News, Nuggets & Longreads 16 Jan 2016

Hydrometer measuring a sample from a microbrewery fermenting vessel.

These are the beer-related blog posts and articles that caught our attention in the last seven days, from low-alcohol beer to the eccentricity of Samuel Smith’s.

→ There have been lots of arti­cles ques­tion­ing the UK Gov­ern­men­t’s new alco­hol con­sump­tion guide­lines most of which, frankly, we’ve ignored as seem­ing shrill and defen­sive. This crit­i­cal take-down from Adam ‘The Stats Guy’ Jacob, how­ev­er, seems pret­ty well bal­anced and, cru­cial­ly, offers a text­book exam­ple of how to dis­close poten­tial bias­es. (Via @PhilMellows.)

→ Those of you unable to drink for med­ical rea­sons, dur­ing preg­nan­cy, because you’re the des­ig­nat­ed dri­ver, or just because you fan­cy giv­ing your innards a break, will be inter­est­ed in Tony Nay­lor’s round-up of the best alco­hol free beers for the Guardian. Con­ven­tion­al wis­dom is ‘Don’t both­er!’ but Mr Nay­lor found a cou­ple of decent con­tenders:

The lemo­ny, herbal saaz hop flavours that dis­tin­guish Czech pil­sners shine through remark­ably well. OK, it tastes card­boardy at the back, but this has more char­ac­ter than many alco­holic big-brand lagers. Shock­ing­ly good.

Detail from a sign reading Praha, Prague, Praga, Prag.

→ The offi­cial des­ig­na­tions for the dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of Czech beer are chang­ing, reports Max ‘Pivni Filosof’ Bahn­son:

Speciál will be called Sil­né Pivo… Porter as a legal cat­e­go­ry will be scrapped… The most con­tentious issue in the pro­posed amendment—at least for the local beer community—is that the cur­rent text does not con­tem­plate renam­ing the cat­e­go­ry Ležák, some­thing a few peo­ple have been fuss­ing about for some time already.

Tan­dle­man high­lights an estab­lished brew­ery’s craft-style sub-brand that had escaped our notice:

Per­haps liv­ing in Man­ches­ter (well, near­ly) I should be aware of Hydes Brew­ery’s sea­son­al range under the “Prove­nance Brew­ing from Hydes” ban­ner, but sad­ly I was­n’t… Rec­om­mend­ed to me by the land­lord, Hokkai­do is a pale, hop­py, cit­ric lit­tle num­ber, con­tain­ing that most dif­fi­cult of hops Sorachi Ace.

→ Joe Tin­dall has been col­lect­ing exam­ples of con­tem­po­rary brown ales in the UK mar­ket:

When I wrote about Brighton Bier’s Free State, billed as “21st cen­tu­ry brown” here, I remarked that the nev­er­the­less deli­cious beer had very lit­tle ‘brown’ qual­i­ty. Brew­er Gary Sil­lence got in touch with me to clar­i­fy his inten­tions – “My main ambi­tion was the brew down the main­stream per­cep­tion that brown beer means dull or old fash­ioned”, he said, and the beer was nev­er intend­ed to be received as a brown ale as such…

Sam Smith logo from beer bottle.

→ A dis­pute over the con­struc­tion of a tem­po­rary foot­bridge in the wake of flood­ing has shone a light on the reclu­sive eccen­tric­i­ty of the Samuel Smith brew­ery of Tad­cast­er in the last week. For the York­shire Post Grant Wood­ward spoke to res­i­dents of the town:

Few of those I talk to want to give their names. Local coun­cil­lor Chris Met­calfe explains that it’s because so many in Tad­cast­er are reliant on Samuel Smith’s. They lease their busi­ness premis­es from the com­pa­ny, live in a house it owns, or depend on it for their pen­sion.

We’ve lived with this for so long that we just think, ‘Oh, it’s Humphrey again’,” he says. “It’s in our DNA. Peo­ple have become accus­tomed to how the town is and think it’s nev­er going to change. That’s enor­mous­ly sad. We feel we’re liv­ing in a com­mu­ni­ty that’s head­ing to obliv­ion.”

