ANNAPOLIS ATTEMPTS TO DEFINE “BEER”
Yesterday, I received an interesting email from John at Eye on Annapolis: The City of Annapolis had released an amended version of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Rules and Regulations. They were seeking public input on the proposed changes, of course, but without overtly identifying what the amendments to the code were.
After reading through the amended language — all 27 pages of it, because I’m that nerd — I came away with a handful of concerns. Concerns that I took the time to communicate to the city clerk, as instructed. The change that irked me the most, however, was the introduction of a definition for the term, “Beer.”
It reads as follows:
“Beer” means any brewed alcoholic beverage, including, but not limited to, beer, ale, porter, stout, hard cider, and all other Alcoholic Beverages that contain: (1) six percent (6%) or less alcohol by volume, derived primarily from the fermentation of grain, with not more than forty-nine percent (49%) of the beverage’s overall alcohol content by volume obtained from flavors and other added non- beverage ingredients containing alcohol; or (2) more than six percent (6%) alcohol by volume, derived primarily from the fermentation of grain, with not more than one and one-half percent (1.5%) of the beverage’s overall alcohol content by volume obtained from flavors and other added non-beverage ingredients containing alcohol.
Even though this definition was lifted word-for-word from Howard County, I sincerely applaud the initiative of Annapolis to put a definition on the books. But I do take issue with a few things.
Cider vs. beer
First and foremost, cider is not beer. I don’t totally fault the liquor board for this one, because cider has a long history of confounding lawmakers. For example, California categorizes cider as wine, and as the United States Association of Cider Makers aptly pointed out, cider seems to float aimlessly between beer and wine in federal statutes — cider is subject to taxation as a wine when it’s above 7 percent ABV and subject to taxation as champagne at a certain level of carbonation.
That said, cider is its own entity, not apple beer. Yes, like beer, it’s fermented with yeast — so is wine — but ultimately cider derived from pressed apples. Again, this is something we obviously struggle with at a national level, so the inclusion is understandable. But it’s still worth noting.
Beer is defined as… beer?
If I had defined ”juxtaposition” on a English test in middle school by saying “juxtaposition is juxtaposition,” my teacher would have straight up laughed at me. So when I saw “beer” listed first as a “brewed alcoholic beverage” that could be considered beer, I was dumbfounded. Of course beer is beer. Because it’s beer. But beer is not defined as beer, because the term “beer” on its own doesn’t provide any clarity or insight. It’s so backwards, just trying to verbalize why this definition confounds me makes me feel a bit dizzy.
The earliest mention I could find where “beer” documented as a separate beverage concept from ales and porters is in the United States Code — from 1933, right after Prohibition. You know, when the government was super into beer and very knowledgeable about its ingredients.
Don’t just list a few styles, actually define beer
So after delineating “beer” as a type of “beer,” the definition goes on to mention ales, porters and stouts, in addition to the aforementioned cider reference, as other types of “beer.” Yes, ales, porters and stouts are styles of beer, but… sigh.
A more accurate list of styles would be ales, lagers and ale-lager hybrids. (That’s right, a stout is actually a type of ale.) But the fact remains that beer isn’t beer, and an awkward, narrow list of styles doesn’t give any insight into what beer actually is either.
A better alternative might be to actually define what makes beer a unique beverage. California defines beer by ingredients, in addition to outlining a brief list of styles. The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration of Washington, D.C., has a pretty darned snappy definition, as well:
“Beer” means a fermented beverage of any name or description manufactured from malt, wholly or in part, or from any substitute for malt.
What’s the big deal?
Okay, I get this whole thing probably seems like the ravings of an anal retentive lunatic. But when I look at that definition, it just seems sloppy and haphazard, in addition to being inaccurate.
This is a problem.
Though there are other states leaps and bounds ahead of Maryland, we have established and cultivated a reputation as a state that celebrates and brews really good beer — Burley Oak, Union, Jailbreak, Full Tilt, Eastern Shore Brewing, Evolution and Heavy Seas, just to name a few.
Annapolis is the capital of the state of Maryland, dammit. We should be setting the right standards for others follow instead of displaying such an obvious degree of laziness that basically says we don’t care about beer or the those who call it their life’s work.
