Britain’s National Drinking Problem?

boris johnson beer

“Drunk or not, I have the best. hair. ever.”

Several years ago I wrote a post on an Economist article analyzing the decline of Britain’s humble neighborhood pubs. An unfortunate occurrence, but one not difficult to understand when considering a frustrated economy that leaves consumers with less disposable income.  That, coupled with an overall decline in beer consumption, the traditional staple of any public house.

Yet that decline hasn’t resulted in less drinking. On the contrary, it appears that Britain has a national problem with drink. And the problem isn’t only with booze, but with the political discussion surrounding it.

First, let’s discuss the booze problem, placed within a geographic context: “Like most chilly north European countries, it has an ancient tradition of getting blotto. But Britons manage to combine Scandinavian bingeing with liver-pickling Mediterranean levels of consumption.”

If such a problem does exist, how can it be fixed? Increased regulation appears often in these situations, but perhaps properly understanding the problem might be a best first step. “Britain’s noisy youthful drinkers, who attract most of the public ire, are in fact a diminishing part of the problem.” Instead, this latest attempt by legislators to mandate health choices is much like its past attempts: “Britain’s battles with the bottle have always involved a heady mixture of anxieties about health, morality and social class.”

The problem thus appears more complicated than it first seemed. Might there be a confluence of factors responsible for Britain’s love affair with drink, such as geographic and economic considerations? “Growing prosperity and urbanisation were likelier causes of both drunkeness and its critics, because they brought rowdy commoners into greater proximity with gentler inebriates.”

Is British society doomed? In the Economist’s opinion, the worry is overblown: “This class-infused tension is discernable in every major campaign against drink that has followed: from the 18th-century crackdown on the ‘gin-craze’…to the high-minded Victorian temperence movement, and the exaggerated popular concerns over ‘binge Britain’ of today.”

Moveover, critics and naysayers completely fail to acknowledge the social benefits the bottle brings. “Britain’s buttoned-up society gets a lot of precious bonding and cheer from the bottle, which is too often ignored in the public browbeating.” Bonding and cheer, a way for us to blow off steam, to unwind after a day’s work, to make new friends and grow closer to those we have. Intangible benefits that produce happiness and revelry, benefits that bind society together.

Published in: on January 28, 2013 at 11:38 pm  Comments Off  
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Booze News, 5th Edition

Happy belated New Year!  Booze News is back for its fifth installment.  This time, The Economist provides a pair of articles on the wonders of Belgian and British beer, some thoughts from an Atlantic contributor on an increasingly popular herbal liqueur, and finally, some information on why drying out after the holidays is just a waste of time.

I’ve previously written about Belgium’s fantastic Trappist ales.  And it’s not just those seven specific brewers.  Generally speaking, Belgian beer is some of the best anywhere.  The Economist agrees, but supports the conclusion with a bit more analysis.  In addition to reputation, “Belgium is also home to the world’s biggest brewer. Anheuser-Busch (AB) InBev, based in Leuven, a small university town half an hour by train from Brussels, turns out one in five of every beer sold around the world.”

Belgium’s geographic location also doesn’t hurt: “the climate and the land are excellent for growing barley and hops, the basic ingredients of beer. Belgium is also known for its high-quality water, vital for turning out good beer.”  Furthermore, “at one time or another most of Europe’s great powers have held sway over Belgium; many have left behind influences and flavours.”  No doubt then why Belgian beer is just so incredibly tasty.

Read the Economist article, Belgian Beer: Brewed force

Looking north and homeward to the British isles, The Economist next considers Britain’s long history and culture of binge drinking.  In his upcoming book Intoxication and Society, Cambridge historian Philip Withington argues it “was the educated elite who taught Britons how to drink to excess.”

However, these elites were forced to booze responsibly: “Men were to consume large quantities of alcohol in keeping with conventions of excess. Yet they were also supposed to remain in control of their faculties, bantering and displaying wit. Students and would-be lawyers formed drinking societies, where they learned the social—and drinking—skills required of gentlemen.”  Thus, copius drinking was permitted so long as one could still think sharply and cleverly.”

And perhaps things haven’t changed so much from the past.  “Although intoxication was a classless pursuit in the 17th century, it was the privileged who turned it into a cultural phenomenon. The affluent are still boozy… The wit is still there, too—although it is likely to seem funnier after the listener has had a few drinks as well.”

Read The Economist article, England’s booze culture: Always with us

From Belgium and Britain, we head now to Argentina, home of fernet, “the liquor for all occasions. Grandparents swear by the herbal libation; the young heading out into the night mix fernet with cola and then order it en masse at bars and clubs; and no one would dare organize a barbecue, which are called asados in Argentina and are very regular affairs with friends or families, without fernet.”

What is this mysterious liqueur, you might ask?  I’ll let Karina Martinez-Carter explain: “For the first-time fernet drinker, the popularity of booze that tastes like black licorice devoid of sugar might be confounding. The botanical, 80-proof fernet is no innocuous vodka. It is made from bitters and herbs, and though it goes down relatively smooth, the aftertaste kicks and lingers. It is, as almost everyone describes it, an acquired taste.”

After picking up a bottle of Italian Fernet Branca last week, I’m still attempting to acquire a taste myself.  Good luck acquiring your own.

Read Martinez-Carter’s Atlantic article, Fernet: The Best Liquor You’re (Still) Not Yet Drinking

And finally, we return once again to Britain, where scientists at the British Liver Trust give us another reason to just keep on drinking after the holidays.  “Giving up alcohol or going on a detox for one month is pointless, especially after the excesses of the festive season… Experts agree that a short period of complete abstinence will not improve liver health,” reports the BBC.

Instead, Andrew Langford, the British Liver Trust’s chief executive recommends “making a resolution to take a few days off alcohol a week throughout the entire year than remaining abstinent for January only.”  A few days a week rather than an entire month off – that’s  certainly much more reasonable.

Read the BBC article, Detoxing in January is futile, says liver charity

Published in: on January 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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