9 thoughts on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 16 Jan 2016”

  1. My prob­lem with the out­rage at the pub­lic med­ical advice is summed up in this para­graph from the stats blog you have ref­er­enced:

    The guide­line itself says “The risk of devel­op­ing a range of dis­eases (includ­ing, for exam­ple, can­cers of the mouth, throat, and breast) increas­es with any amount you drink on a reg­u­lar basis”. That is true, but it ignore the fact that it is not true for oth­er dis­eases. To men­tion only the harms of alco­hol and ignore the ben­e­fits in the guide­lines seems a dis­hon­est way to present data. Sure­ly the net effect is what is impor­tant.”

    It is not actu­al­ly the net effect which mat­ters as peo­ple do not die sta­tis­ti­cal­ly. When a 2% increase in mor­tal­i­ty is iden­ti­fied with cer­tain drink­ing behav­iours it means to me that two more peo­ple out of a hun­dred will die pre­ma­ture­ly. Could be folk I like. Could be me. Or you.

    Hav­ing tak­en deathbed wills from folk obvi­ous­ly about to go ear­ly due to a smok­ing lifestyle, I am used to the idea that (espe­cial­ly with the cur­rent spate of pop icon can­cer deaths) smok­ing short­ens life. I am freck­led and suf­fered bad sun­burns as a kid. I am com­fort­able with the idea that that might cause skin can­cers as it has in rel­a­tives. I would hope that folk think­ing about beer might start from the assump­tion that med­ical advice is valid or at least worth heed­ing even if not per­fect.

    Yes, anec­do­tal­ly we know the grannie who drank and smoked into her nineties. My great-aunt did. But the vast major­i­ty of her gen­er­a­tion in my fam­i­ly – espe­cial­ly the men – went in their fifties. Chips, smokes and drink. I am delight­ed that the pub­lic health improve­ments saw my Dad last into his eight­ies. I hope my choic­es, includ­ing with drink and based on the best med­ical infor­ma­tion, might see me last as least as long.

    1. Alan – what you’re over­look­ing is that the demon­stra­ble pro­tec­tive effect of mod­er­ate drink­ing also affects real, indi­vid­ual peo­ple. A sta­tis­ti­cal increase in mor­tal­i­ty has actu­al­ly been iden­ti­fied both for exces­sive drink­ing (mor­tal­i­ty from can­cer) and for reduc­ing drink­ing below a cer­tain lev­el (mor­tal­i­ty from heart dis­ease). The respon­si­ble advice would be to keep your drink­ing between (say) 7 and 14 beers a week and avoid binge­ing – not to treat 7 as a max­i­mum.

      1. Not miss­ing it at all. But that is for say­ing so. Just aware that a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent of folk in beer who both dis­miss the sci­ence and the advice drink well past these lev­els. Them mak­ing the beer as health food argu­ment is a bit sil­ly giv­en that.

        1. Alan – We’re not fans of ‘beer is good for you’ arti­cles being Re-Tweet­ed by brew­eries and indus­try groups either but there is some room for debate around the specifics of how bad for you booze is, and how much.

          As with so many sub­jects, though, it’s hard to have a mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sion because lob­by­ing and pol­i­tics tug the dis­cus­sion to the extremes. As we say above, some of the rebut­tals of the new guide­lines do sound like peo­ple who might them­selves drink too much, or rely on oth­ers drink­ing freely for their liveli­hoods, react­ing defen­sive­ly.

          Equal­ly, hav­ing worked in gov­ern­ment, I know that offi­cial guide­lines are rarely the unvar­nished work of experts – in my expe­ri­ence, they always reflect, one way or anoth­er, the needs and prej­u­dices of the politi­cians who have com­mis­sioned them, espe­cial­ly when researchers aren’t in agree­ment and, in effect, they are free to pick the research that gives them the answers their sup­port­ers demand.

