’t you just love when reporters use the phrase
some scientists say…?) make against my last point is this:
…the two groups are so different that they simply cannot be compared. Moderate drinkers are healthier, wealthier and more educated, and they get better health care, even though they are more likely to smoke. They are even more likely to have all of their teeth, a marker of well-being.
The problem I see with this distinction is that the scientists seem determined to believe that these sociological differences could have no causative relationship with alcohol consumption. This is of course ridiculous. No one claims that alcohol use can and does change people’s life circumstances, at least in the case of heavy use or abuse. Why should we reject out of hand the notion that moderate alcohol use might actually promote some of those
social advantages the researchers say distinguish moderate drinkers?
I’m not saying this is certain, but I contend that the differences they are discussing can’t legitimately be used as control factors since income and education may also be affected by alcohol use. In fact, a Forbes article by Arthur Brooks cites a study that purports to show such a relationship.
Moderate drinkers are richer than teetotalers, too. In 2001 the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics found that light drinkers (one to two drinks a day) had a mean income of $49,000, versus $36,000 among teetotalers. This is a nuanced statistic; drinking may be associated with other variables (like education) that influence income. So the researchers did their best to strip these other causes out. If two adults were identical with respect to education, age, family status, race and religion, except that the first had one or two drinks each night after work while the second was a teetotaler, the drinker would tend to enjoy a “drinker’s bonus” of about 10% higher income.
Is this correlation or causation? Again, who knows? Especially since in this area we are leaving medical science and entering sociology. And sociology ain’t science, guys. Sorry, but it isn’t.
Finally, another article in Forbes (the one I was reading in the park while my kids played on the swings) makes a logical argument that in many ways trumps the entire debate. The article, by Jeff Stier is entitled
bikini waxing is found in the subtitle is not why I was reading it. Stier’s article is a general condemnation of how we are becoming increasingly, riskily, adverse to… well… risk.
Most of his article is devoted to the fish pedicures, video games, and the aforementioned bikini waxing, but he ends with linking the Brooks article and saying this about the correlation/causation question.
I believe that moderate drinkers have the ability to accept risk (unlike teetotalers) and manage it (as opposed to alcoholics). This is a discipline that they can deploy both at the bar and at the office. The ability to engage judiciously with risk in all facets of life may be a predictor of success–whether it’s part of a career, daily routine or society in general.
So let’s wrap up this rambling post. It is a fact that moderate drinkers happen to live longer than those who drink more or less. There are specific, well established health benefits from alcohol consumption, with more being found all the time. The are specific risks associated with alcohol use as well. In addition to living longer, moderate drinkers make more money, are healthier, and are better educated. Moderate drinking is a skill, employing talents that are valuable for success in all walks of life. And I’ll add that drinking is enjoyable and can improve our quality of life.
I’ll close with a famous quote by Benjamin Franklin that apparently was not quite what is usually reported:
Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.
Via Jonah Goldberg at the Corner, I found this gem from a blog I had not seen before. And yes, Spotted: DC Summer Interns has been added to my RSS. I am unable to resist adding some of my own snark as the story goes along, just for you.
Four interns sit down in my section and order four Bud Lights.
Me: I’m sorry, fellas, we don’t have Bud Light. We have PBR on draft, though.
Intern #1: (sighs) Fine, four of those.
Poor guys. It’s hard to imagine four capitol power brokers like them being forced to forego their favored premium lager like that….
Me: No problem. I just need to see your ID’s.
Intern #2: You don’t need to see our ID’s. We work for Congressman _______ from ________. (Flashes his red badge)
In the interests of protecting the
innocent, Spotted redacts all names. I don’t think there are any innocents in DC, so I’ll fill in the banks for you. Captain America here works for Congressman Obi-wan Kenobi from Coruscant, apparently….
Me: Sorry, dude, but unless the Distinguished Gentleman from _______ is willing to use his oversight authority to make the $10,000 fine that we’d get slapped with for serving you without ID’s go away, and give me a paying job when I get fired anyway, I’m still going to have to see them.
Intern #1: Wow, “oversight authority.” That’s more knowledge than I’d expect from someone with your job.
The best comes last, and I didn’t quote it here in order to get you to go read the post itself. Bartenders and others who serve booze should really read it. It will warm the cockles of your soul.