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.
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