Learning to drink

I am proud of my 16 year-old daughter Titania, as proud as a father can be. Who would not be of a pretty young lady who is going to the national finals in the English Language Competition? But I have to admit it is not only her skills in languages and arts that I take pride in - I am also impressed by her knowledge about fine cuisine and exquisite drinks.
The Japanese food she prepares is of the quality you would find in the best Japanese restaurants (at least those in Europe and the US). Well, to tell the truth, she may be almost perfect, but she does not brew. Yet she knows about good beer (and how to pair beer and food) and she has sampled a few glasses of excellent wine with my wife.
From time to time she joins us at the brewpubs in our hometown to drink the fruity Hefeweizen, the rather extreme Chili-Beer at Siebensternbraeu, or the ultra hoppy Victory Hop Devil at the 1516 Brewing Company. When she goes out in the evening with her boyfriend they prefer to visit a bar called Pickwick's where they offer a broad selection of beers.
And: I have never seen my daughter come home drunk.
However, there is someone who disapproves. He does not know my daughter or me, but he believes he can tell us what is "good" for her. His name is Markos Kyprianou and he is the European commissioner for consumer protection and health, a seasoned bureaucrat from Cyprus, where wine drinking is common but beer drinking is not.
Kyprianou believes it is wrong for young people to go to a bar and enjoy their beer; he would rather have the bar staff check their IDs and send them away if they are under 18. A legal drinking age of 16 - which is common practice in many European countries - is definitely "too low" he said. From time to time he issues statements that warn the industry to self-regulate and he makes clear what kind of regulation he has in mind: less outlets for beer. At least this is what he said in an interview with the German conservative daily Die Welt in February, when he stated that he sees a problem in that beer can be bought in any corner store.
He also endorses less freedom of choice, a somewhat surprising approach for someone whose job it is to protect consumer rights. This year the EC will enforce a total ban an cross-border advertising of tobacco - including the sponsorship of Formula One racing cars - within the European Union. Asked by the Daily Telegraph earlier this year if he would consider similar bans an beer companies sponsoring sports teams, Kyprianou replied: "Those would be the issues we will explore."
Kyprianou even wants to ban advertisements for food that is blamed for obesity. Of course, all food only makes you fat if you eat too much of it; likewise beer only makes someone drunk if he drinks too much of it, but the bureaucrats have a different approach. They want to decide what to ban and what not.
It is time for beer drinkers to tell Kyprianou that we do not need another layer of EU regulation to make it harder to enjoy what we know is good for us - and safe for young adults.
The experience from the US - where the legal drinking age is still 21 - is not very encouraging: of course there is a lot of underage drinking there but it happens at private parties. There will always be a "friend" of legal drinking age who can bring a bottle of booze to such a party and instead of enjoying a beer in the relaxed environment of a good bar the younger ones would drink the liquor provided by their older peers (and maybe consume other illegal substances) covertly.
Even though I trust my daughter to act wisely I would not like to see her go to such parties and meet friends that tend to make others drunk. And I also doubt it is a good idea for young people to drink alcopops; but would it make sense to forbid Titania to drink that stuff? Probably not - if it is banned it is rather more interesting to try it out. Again Kyprianou has a different approach: he wants to ban alcopops altogether, or at least make sure no one under 18 gets them legally. Weil, if they can't get them legally the young will mix their own breezers, probably using recipes that are far less safe than the branded industrial products in the Same category.
Would my daughter be so foolish to consume such drinks? I don't know: she does not drink alcopops at all because she does not like the taste of these sweet mixtures. She prefers beer because she knows about beer and its delicate taste. She has learned about beer by sampling it from time to time in a safe and family-friendly atmosphere.
So the EU commissioner thinks alcopops are bad? Then educate young people about the virtues of good beer, and they will abstain from alcopops and other less healthy drinks.
(originally published in: Brewer's Guardian, April 2005)