Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Beer binge drinkers have never heard of encourages binge drinking, say idiots in plea for help from makers of drinks actually drunk by binge drinkers

This post is a bit late; this is because both London and Edinburgh keep coming up with such stupid new proposals that it's difficult to keep up.

But now that Alcohol Focus Scotland have gone ahead and lodged a formal complaint against BrewDog Tokyo* with the self-appointed watchdog of the alcoholic drinks trade, the Portman Group, it might be time to return to them once again.

I didn't write about Tokyo* when Alcohol Focus Scotland first started whining to the newspapers and anyone else who would listen, because other people had already made the relevant points very well.

For example, Pete Brown pointed out: "I'll drink it instead of whisky. I'd imagined sharing a bottle between two - I'd actually recommend one bottle between four. The idea of anyone binge drinking a bottle of this beer, of knocking it back quickly, is utterly absurd. I defy anyone to drink a bottle in under an hour. "

Mark Dredge wrote: "There are different modes of drinking. Some are reckless and concerned entirely with being a means to a drunken end. Some are altogether more civilized ... I may open a bottle of 4% ale or I might fancy trying a bottle of super-premium strength, super-premium priced, completely esoteric beer designed for a select few and made on a small, hand-crafted scale from premium ingredients. The difference becomes the way it's consumed and the mentality behind the drinking."

And you don't even have to make the more sophisticated arguments in this case, because absolutely anyone can understand that for less than the price of a single bottle of Tokyo* you can get a bottle of cheap vodka with over four times as much alcohol, and that's what anyone who wants to get drunk will do.

In fact, at the current going rate of Stella Artois, you can get 29 units of alcohol for your tenner compared to the 6 in a bottle of Tokyo*.

Everyone understands this except the headbangers at Alcohol Focus Scotland. Indeed, they've had time between their initial reaction and lodging this complaint to review the discussion there's been in the beer community about it.

We can only conclude that they've not bothered to do so; in which case we should really be asking if they are suitable to be in charge of a government-funded organisation dealing with the very serious issue of alcohol abuse.

The Portman Group, of course, was set up by the manufacturers of cooking lager and alcopops to head off any threat of actual regulation of the industry. It is blackly comic to see Alcohol Focus Scotland shouting for help to these companies. Their products range from the bland to the vile and there is no point in drinking them for the taste; all you can do with them is get drunk. Who exactly is to blame for binge drinking again?

It's interesting to compare Alcohol Focus Scotland's wild and lurid claims about Tokyo* with several other complaints to the Portman Group last year (none of which were upheld), which were brought by the London homeless charity Thames Reach about four of the most popular brands of super lager. Now, I don't necessarily agree with Thames Reach's campaign to ban super lager, but at least they are people involved in helping homeless people and know about the extent of its use among their clients, and they are trying to alleviate a problem of alcohol abuse that actually exists.

Alcohol Focus Scotland, on the other hand, are attacking an entirely imaginary problem. And this stems from their inability to recognise that, as Mark Dredge points out above, there are different contexts for drinking alcohol; some harmful, dangerous and disgusting, others innocent, harmless and enjoyable. The medicalisation approach apparently chosen by Alcohol Focus Scotland, on the other hand, which regards alcohol simply as a drug and different drinks merely as different ways to deliver it into the blood, leads inexorably to prohibition.

Particularly sinister is the way in which the 'safe drinking guidelines' have been changed in meaning by the neo-prohibitionists. The well-known 21 units a week for men and 14 units a week for women were published in 1987 on the basis of no firm evidence:

The disclosure that the 1987 recommendation was prompted by “a feeling that you had to say something” came from Richard Smith, a member of the Royal College of Physicians working party that produced it.

He told The Times that the committee’s epidemiologist had confessed that “it’s impossible to say what’s safe and what isn’t” because “we don’t really have any data whatsoever”.

Mr Smith, a former Editor of the British Medical Journal, said that members of the working party were so concerned by growing evidence of the chronic damage caused by heavy, long-term drinking that they felt obliged to produce guidelines. “Those limits were really plucked out of the air. They were not based on any firm evidence at all. It was a sort of intelligent guess by a committee,” he said.

Well-intentioned doctors thus gave a recommendation of a safe limit which they reasonably thought certainly wouldn't do you any harm.

The neo-prohibitionists have now distorted this to mean that if you consume more than this, you have a drink problem.


  1. Your last point is a crucial one - what was originally intended as an ideal "gold standard" has metamorphosed into a definition of acceptable behaviour.

  2. Alcohol Focus Scotland would be better off keeping their er, focus on the likes of Buckfast. I can't imagine the two bums I once saw clouting each other with Buckie bottles outside Glasgow Station doing the same with Tokyo.