Beer Labels


I wrote this post in December of 2008 before I had this word press blog. It was part of a series of posts I did about the seventy-fifth anniversary of Repeal. I am reposting it because I just read a blog about the label on Lost Abbey’s  Witch’s Wit. Tenured Radical is circulating another blogger’s concern about the graphic of a woman being burnt at the stake while a crowd of men watches with rapt attention. Of course, the picture on the label is very small  but I am sure it looks worse when you actually see it. TR and others find it offensive.

December 2 2008

The Road From Repeal: Labels and Advertising

I wanted to write about aspects of beer advertising in the seventy-five years since Repeal but I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to say. I also wanted to touch on labels since they became a regulatory issue in the late twentieth century. While thinking about the topic I came across an excellent article about beer labels in All About Beer (no link available). Dave Gausepohl, a breweriana collector, examines the history of labels and describes the information labels contain.

Currently all beer bottles and cans contain a government warning about the dangers of alcohol use and abuse. Post-Prohibition, as beer consumption shifted from on-premises to off-premises, primarily the home, the packaging of beer became more important. Ultimately what the container looked like was an integral part of the product’s advertising and marketing.

Beer labels have a UPC code, dating information, the government warning and in some cases, alcohol content, but they do not list ingredients. Brewers, unlike most other producers of edible, consumable products, do not have to disclose what they have used to make the beer. They also do not have to say anything about how many calories the beer has.

What the beer bottle or can looks like is part of advertising but since Prohibition the major emphasis for beer marketing has been radio and television. Brewers gained an immediate and lasting advantage over distillers who, until recently have lived under a voluntary ban against advertising on television. Despite this free gift, post-Prohibition brewers were circumspect in their marketing because they feared a return of Prohibition. This self-restraint lasted to a good degree until the 1970’s and the onset of the “beer wars”.  The intense competition among the top tier brewers fueled by the influx of advertising dollars from Miller Brewing and its parent company Philip Morris led to a decrease in the propriety of beer television ads.

Prohibitionists never went away and one of their ongoing battles has been to limit brewers access to advertising. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a self-styled consumer and public health advocacy organization, has a Alcohol Priorities Project  which seeks to “promote a comprehensive, prevention-oriented approach to the role of alcohol in society by addressing alcohol advertising, excise taxes, changes in product labeling, and other population-based policy reforms.” In August, the Center sent a petition “signed by 60 Division I presidents, 240 athletic directors and 101 football and basketball coaches” urging the NCAA to prohibit beer advertising during college games. The NCAA declined to change its policies.  George Hacker, director of the Alcohol Policies Project, was extremely disappointed and commented, “In contrast, the NCAA rejects advertising for distilled spirits, most wine, sports wagering, gambling, nightclubs, firearms and weapons, and NC-17-rated motion pictures, among others.” Mr. Hacker also co-chairs the Coalition for the Prevention of Alcohol Problems, a coalition of temperance groups.

Sports Biz, a blog, noted “The Mountain West Conference does not carry beer commercials on its network, the mtn. (Mountain West Sports Network) It also doesn’t carry commercials for Viagra and similar products, which is a blessing for those few people who actually can receive the mtn. Declining Viagra and Cialis commercials would be a public service that I recommend that the Big Ten Network and the WWLS adopt immediately. Football and basketball fans would be forever grateful.”

It is doubtful that the labels at the top of this posting would have played a role in the ongoing controversy over beer advertising. The image at the bottom however is a different story.

2 thoughts on “Beer Labels”

  1. Good post, Amy. Beer advertising is aimed at men yet I’ve never really understood why there isn’t a larger beer market for women. Is it the perceived calories issue? And is beer that much more fattening than wine, really? Or at all?
    I think your Oktoberfest dinner demonstrated there’s more to beer than just gulping down 3 or 4 in front of a TV.

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