A list of eight beers “you should stop drinking immediately” went around earlier last year and even ended up in my inbox a few times, but I didn’t imagine something so silly could have serious traction among the pretty geeky and science-savvy scene that is the craft beer drinking community.
It seems I was wrong. The article has been making the rounds again, and like a mosquito continuing to buzz around my head in the dead of the night, it beckons me to rise from bed, turn on the light, and smash it with a newspaper. Here goes.
The piece begins with the well-taken point that while food products are required to list their ingredients, alcoholic beverages are not. Unfortunately, just as we see with the GMO labeling craze, well-intentioned campaigns to force alcoholic beverage producers to list the ingredients in their products often come from a “consumers have a right to know” stance that embeds a fatal flaw: consumers don’t know the context, the makeup, or even the first thing about many of the ingredients that would be listed. If I’m a brewer trying to make a good product and a living, I don’t really want a customer with absolutely no knowledge of brewing telling me how to filter my beer.
And here we have a list of “harmful ingredients” commonly found in beer: “GMO corn syrup,” MSG, “Natural Flavors,” “& lots more”––the bogeymen of “natural” food peddlers everywhere.
The piece then lists, apparently at random, beers containing these supposedly harmful ingredients. Let’s take them one by one.
Newcastle Brown Ale
There’s a simple reason to avoid Newcastle Brown Ale, at least if you don’t have access to it on draught: beers in clear bottling are more susceptible to sun damage, causing oxidation, so breweries employing clear bottles often use hop extracts that have been stabilized to combat this, and I don’t think they taste very good.
But for the love of real ale, please, can somebody put this sentence out of its misery:
“While alcohol is a carcinogen itself, drinking it in moderation may decrease your chances at developing cancer. However, more added carcinogens will have the opposite effect. ‘The one and only’ beer with extra cancer causing qualities.”
That alcohol is a carcinogen itself could be a one-liner response to this entire piece; alcohol is a drug with potentially dangerous consequences from overuse or improper use, and it’s responsible for over 80,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. There’s simply no need to pick out certain alcohol products that may be “harmful”––unless your goal is to fearmonger and create drama by selecting products at random and then inventing reasons to make a clickbait list about them. Ahem.
Caramel coloring comes up again and again among natural food fearmongers despite the FDA’s consistent stance that there’s no reason to believe caramel coloring is unsafe. As with MSG, BPA, and GM foods, the only “reason to believe” it’s unsafe is the chorus of laypeople crying in unison, “Are you sure?”
Again, we already have excellent reasons to avoid The King of Beers: it’s made repeated use of objectifying advertizing to commercialize women’s bodies while marketing women and sex to men as a result of drinking Bud, and concerns about its labor practices have surfaced repeatedly. Meanwhile, it tastes like water collected from gutter drippings in a suburban plaza.
That it contains GMO corn might be the only bad reason to avoid it. If you need to get up to speed on the science behind GMOs and the associated fear mongering of “natural” food proponents, go read Kavin’s work over at Grounded Parents.
The author says they used to find Corona commercials peaceful and relaxing––that is, until they found about that it contains GMOs and Propylene Glycol, which is “controversial.” How can we relax on the beach with this Armageddon before us?
That this beer is “extra” anything meaningful is the only controversy here. The CDC considers propylene glycol safe and, in fact, it occurs in many food products––which kind of hurts the author’s argument that beer is to be especially feared because, unlike food, its ingredients are unlabeled.
“It’s GMO time.” Yes, please! I haven’t had a Miller Lite since a group of gentlemen ordered a round of it for me and my friend while we were backpacking through southern Ireland in 2006, thinking that as Americans we’d prefer it to Smithwick’s or Guinness. (We didn’t.) Had I known that the beer contains the work of biotechnology, I might have been more supportive, because genetic engineering is awesome.
Ditto. And if I may, I’d like to take this opportunity to ask the author where they’re finding these GMO-fearing, Whole Foods-card-carrying Mich Ultra drinkers.
The single useful piece of information in this article occurs in this section: Guinness is fined with isinglass, a fish product used in many alcoholic beverages, so it’s not vegan.
Leaving that useful topic for another day, the article moves on to the dreaded sweetener High-Fructose Corn Syrup. According to an update to the piece, Guinness no longer uses HFCS. But even if it did, the maligned HFCS actually has less fructose than many commonly eaten fruits. Chuck that banana and have a Guinness instead!
“Coors light is a drink that is very popular at bars and among college students,” the author writes. “Mostly because its cheap.” If that isn’t damning enough, Coors Lite is another otherwise-
still-gross quaffable beer accused of containing GMOs and again, that’s the least of the beer enthusiast’s worries. Union-busting, imperialist Reaganomics contribute to the beer’s aromas of fetid groundwater and bilious finish.
Pabst Blue Ribbon
No one messes with my Peeber. This is another beer maligned for GMO ingredients, but at least it’s not owned by AB/InBev, the macro formerly known as Anheuser-Busch (instead, it’s owned by Russians) ––unlike many of the beers mentioned in this article’s denouementary bogus list of “acceptable” beers.
The reasons to purchase beer with care are legion; admirable labor practices, environmentally sustainable brewing, inclusive marketing, and community involvement are all factors I look for when selecting my beer, in addition to the obvious matter of taste. When none of these issues qualify as “harmful,” yet complicated topics like GMOs are thrown around as “controversial” with no explanation and assumed to be dangerous, I feel pretty confident dismissing a piece like this as just plain irresponsible.