Marty Jones's picture

Let's Ban Alcoholic Beverages (Issue 18)

While we debate whether "craft" beer is the right term for tasty creations from Sierra Nevada Brewing and the newly opened nanobrewery down the street, how about we discuss a different word? One that’s been doing big damage to the image of beer and beer culture for decades: “alcoholic beverage.”

Could there be a worse term for classifying the life-enhancing, health-improving, fellowship-inspiring creation that is beer? Except for maybe “junk food,” alcoholic beverage is a pejorative, worst-case-scenario/ illness descriptor unlike any in the consumer world. Nobody consumes cancer-victim smoking devices, caffeine-addict drinks and morbid-obesity doughnuts.

Yes, a number of beer drinkers quaff in excess and may be alcoholics. Obviously that’s a serious problem for those people and their families and communities. No doubt about it. But should all beer makers, sellers and drinkers get branded with the scarlet A-word and lumped in with alcoholism? Heck no. We visit breweries and ask for our AHA (American Homebrewers Association) discount, not an AA perk. Besides, the average beer holds a single-digit percent of alcohol and over 90 percent water. Wouldn’t “hydraulic beverage” be a more accurate term?

How did we end up with this misleading, image- smashing term? My in-depth research found that the first use of “alcoholic beverage” took place in 1777, at a meeting of our young nation’s newly formed Bureau of Zealots Knowingly Impacting Liquorous Libations. (The group also had America’s first acronym: BUZKILL.) The group was led by one A. T. Totaler. While searching for a term that would equate beer lovers with town drunks, she found a perfect slur for beer speech. “The moste defaming word we can useth for the imbibers of fermentious, maltuous drinke,” she declared, “is alcoholic beverage. It portrayeth the consumer of beer in a moste unflattering lyghte.” Sadly the term stuck and became part of the lexicon for prohibitionists and pro-ethanol types. But we can change that with a better classification for beer.

We can steal a trick from sport drinks: “performance beverage.” We can filch a card from the pot trade – “medical malt you wanna drink” – and highlight the many health bennies of moderate beer consumption. Okay, Uncle Sam won’t allow such helpful beer and health talk, so we can run with “recreational potable” instead.

Surely “alcohol-enhanced” would be a great improvement, or at least “alcohol-containing” if we want to play it straight. Or we could more eagerly adopt a term that already gets some use and fixes the problem: “fermented beverage.” It’s accurate. It’s not a slam against its drinkers and producers. It gives a shoutout to our yeast co-workers.

Any of these terms would end the “alcoholic” stigma at the store and in conversations about what you do for a living or like to sip. For beer-minded journalists and readers it would end puzzling headlines such as “Alcoholic Drinks Up in Europe” (Why celebrate individual bad behavior?) and “Brewers Worry About Drop in Alcoholic Beverage Sales.” (I don’t know any breweries targeting alcoholics.)

While we debate craft, can we agree to purge “alcoholic beverages” from our vocabularies and Word glossaries? We are beer connoisseurs, beer lovers and beer geeks. We are writing new chapters in the world’s beer history. It’s time we demand a proper and more respectful nomenclature for our beloved drink!

To aid the cause, I’ve worked up a musical rallying cry. It’s in the key of “B” of course, and here’s the chorus. Sing it with me: Brew lovers let’s fl x/Our lexiconic leverage/ Demand beer not be called/An alcoholic beverage!