I Don’t Do Denial

The Politics of Beer by | Jan 2011 | Issue #48

The problem with acquiring new knowledge is that while it ought to make the world easier to understand, in practice it often makes it more difficult. Maybe this is why, for brewers, politicians and ordinary mortals, sticking fingers in ears and singing loudly has become a more attractive survival option than facing facts.

A couple of months back I met a man who over the years had dined with four of the last five US presidents and shared with them his understanding of the changes wrought on our natural environment, first by industrial pollution, then over-farming and now climate change. Like most backroom know-it-alls, his mere presence was exhilarating.

I asked him if it was right that the way to avoid the global catastrophe the numbers predict is looming is to be older than 45, and he said, “No, 65.” I have this thing with numbers.

In your country as in mine we seem to have gotten used to the idea that emotion is what counts in winning an argument. It’s not the facts or the links between them that matters, it’s that gut-wrenching, straight-from-the-soul piece of spleen-driven illogicality that gains the day. I blame Hollywood and the TV pap they put between commercial breaks.

One of the downsides about being taken more seriously than is sometimes comfortable, is that well-meaning strangers occasionally send me spreadsheets of incomprehensible data about what is happening in the world of international brewing, in the expectation that I will disentangle them. Those damn numbers again.

The nice data seem to show that wherever you look, craft breweries are growing in number and output, as is the range of discernibly different types of accomplished, upper-end beer (and nuttier, nastier varieties, too). Ever more people are proving open to the idea that beer does not have to be freezing, blond and shiny.

I compare this with what I hear on the street/straat/strasse/rue/via/viale and the story rings true. We campaigners have by our efforts legitimized beer as a classy drink.

On the other hand, when I look at the sort of data that leading global brewers must work from, I see repeated and increasingly dramatic falls in overall consumption in most of the world’s leading beer-drinking nations. Small beer, particularly in its fizzier, lighter forms, is simply going out of fashion—a dangerous thing for a product type born out of the deprivations of war and Prohibition and kept strong by gargantuan marketing efforts.

This too I see and hear reflected in what is around me. If money gets tight, people will make do without things that are pointless or threatening to their health. They will trade off fitness against pleasure but only for something more entertaining than wet air.

One UK national newspaper has now decided that because we had snow in the last week of November, global warming is a myth. They cannot grasp that colder in one place can still mean hotter overall, let alone that a rise in global temperatures would divert the Gulf Stream southwards and make British winters harsher, so these facts are ignored.

Likewise, some of the world’s largest brewery companies appear relaxed about their falling sales in established markets because of increasing sales in emerging ones. The trifling fact that even big brands are showing signs of implosion is an inconvenient truth, best left unmentioned. It is just “fluctuations.”

For 2011, I have decided to mount solar heating panels on the garage roof, wear thicker clothing and travel the world more slowly. And I sold my big brewery stocks. But I’m not that worried. After all, I’m 55. Happy New Year!