Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What's In Your Beer?

I am nearly at the end of the my case of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and the few bottles of Saint Terese's Pale Ale from Highland Brewing that I bought with me. To head off any potential beer shortage, when we went to the nearest Publix I grabbed a couple of six packs of Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale. When we were back from the shop, Mrs V bimbled on down to the pool to enjoy a drink in the gathering gloom of night, and I was surprised to find that Dale's Pale Ale was much sweeter than I expected. Further research was required, and not of the liquid kind, but rather a quest for information online.

One of my bugbears with the vast majority of beers over here is the complete absence of key, decision making information on the label. I bought Dale's mainly because it was in cans and the name would suggest it is a regular American style pale ale, yet at 6.5% and 65 IBUs it is more in the American IPA ball park. When I am sitting by the pool (when you grow up on a small island in the Hebrides in the North Atlantic, sand and beaches really hold very little fascination) I really don't want to be drinking beers too far north of 5% - call me a wimp or a dilenttante if you wish. Admittedly with Dale's the alcohol content is listed on the side of the can, but other than that there is nothing to tell me what I might expect, like what hops are involved. With SNPA and Saint Terese's Pale Ale, you need to check their websites to learn about the alcohol content, IBUs, hop varieties and malts involved.


Is it really so difficult for brewers, or their designers, to actually find space on the labels to tell us what is in their beer? At a bare minimum there should be a list of malts and hops as well as the alcohol content. To completely misappropriate Ricoeur's hermeneutics of suspicion, what are they trying to hide by giving us just waffly bollocks about being a "completely natural ale", utter tosh since beer does not occur in nature, or that the beer in the bottle is "just a wee bit different". Sure you can argue that I can just look it up on the internet, but when in a shop and without owning a smart phone, yes there are still those of us out here who believe the telephone is for talking to people, you are effectively relying on producers of any foodstuffs to tell you what they use. In the case of the Dale's Pale Ale, checking out the website for meaningful information about the beer is as useful as a chocolate teapot.


I am not entirely sure if there are legal reasons for an absence of useful information on beer labels, but if not then could brewers please start telling their consumers at least the alcohol content, malts and hop varieties in a beer?

6 comments:

  1. Isn't the ABV illegal to list in some states?

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  2. If I recall, a number of Rogue Ales have all the ingredients listed on the bottle. Those are "bomber" bottles (22oz), however. They are the only ones that I remember.

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  3. It's always fascinating to read the commentary of your own country by someone visiting from another. We live so much by convention that things become invisible; bring the perspective of someone with different conventions into the discussion and--viola!, the scales fall from the eyes.

    First on ABV. We have a puritan country and Booze Is Bad. That means states want to dissuade you from drinking it. Ah, but here's the amusing part. In some states, the rationale goes that including any ABV info is an inducement, so it's illegal. In some states, they are worried you'll inadvertently buy rocket fuel, so it's mandatory. In some states it's only mandatory above a certain level.

    The ingredient thing is much the same. I don't know why beer is exempt from the ingredient labeling law of food, but I agree it sucks. I do know that it's a fraught situation because there's a lot of science behind the health benefits of beer, and the US government doesn't want to be in the business of promoting it. I think that's why it's up to the brewery--the govt would rather let the sleeping dog of beery beneficence doze.

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    1. Thanks for the clarification Jeff! Am I right in thinking that some states have mandatory ingredient listing for alcoholic drinks too? There's no requirement here and I, too, have never seen anyone set out a rationale for the exemption. It does indeed suck. Mightily.

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  4. at least in America it has to state where the beer was brewed so you can tell if its a brewed by the brewer or if its contract brewed hundreds of miles away. cheers john

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