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Drinking in the Dark

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Last week, Vani Hari, aka “The Food Babe,” introduced herself to the beer industry when she kick-started a pitchfork-raising petition, demanding the full-disclosure of ingredients that make up AB-InBev and MillerCoors beers. In response to the pressure, AB-InBev made public the ingredients in Bud and Bud Light, and MillerCoors followed with a Facebook post listing the ingredients in a range of its brands. Hari made national headlines. The so-called #FoodBabeArmy celebrated. Nothing was revealed in the release except regular, old beer ingredients. But in search of clarity, a substantial dose of ignorance spread across the internet. With a new week at our doorstep, let’s take a moment to consider last week’s hysteria.

1. Should breweries divulge the ingredients they use?
Hari’s initial question (What’s in this beer?) was legitimate—her method of doing so was unfortunate (see below). In today’s climate of cautious consumption, people demand transparency, so companies should expect a certain amount of pushback if they choose to keep those ingredients “secret.” That being said…

2. Is Hari’s conversation educating consumers?
To drum up support, Hari suggested the beer you’re drinking might include a range of ingredients like glycol and fish bladders. Anyone who remotely understands beer knows that it’s made from water, yeast, malts and hops (and potentially corn, rice and variety of other non-lethal ingredients like chocolate, cherries, licorice, etc.,). The “scary” ingredients she proposed (like glycol, used in the water cooling system) are part of the process, but not in the actual product you put to your lips. You already know this, but given the comments on her post and Facebook page, I’m not so sure her readers do. To read a full scientific rebuttal of her claims, check this out.

3. What about craft beer?
After pressuring the big guys, Hari briefly turned her attention to Boston Beer Co., makers of the Samuel Adams brand of beers, and demanded it disclose its ingredients, too. Truth is, Boston Beer, like many craft breweries, already publishes its ingredients, and even details like the type of malts, hops and yeast on its website (plus, it provides nutritional information, such as calories). What’s left to know?

4. Should breweries print this specific information on the label?
Craft breweries are small, and can’t always rely on the same vendor for ingredients. One month, a beer might be brewed with Cascade hops, and six months later Centennial due to availability. Even Anheuser-Busch test-brews Budweiser using different malts to ensure they can achieve the same flavor profile in the event the malt of choice isn’t in full supply. Also worth noting: Breweries that make specialty beer using non-traditional ingredients already do advertise the fact on the beer label.

5. A large amount of people don’t understand beer
If Hari’s campaign has taught us anything, it’s that a large, vocal portion of people (and some staffers at national media outlets) know very little about beer and how it’s made. The majority of beer drinkers consume brands from companies that, until recently, chose not to make lists of ingredients easily accessible, so of course we have uneducated, concerned individuals that can easily be misled and exploited.

While the disclosure of AB-InBev and MillerCoors ingredients is probably a positive, I’m afraid the slew of misinformation caused by Hari is now what’s causing her followers to “drink in the dark”—at least, those not yet scared away from beer.

The solution? Hari and her Food Babe Army would find a remedy to their “#mysterybeer” troubles if they subscribed to a certain beer publication named at the top of this page.


Chris Staten is DRAFT’s beer editor. Follow him on Twitter at @DRAFTbeereditor and email him at chris.staten@draftmag.com.


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