Maryland brewers have become a cherished and protected part of our state’s identity. They share their homegrown pride and stories of our cities and townships through beer, and we do them a disservice by not taking the time to educate the public on what beer is through clear and accurate definitions.
Yes, I know there are a LOT of ways in which Annapolis and Anne Arundel County are totally behind the 8-ball with craft beer legislation — the inability to have a production brewery within county limits is one example — and this is just one eensy thing.
But I’d like to think that if we started small as a city, taking the time to truly understand what beer is and why it has a rich, lasting tradition dating back to 1703, when the first brewing company opened in Annapolis, we’d be taking the first step toward truly empowering Maryland craft brewers and drinkers alike.
So c’mon, Alcoholic Beverage Control Board of Annapolis. I know it’s just a few sentences, but that’s the point. It would take so little effort to just get it right.
And hey, if none of this moved you, then think of it this way: Taking the time to define beer correctly means I will shut up. Well, until I find something else to complain about.
So last night, we had what we realized was our first legit party at our apartment… a year and a half after we moved to Annapolis. Whoops.
It was supposed to be just a couple people coming over for a Capital Gazette photoshoot for an entertainment cover story I’m writing outside of my usual weekly column on seasonal beers — hitting newsstands on Aug. 28! But it turned into full-fledged tomfoolery fairly quickly. And yes, that’s Scoop Adventures rocking some flawless mustache glasses in the last photo.
Also, Clover was able to get cuddles from just about everyone. Because she’s a whore.
One word of advice to craft beer newbies
When I first took the leap from “Hey, I like to drink beer!” to “Hey, beer is something I’m passionate about!” I was shocked by something. No, I’m not talking about the surprising diversity of styles – though that’s pretty dope – or how much heart and soul goes into a truly well-made beer.
Instead, what really took me by surprise was how super aggressive some people could be about beer, and how that translated into them politely giving advice – i.e., impolitely butting in – on how I should be enjoying every single moment of my beer experience.
I’m referring to know-it-all beer tyrants, which is a sub-strata of the generally newbie-averse craft beer snob.
"You have to drink this. Don’t drink that. No, this is the best example of a porter. Oh, you like that? You really shouldn’t – it’s a terrible representation of an IPA. What do you mean you don’t homebrew? You haven’t been there? Well, you don’t know beer until you’ve gone there. Eek, don’t admit to anyone you like that beer. Trust me.”
This kind of bossy behavior reminds me of how some women treat motherhood. As a woman in my 30s, I can’t tell you how many “discussions” I’ve heard about or witnessed where one woman – feeling #blessed with the unparalleled wisdom motherhood has bestowed upon her, and her alone – has felt the need to completely bully another woman with parenting “advice,” when no one asked her about anything in the first place.
So here’s my one word of advice to those who are new to craft beer:
Seriously. Take a big deep breath, block out the endless prattling of the craft beer mouthbreathers out there like white noise and relax.
It’s okay to dislike beers others swear by, while simultaneously embracing brews others abhor. (For example: Sorry, guys. I still like pumpkin beer. I had one earlier this week, and it made me happy.)
It’s also no big deal to take your time getting to know different styles at your own pace. Or to change your mind over and over again about what you like and don’t like. And yes, you can still consider yourself a craft beer nerd without going completely mental for IPAs; don’t let those hopheads pressure you into thinking otherwise. I say this as someone who really loves IPAs, but didn’t always.
Oh, and you can still be a cool beer kid without enjoying the act of homebrewing. You can just want to drink beer. Or you can try homebrewing once, learn some cool stuff and then decide you don’t want to do it anymore.
Beer is too awesome to have the fun totally sucked out of it. You are free to enjoy it as much or as little as you’d like. I say this because yes, there is a lot you can learn about beer, but how far down the rabbit hole you go is entirely up to you. So while pursuing the hilariously intimidating Certified Cicerone exam seems like a good idea to Josh and myself, you don’t have to do that.
Because here’s the best part about beer: While that yeast strain-naming, craft beer snob in your life might be judging your every beer-related move, your beer never will. Your beer will always love you just the way you are.
Mostly because it’s inanimate and incapable of independent thought, but whatever. My point stands. A beer will never judge you.