EBCU is pledged to support the diversity of European beer cultures.

Beer has been part of the European way of life for centuries. It is an important and integral part of our cultures, histories and societies and the 21st century has seen a return of the best of that heritage with further innovation across the continent.

Not so long ago ….

As recently as 1975, Europe all but lost its thousand-year-old, complex heritage of breweries and beer styles.  At that time the last four countries anywhere on Earth still to have a national beer culture featuring styles that could trace their origins back more than a few decades were Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Great Britain and West Germany.

With the exception of the south and northwest of Germany, even these residual cultures were struggling.  In most of the rest of Europe, the vestiges of any older brewing culture lay with a tiny number of independent, mostly family-owned breweries, all others having disappeared.

How beer nearly disappeared

Many interwoven factors underlay the disappearance of Europe’s beer heritage.  These included the impact of the two major 20th century wars (1914-18 and 1939-45) and their economic aftermaths; the restrictive licensing practices brought in by well-meaning governments that believed they could limit the damage of alcohol abuse by targeting beer drinkers ahead of wine drinkers; and the gradual shift away from defining the excellence of a company by the quality of its products, to defining it by the effectiveness of its branding.

The comeback

The last two decades have seen a revolution in the availability of more interesting beers in many parts of Europe, produced by a rapidly increasing number of brewers who are less concerned by the cost of production and more by the taste of the beers in their portfolio.

We have seen successful and burgeoning beer cultures re-emerge in northern Europe (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and the Baltic States), western (the Netherlands, France, Ireland and Switzerland), central (Austria, Poland and Hungary) and southern (Italy and Spain), with Greece, Portugal, Slovakia, the Balkans and elsewhere not far behind.

While this success has undoubtedly reversed the threat to diversity for now, the underlying threats remain as strong as ever.

Market domination

It is almost certain that 2017 will see the creation of a global company, created by the takeover of the world’s second largest brewer SAB Miller by it largest AB InBev.  This new company will likely be responsible for 30% of the world’s beer.

Perhaps more importantly the formation of this company has been accompanied by persistent claims that it will seek to exercise control of the world’s beer market, by dominating holding the supply of basic ingredients and monopolizing the logistics of its availability.

Finally, broadening the concern to all, mostly larger producers, we are aware of the continuing practice by a few of these to buy space in beer outlets to the exclusion of competitors, particularly those who make better products.  While this is a complex policy area, EBCU considers this generally to be an unfair practice and in some cases to be blatantly illegal.  We will oppose it wherever we can.

The Temperance agenda

Additionally there is a resurgence of Temperance ideals, being propagated through official reports on health concerns about alcohol.  Many of these appear to be based on bad data, poor science and over-reliance on the claims of “independent” research bodies that rely for their funding in significant part on bodies associated with an anti-alcohol stance.

Reports on these concerns include no means of measuring the social and health benefits of moderate drinking.  Additionally, when focusing on alcohol’s contribution to antisocial behaviour, they make no mention of the massive increase in organized criminality and anti-social activities that led to the downfall of 20th century political experiments with alcohol Prohibition.

Put another way, they make no attempt to report these issues in a balanced way.

EBCU is unequivocally in favour of beer drinkers being given high quality and reliable information about the relative risks and benefits of drinking beer.  We are against poorly researched data, presented in a biased way being given the credibility that accrues to government support.

EBCU is and will remain alert to the advance of these factors and others that continue to threaten the diversity of European beer cultures.  We are already tracking moves in a number of European countries to penalize or criminalize the purchase of beer, or to encourage restrictive trade practices.