For any consumer the objective information they receive about a product is essential to making the right purchase. Much of that information can and should be contained on the label. So what needs to be there and why?
Which brewery company
While it should not matter which company is responsible for making and selling a beer, in practice it does.
Many producers, particularly larger ones, routinely use a wide variety of cost-cutting techniques to the detriment of beer quality. While they are well aware of this the considerable and growing interest in better crafted, more expensively made beers over the last few decades has led them increasingly to use brand names and other marketing techniques to create a false impression that their beers are more artisan-style than they are.
Then there are firms of all sizes that license, commission or design beers for others to produce while giving the false impression that they themselves brew the beer. Moreover, a number of breweries market one product under different names, without mentioning the original / mother beer.
These misleading practices are already common. EBCU predicts that they will become more so from 2017, when it will likely that up to one-third of all the world’s beer will be produced or commissioned by a single company, formed by the takeover of the world’s second largest brewing group SAB Miller by the largest, AB InBev.
EBCU believes that the identity of the company responsible for making the beer should be clear from the label, alongside the identity of the brewery where the beer is made.
Place of production
Beer has terroir. Not in the sense that its flavour is shaped by the soil in which the barley or hops are grown but through the fact that its local variations grew historically from local preferences that were shaped in turn by the brewing talents, social customs, available ingredients, laws and character of its region. Thus different types of beer have become associated with particular places.
Stating the identity of the brewery where the beer is made and the place where it is located helps the consumer to gauge its provenance and gives some protection against the practice of using marketing techniques to suggest local links where none exist, or to project a beer as being from somewhere that it is not.
The type of seller
It is increasingly common to find companies that market beers made by others referring to themselves as a “brewery”, a “brewer”, a “brewing company” and so on, implying that they make the beers they sell. This is clear misrepresentation and EBCU would like to see it outlawed.
EBCU is keen to encourage talented brewers into the world of brewing and accepts that allowing new brewers to rent or share the brewing space of other brewers can be helpful to both. EBCU has no objection to this provided it is clear from the label.
Best before date
EBCU agrees that a“best before” date being included on the label.
We are aware that, as with some wines, there are beers that can evolve delightfully in the cellar over many years making such a date difficult to calculate. EBCU would encourage the brewers of such beers to include a ‘Brewed on’ date on their labels but do not feel this should be a legal requirement.
However, as with the majority of wines, most beers can be predicted to age unhelpfully after a certain point in time and that date should be stated routinely on the bottle.
EBCU encourages governments to adopt the same system for wines.
EBCU is in favour of transparency on beer labelling but accepts that in some cases there are significant technical issues around this.
In regard to additives, beer is already covered by Europe’s food labelling regulations.
On the whole we will not make an issue about ingredients that make up less than 1% by weight of the solid content of a beer but we propose that any ingredient that makes up more that 1% should be declared on the list of ingredients.
Where the grain bill contains more than 1% of adjuncts – meaning syrups, sugars, starches, extracts or similar derivatives – these should be declared.
Similarly, where hop extracts of any type, as opposed to whole hops or pellets, are used these should also be declared.
EBCU agrees that the alcohol percentage by volume should be displayed.
In regard to stating the calorie and carbohydrate content, while EBCU can see the obvious advantage it offers to the consumer seeking to regulate their calorie intake, we believe that currently this is outweighed by the counter-arguments.
For example, the calorific value of alcohol does not reflect its energy content in the same way as it does for carbohydrates and fats because some alcohol is excreted from the body unchanged or only partially metabolised. Not all the calorific value is used therefore.
Additionally, we accept the point made by some in the health lobby that there is potential for some people to reduce their food intake to accommodate their alcohol intake as part of a calorie-controlled diet, a practice we would not encourage.
Our current position therefore is that we are unconvinced that this is necessary. However, should any government seek to impose such a rule we believe it should be applied across the board to all alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, rather than singling our beer for special treatment.
Also the presentation for all alcoholic beverages should be the figure for a serving size of 100 ml.
Matters EBCU would leave to producers. (For now at least.)
Recent years have seen an upsurge of new beer styles around the world, along with descriptors that have been developed in the main to set rules for entry to and prizes from a growing number of international beer competitions.
EBCU takes the view that a beer style is primarily an informal agreement between a brewer and a customer, expressed via a label or beer name, by which the former gives the latter a rough idea of what they are going to get.
While recognizing the potential usefulness of beer styles, EBCU respects the idea that styles evolve over time and that it would therefore not be either desirable or practical at this time to legislate for these.