Scotland’s ‘Brewdog’ brewery caused a bit of a stir recently when they launched a special edition of their ‘Tokyo’ stout which we recently reviewed here at The Brew Club. Tokyo stout is usually brewed to a more than respectable 12.9% ABV, but this edition, brewed to a scary 18.2% ABV led the British Liver Trust to suggest that “If a woman were to drink a (330ml) bottle she would be technically binge drinking.”
Of course that is due in part to the UK Government guidelines that suggest ‘sensible’ drinking limits of 14 units a week for women and 21 units for men. Each ‘unit’ is 10ml or eight grams of pure alcohol – so a pint of 5% ABV lager would contain just under 3 units. Do the math.
The guidelines further define ‘binge drinking’ – which they quote as “a major factor in accidents, violence and anti-social behaviour” – as drinking over double the amount of recommended daily units in one session. For men this is over eight units , and for women, over six. Again, do the math.
That means that according to UK Government guidelines, if you drink, say, three pints of your favourite 5% ABV lager – Staropramen for example, a fine examples of the Czech brewers art – then technically you’re binge drinking.
The UK Government’s attitude to drinking is nothing new, the hours that pubs were allowed to serve alcohol was reduced to ensure that industrial production was maintained through the first world war. Pubs were allowed to open 12-3pm at lunchtimes and 5pm-11pm in the evenings – with local variations and even shorter hours on Sundays. These archaic restrictions weren’t lifted until 2005.
And a combination of increases in beer duty (tax) and the UK Government’s emphasis on alcohol units have led to a worrying reduction in the alcohol content of some classic and imported brews and the closure of more than fifty pubs a week in recent years.
I recently reviewed Singha Beer for The Brew Club, and observed that it’s now brewed to 5% for export (and 6.2% for Thai domestic consumption). Anheuser Busch have launched ‘Grolsch Blonde’ a 4% version of their classic dutch lager; InBev have launched a reduced strength 4% ABV version of their premium ‘Stella Artois’ brand and Shepherd Neame have quietly reduced the strength of their ‘Masterbrew‘ bitter from 4.5% to 4.2%.
I fully understand the need to encourage responsible drinking, but surely somebody wanting to simply get hammered would simply find a bottle of cheap firewater cider, and not seek out an expensive imported Asian classic.
The Brewdog contoversy escalated recently with the ‘Portman Group’ – a group supported by the UK’s leading drinks producers who are “concerned solely with the social responsibility issues surrounding alcohol” – issuing a Retailer Alert Bulletin asking retailers to stop selling the Tokyo Extra Sout until its marketing is altered. Portman claim that the wording “you must, from time, have excess” is encouraging antisocial drinking.
Brewdog countered by stating “They should perhaps concentrate their efforts on targeting the brands selling 24 cans of lager for £7 (about $10)…” and then launched their newest brew “Tactical Nuclear Penguin” brewed to an eye-watering 32% ABV.
For the record I should like to add that And having attended the Great British Beer Festival for more than twenty years I have never, I repeat NEVER, seen anybody drunk. I concede we all get pleasantly mellow, but I have never seen anything approaching violence or antisocial behaviour.
To clarify, the label of the Tokyo Extra Stout I used to review for The Brew Club reads “It’s all about moderation. Everything in moderation, including moderation itself. What logically follows is that you must, from time, have excess. This beer is for those times.”
What say you?