The Dignity of a Drinking Culture

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In a week where the Pope has announced his resignation and there have been votes on gay marriage in both France and the UK, I feel that neither of these are suitable topics from which to discuss dignity when compared to that of beer.

Having recently moved to Belgium,one of the first things to notice (and to be honest it’s hard not to, given how proud the locals are) is the good repute of brewers in this country. Wherever you go, it is clear that these EU-dwelling peoples hold themselves to make some of the best beer in the world.

This is, of course, a fundamental area of dignity. It is a realm of culture and perceptions (sometimes more addled than others) that deserves to be pondered from many angles. The first of which is the morality of alcohol, considering the huge detriment to society caused by its abuse. The US estimates that the economic cost of alcohol abuse to itself is in excess of $220 billion; roughly similar (relative to population) to the £20 billion estimated by the UK. This is merely the economic cost from healthcare, days off work, crime and support services, not taking into account the huge devastation reaped emotionally by the effects of alcohol on individuals, friends and families, which can hardly be measured.

Clearly in the Western world something is wrong with our treatment of alcohol. Gone are the simple European days of killing each other in large numbers one way or another as part of a broad national sport; where merry soldiers at Agincourt, Waterloo or Trafalgar could happily drink their livers into collective submission, safe in the knowledge that their life expectancy wasn’t long enough for it to make the slightest bit of difference. Now however, we live long, social, lives in offices and around other people. Approaching alcohol in this way is simply not possible, and we can see the detriment of it all around us.

We must then ask ourselves what is to be done. How do we inculcate a responsible drinking culture, or indeed is it better to remove the damn stuff in the first place? Should we be pursuing policies like those proposed in the UK, limiting the minimum cost of alcohol?

I write here to emphatically say that, we should not limit the minimum price of alcohol what-so-ever. Creating a responsible society doesn’t come from fiscal barriers, it comes from education and personal responsibility – in essence, us exercising our freedom to make the correct choice.

This takes me back to the topic of – but not limited to – beer. The Belgians claim they have the best beer, the Germans also and the UK too; the USA even could be a contender and has every reason to be proud of its produce. This is exactly what we should encourage – the quality of brewing, and pride in that brewing culture. Ignoring other alcoholic beverage as too specific or pretentious, beer is the most universal expression of alcohol-based culture we have.

If we can encourage local brewing, and pride in craftsmanship, hopefully, it should lead to better beers. With better beers becomes a culture where they are drunk to be enjoyed (as well as we!), not just to become drunk – and with that, it matters rather less if you reach an inebriate stupor because the motive for doing so is better. The other benefits are rather more important though. Through local brewing comes pride in local culture and a strengthening of community and family. There is the expression of individuality through the community, and by being approached at a local level it can teach responsibility with something ubiquitous that can be a hazard.

Respect for anything comes not through legislation, but through freedom, trust and responsibility and for this reason, beer is a metaphor for, and expression of, our culture, community and legislation. Therefore I say to all countries, brew forth!

By James Newman, Intern at WYA Europe.