Thursday, May 11, 2006

Free to Market is not a "free market"

by Ken Houghton

Allergic reaction? We don't know or care to help

Following up on the discussion at Tom's last post, is it a market-clearing transaction if one party knows what all the ingredients are and the other doesn't know that one of them will cause him or her an allergic reaction? (Article forwarded to me by an ex-roommate who has that problem.)

Seasoned drinkers have long argued that the thumpingest hangovers are the byproduct not of alcohol, but of the chemical additives that are added to drinks to improve their shelf-life, appearance, taste and scent.

It's an interesting theory, but sadly there's no way of proving it either way, because under the snappily-titled EU directive 2000/13/EC [pdf] we don't have the right to know what goes into our alcoholic drinks. [emphasis mine]

Because, if we did know, we might do the "crunchy frog" Monty Python routine
Donning a chunky-knit jumper and ordering a pint of real ale is no guarantee against unexpected additives either. Isinglass, a form of gelatine made from the swim bladders of fish, is one of the most common additives used to clarify real ales.

Lark's vomit, anyone?

It seems fair to note that regulated Full Disclosure hasn't exactly harmed the competition
If you're determined to avoid additives you're probably best off moving to Germany, where far-sighted burghers introduced a law in 1516 mandating that beer could only be made from water, hops, and barley.

Over the years German brewers have added yeast and, in certain circumstances, sugar to the list of permitted ingredients, but the law remains essentially the same to this day.

This being journalism, of course, they need to present both sides: "Even so, not everyone is a fan." (warning: rant)
"It's an interesting theory, but sadly there's no way of proving it either way..."

Control condition: Drink 7 bottles of commercial American beer. Measure thumping-ness of subsequent hangover.

Treatment condition: After full recovery, drink 7 bottles of a "clone" homebrew: homebrew that replicates the recipe and taste of a commercial beer, but without the additives* to improve shelf-life, color, taste, and scent. Measure thumping-ness of subsequent hangover.

Of course, you'd have to reverse the order of treatment and control, and probably replicate several times (and with increasing volume of beer) to get a truly scientific test.

*There is a slight terminological problem, here, because technically hops are an additive that preserves beer and improves its taste and scent. (Ever wonder why India Pale Ales are so hoppy? The more hops and alcohol in a beer, the longer its shelf life. The style originated in the late 18th century when British brewers figured out that extremely hoppy beers would survive the trip to "the colonies" far better than the then-popular porters and stouts.
Since part of the controversy concerns possible hidden additives even in commercial "real" ales, an alternative test might be have the control involve a somewhat mass-produced microbrew and a corresponding homebrew.

I wouldn't want the researcher to suffer verbal or physical assault by suggesting that a skilled homebrewer attempt to re-create Miller Lite (even as a reverse-engineering challenge).

Meanwhile, I may have to pick up a six-pack of Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA in the course of the after-work travels. (Though I won't be testing the thumpingness of hangovers on a work night.)
(Also N.B., Madison readers, that most of the Capital Brewery production adheres to the Reinheitsgebot.)
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