The Elephant In The Room
Nobody can deny that over-consumption and misuse of alcohol is dangerous. The World Health Organization estimates that 3.3 million people a year die due to alcohol related issues. Addressing harmful alcohol use remains a fundamental priority for beer producers.
The crucial challenge, for society, policymakers and industry alike, is to change the behavior of those 16% of consumers who, according to the World Health Organization, drink to excess or misuse alcohol.
That said, beyond those 16%, more needs to be done to deepen consumers’ understanding of what it means to drink in moderation.
A Long History
Concerns about the misuse of beer and its impact on society have a long history.
From ancient times right through to the 19th century, excessive drinking was considered as shameful, irresponsible or outright wrong. However it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution and the need for a reliable workforce that specific laws and regulations designed to curb excessive drinking and misuse started to appear.
These included drink driving limits based on blood alcohol concentration, legal drinking ages and the like.
A Problem That Needs Solutions
Prohibition didn't work – witness its repeal a few years later. But the search for effective measures to combat excessive drinking and alcohol misuse continues.
New policies and ideas continue to be suggested and some are being trialled right now. Policymakers, brewers and other stakeholders can, and should, work together in assessing what works and what doesn't in order to keep improving measures.
Can We Drink Better?
The way we enjoy beer today is changing. Innovations in modern brewing technology means there are more varieties of beer available than ever before. Today's brewers are constantly experimenting with flavours and ingredients to give the consumer more choice than ever before.
Even the way in which we serve beer is transforming: beer glasses are becoming smaller and alcohol content is being lowered but flavours are often richer and more complex. Is this the beginning of a sea change in how beer is thought of and consumed? What can we do to aid this?
Marketing should be used to position beer as a drink that is intended for enjoyment and moderate, responsible consumption.
New social norms must appear that make misuse and excessive drinking "uncool".
Public authorities, health organisations and brewers can work together to promote a greater understanding of what moderation means in practice.
Regulation too has a role to play. But measures based on restrictions and bans, where they have been tried, usually failed to produce the intended outcome. The time has come to think of new ways in which regulation could positively foster a new drinking culture based on everybody making smarter drinking choices.
Beyond Beer As We Know It
Beer always has been, and always will be, a popular drink. But a new chapter in the history of beer is beginning. People are drinking less, but better. The development of great-tasting no- and low- alcohol beer has boomed in recent years. It is still early days. But new consumer tastes, and a growing thirst for lower alcohol choices, may offer new answers to the age-old dilemma about how to ensure peoples' love for beer is compatible with a healthier society.