          1. B: Well, that’s a fair­ly (mild­ly) cyn­i­cal view – some­thing of a role rever­sal ‑but I under­stand. As a reg­u­lar pur­chas­er of pro­fes­sion­al advice in a wide range of spe­cial­ties, I actu­al­ly find that most pro­fes­sion­al­ly devel­oped under­stand­ing of tol­er­ances in any field is actu­al­ly well found­ed if not wel­come. As a result, I prob­a­bly give heed to the health advice more than most beer writ­ers even if, again like most beer writ­ers, I don’t fol­low them per­fect­ly. My soy intake is sub-opti­mum, too. But that does not lead me to seek out rea­sons to dis­miss rather than con­sid­er whether I should improve its place in my diet.

        2. Ben Goldacre says some­thing some­where about peo­ple using fig­ures that show it’s OK to drink a lit­tle to jus­ti­fy drink­ing a lot, and pre­sum­ably that is how the Chief Med­ical Offi­cer and her team are think­ing. But it’s a bad tac­tic – not least because the sci­en­tif­ic mod­el the cur­rent advice rests on is elab­o­rate and wob­bly, and there’s very strong evi­dence to sup­port high­er lim­its. Even if we assume that it is a good idea to dri­ve down the lev­el of alco­hol con­sump­tion across the board – and I’m not at all sure that it is – sci­ence should­n’t be bent out of shape to pro­duce the required answers, and it should­n’t be used to cre­ate scare sto­ries intend­ed to nudge peo­ple’s behav­iour in the desired direc­tion.

  2. Alan – I think cyn­i­cal is an over-state­ment. Med­ical advice = worth lis­ten­ing to. Med­ical advice fil­tered through the polit­i­cal machine, per­haps a lit­tle less so.

    EDIT: To expand on that a bit, I’m not sur­prised peo­ple want to test whether these new guide­lines are water­tight hav­ing learned to live (more or less) with the old ones which were more for­giv­ing. They seem to ask peo­ple to fun­da­men­tal­ly change their lifestyles and, by exten­sion, the wider cul­ture. That’s not some­thing peo­ple are going to do mer­ri­ly, with a shrug, on receipt of a leaflet from the Depart­ment of Health.

  3. True. But I am also mind­ful that alco­hol is a plea­sure giv­ing thought alter­ing drug. It gives com­fort. One has a pos­i­tive rela­tion­ship with it caused in no small part by its effect which also lay­ers upon the unwel­come pro­fes­sion­al advice. The lifestyle is not opti­mum. The rec­om­mend­ed slow drip for heart health has always been tiny. Hours spent in the pub might be spent oth­er­wise. We know these things yet choose to live as we do. And we don’t like harsh real­i­ty to intrude. It is a lot like the com­plaints from some beer writ­ers in the US pri­mar­i­ly about low­er­ing the safe dri­ving lim­its. Every oth­er expla­na­tion is offered to ignore the obvi­ous social harm. US craft ignores the issue as inten­tion­al­ly as a 1950s cig­a­rette com­pa­ny might. We lean towards the com­fort­ing jus­ti­fy­ing response as much as we lean away from the nan­ny state.

    1. Alan – not every­one is delud­ed! There’s a huge body of med­ical evi­dence that says that drink­ing mod­er­ate­ly is bet­ter for you than total absten­tion – and that drink­ing at lev­els above the new guide­lines is bet­ter for you than keep­ing at or below them. That’s not wish­ful think­ing or knee­jerk lib­er­tar­i­an­ism, it actu­al­ly is what the sci­ence says. (The Chief Med­ical Offi­cer’s response on this point is that cut­ting out alco­hol is still a good idea, but that peo­ple who cut it out alto­geth­er should also exer­cise more, so as to off­set the loss of the pro­tec­tive effect.)

      I’m sure there are peo­ple out there say­ing “sod the sci­ence, anoth­er lit­tle drink won’t do us any harm”, and those peo­ple are delud­ing them­selves. Per­haps the idea of these new guide­lines is that, if it gets out there that one drink a day is the safe lim­it, it’ll give peo­ple who are cur­rent­ly drink­ing four or five a day enough of a jolt to make them cut down to the actu­al safe lim­it of two or three. But bend­ing the sci­ence until it gives the right answer is a dan­ger­ous game, as well as being dis­hon­est in its own right – it risks dis­cred­it­ing any and all health advice, among pre­cise­ly those drinkers who ought to be lis­ten­ing.

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