New York’s Outdated Beer Guidelines
On Facebook today, I clicked a link to the NYC Department of Health’s Excessive Drinking guide. As the owner of a drug and alcohol testing company, I commend the attempt to define healthy consumption. However, the monolithic description of the alcohol content of beer is so outdated as to be negligent.
I’ve had to inform many people that they were too intoxicated to continue working. That includes truck drivers after accidents, pharmacists dispensing medications, and even a pilot just before takeoff. One thing they all have in common? A love for beer. So in those critical, private moments just after I provide them with their breath alcohol content and they suddenly envision their careers and family lives changing dramatically, I have a chance to provide a little education. It needs to be accurate.
Defining one beer as equal to a glass of wine or a shot of liquor is downright misleading. It harkens back to an age when people only consumed mass market lager beers like Budweiser, with 4 to 5% alcohol content by volume (ABV). Those days – especially in NYC – are long gone. You’d be hard pressed to even find these beers on tap at any of the multitude of new bars and restaurants that have opened here in the last five to ten years. And the beers that they do serve often pack a much bigger punch.
Take a look at any article about New Yorkers’ favorite craft beers, or even beers reviewed in the NY Times. The alcohol content varies widely, from a low of around 5% to a high of around 11. I, myself, am a beer aficionado and sometime over-consumer. My favorite beer, Brooklyn Local 1, clocks in at 9%. Simple math tells me that one 9% ABV beer is equal to two 4.5% ABV beers. But NYC’s guidelines would have you believe that all beers are the same.
Until 1993, it was impossible to find the ABV on a beer label – US law prohibited it. Plus, the variation between the brands was so minor that it was understandable the public should consider them all virtually equal. But that’s changed dramatically. Though it’s still preposterously optional for brewers to report ABV, nearly all now do – especially the craft brewers. And since the craft beer revolution has largely taken over the culture of beer drinking in this city, it’s time the city’s guidelines catch up. This is not a niche – it’s mainstream consumption in all five boroughs. The Department of Health needs to keep pace in order to inform, rather than misinform, beer-loving New Yorkers.