Beer is good but tell that to the righteous

By Roger Protz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Beer, Malt, Brewing

Protz: wary of the health lobby
Protz: wary of the health lobby
Brewing and beer drinking should be a source of national pride — why has it become so maligned, asks Roger Protz.

I could get into trouble for saying this, even end up in the Tower, but — take a deep breath — I enjoy alcohol.

It's the only drug I use. I gave up smoking many years ago and never indulged in wacky baccy. I once, to the amusement of my friends, asked what "that strange smell was" at a party as all around people were smoking funny fags.

But I enjoy beer. Alcohol is a social drug. Used sensibly and moderately, it's pleasant, harmless, encourages sociable behaviour and can even help prevent heart and bone disease and counteract some forms of cancer.

The notion, put forward by Professor David Nutt — the now famously sacked Government drugs advisor — that alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis and ecstasy is just plain nuts. The professor is not alone. Siren voices in the media, with the Mail newspapers as always leading the pack — are turning alcohol in to the new tobacco. The Conservatives are toying with the idea of curtailing flexible pub opening hours and it's a racing certainty that, whichever party wins the next election, duty will continue to be loaded on alcohol.

We're all too timorous. It's time to come out from behind the sofa and start shouting about the joys and pleasures of beer. We can do that effectively by placing a few facts before the sceptics.

Beer has been around since the dawn of civilisation. In the old world of Egypt, Babylon and Mesopotamia, nomadic people settled down into recognisable communities 3,000 years BC with two simple aims: to grow grain in order to make bread and beer. At a time when water was not just unsafe but lethal, beer was a life-enhancing drink.

Beer, wine and spirits have been the glue that has kept society turning and developing. Even that most passionate critic of capitalism, Karl Marx, would take time out from his labours in the British Museum to down a tankard or two of foaming ale in the Museum Tavern across the road.

The British are moderate drinkers. In the world league of alcohol consumption, Britain ranks number 16. Where beer is concerned, the Czechs, the Germans and the Australians can drink us under the table any day of the week. The much-publicised activities of a tiny minority of idiots who get blitzed on vodka and alcopops at the weekend should not distort the truth about this country's sensible attitude to drinking.

And as statistics show we are all drinking less today than a decade ago, the notion that we are going to hell in a hand cart laden with booze is just plain nonsense.

What makes me especially angry about the current furore is that brewing is put on a par with the manufacture of hallucinatory drugs. It's deeply insulting to the good folk who make beer.

Last week I wrote about Peak Ales. Rob and Debra Evans may be based in the Peak District but they don't make their delicious beers down a pot hole. They're out in the open. They rent premises from Chatsworth House and I somehow doubt the Duchess of Devonshire would welcome the Evans' presence on her estate if they were making a lethal product.

Dangerous drugs are made in secret laboratories, kitchens and lock-up garages. Beer is produced by skilled craftsmen and women who take the finest raw ingredients — malted barley, hops, yeast and pure water — to fashion a drink that gives pleasure to millions. No boiling test tubes, no rubber hoses, no needles are involved.

Two weeks ago I gave a talk on beer styles to students at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. The university has a world-renowned faculty of brewing and distilling. Students study for four years and then practise their skills to make beer and whisky commercially.

All very honourable yet, given the current crazed atmosphere, the Government in Edinburgh is toying with the idea of closing the faculty. It would mean a loss of jobs while a century or two of brilliant research and knowledge would be flushed down the toilet.

I drink beer not only because I write about the subject but also as a result of liking it. The aromas and flavours, the complex intertwining of malt and hop character, are an endless source of fascination for me. I don't drink to get drunk. And neither does the overwhelming majority of beer drinkers.

The current atmosphere is almost frightening. You can see a future where beer and other alcohols are taxed out of existence by timid politicians anxious to appease the media and the Professor Nutts of this world.

We must stand up now before it's too late. We must stop being the silent majority. Let's bang the drum for beer and fight back against the killjoys who would rob us of our pleasure.

Related topics: Beer

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