The Beer Drinkers’ Bill Of Rights

A depiction of the first debates on the rights
of beer drinkers, Greece 4th century BC.

I’ve been thinking about this beer stuff for a while now and have decided that it is right and proper that a Beer Drinkers’ Bill of Rights for us all be established. Any bill of rights, after all, is just a statement of fundamental law under which the many and individually weak define their relationship with powerful forces controlling a jurisdiction, whether they be the state or in the trade. That being the case, it is time that we admit that we have a jurisdiction of our own, that we assert the existence of the nation of those who love beer and that we define some elemental principles which the people of that nation hold to be self-evident

To that end I propose as follows:

1. All have the right to beer, the right to own beer and the right to their own beer.
2. Local beer shall be available and shall be excellent.
3. Beer shall not be taxed in undue proportion to other consumables.
4. Beer, including its constituent elements, shall be explained and explicable to the drinkers of beer.
5. Regardless of the source, beer shall be snob-free, plainly advertised and made available with minimal intermediaries, both in terms of consultation and transaction between the brewer and the drinker.
6. Beer shall be offered in a variety of packaging formats which shall include low cost formats.
7. Beer shall be safe and shall be accepted as a wholesome food and shall be recognized as an important and moderate agent in the pursuit of happiness.
8. The diverse rights to and of beer enunciated herein shall be guaranteed subject only to such reasonable limits as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

It may be the cold medications, sure, but I am convinced of the need of this. There may be amendments and additions to this list which can be submitted to via the comments as a form of constitutional assembly. Further, commentary upon each right shall be enunciated though discourse.

One thought on “The Beer Drinkers’ Bill Of Rights”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Stonch – December 2, 2007 2:42 PM
    I am astonished with myself – I love to be contrary, but I don’t disagree with one single word of that! Well done

    Kris ( – December 2, 2007 11:18 PM
    I think a bill of rights of a good idea and this is definitely a good foundation. My key is the variety of packaging…

    Alan – December 3, 2007 8:38 AM
    Yes, I live in a land with only a few refillable Growlers and when I realized something is whacky when learned that the champagne style bottles into the recycling cost two bucks each. But I think we will each have issues related one or more of the principles.

    Stonch – December 3, 2007 9:10 AM
    Of course the best form of packaging is a glass in a pub.

    Alan – December 3, 2007 9:18 AM
    I think the most environmentally friendly form is direct into the mouth from a gravity drop cask but I am not sure that the required stance for this mode is actually something that can be mandated by regulation.

    beermonster – December 3, 2007 9:22 AM
    What you need is to petition the President. This has already been started in the UK.

    Alan – December 3, 2007 9:41 AM
    I am actually in Canada so I have to deal with the Queen on this one.

    Alan – December 3, 2007 12:41 PM
    Yes, I also see the need of NAFBA – the North American Free Beer Agreement.

    Alan – December 4, 2007 4:32 PM
    A 1996 Beer Bill of Rights.

    Andy Crouch – December 8, 2007 11:47 AM
    Not to take something like this too seriously, but I think I may just disagree with the most basic underpinnings of this idea. Beer drinking is not a right but a privilege. Now, I think I would probably support a beer consumer’s bill of rights, namely a social contract between the producers, retailers, and their clientele. So with this said, I think your first listed right can never be (or else how would you toss a drunk out of your bar?). Right #2 is an unfunded mandate that cannot be enforced and is not actually an individual right. Right #3 is a business issue, again, not an individual right. Right #4 sounds good but is illegal in the US, I don’t understand Right #5, Right #6 (labeled again as #5) is again a business issue and I’m not sure what low cost packaging is, Right #7 is more of a pronouncement than a right, and Right #8 would serve to wholly undermine all the listed rights…

    Overall, I like the idea but would focus more on social agreements between producers, retailers, and consumers that serve to protect, preserve, and promote the drinking of good beer (freshness, clearly listed menus with descriptions and prices, knowledgeable staffs, etc)….

    Cheers from one lawyer to another.


    Alan – December 8, 2007 1:00 PM

    I think you have approached this from the right perspective as it was born mainly of a lack of sleep and cold medications but, even so, it is a worthy tool for discussion and a first draft. So let me respond in the same light…especially as the cold lingers. Plus I once saw a “Laundromat User’s Bill of Rights” on an establishment’s wall as the socks went round and round behind me. If it is good enough for the National Laundromat Owners’ Association, it is good enough for me:

    • The right versus privilege issue is a good point. But before your tradition split from the British system under which I was trained it was established that a minor could be held to a contract if the subject matter was one of necessary. Would food be a necessary? Definitely. Food and warmth? Yes. Beer is merely food in water that warms. Further, under our tradition we have a living constitution. Over the last ten years, an aspect of “liberty” has been identified that relates to individual autonomy from regulation for choices of sufficient personal importance. Interestingly, the Supreme Court of Canada found four years ago that recreational marijuana smoking is not of sufficient dignity to trigger the right. As I wrote on my other blog, the argument of the court is somewhat flawed, however, as the right to privacy did not include the right to intoxication. As we know, fine drink is not about intoxication and also a right cannot be autonomous if it is subject to assessment of the dignity of its application – a dignity cannot be inherent and subject to review. As a result, until the court says otherwise, the rights argument is certainly able to be made.
    • #2: You are right about this being a difficult one to frame but still rights are mechanisms against state regulation and where state regulation impedes local brewing in favour of centralized brewing through favouring scale, then that regulation should be struck down. The latter bit goes to funding by the state. Bad brewers ought not to be funded – again a state activity affecting the citizen.
    • #3. I have to disagree as all taxation of consumables, either sales or manufacture, is in the end a relation between the state and the consumer. The business is merely a flow through, a mechanism for the taxation even if there is an effect on the business when the product is subject to inordinate taxation.
    • #4: Beer ought to be subject to the same sorts of disclosure that we have in the regulation of other foods – in relation to both their ingredients and the processes of their manufacture. This is just an extension of existing law. And even if a law makes an activity illegal does not mean it has passed constitutional muster. It needs to be tested by the court for that to happen and that required a claim.
    • #5: We have regulation of advertising in both our countries such that false claims are made to be violations of law. I am suggesting (with all the associated difficulty) that over-claims in relation to snobbery are akin to over-claims in relation to the ability of a toy to speak to a child on Christmas morning. Plainness is related to #4. Intermediaries is another matter. We do not have the three-tiered system in Canada and that is good. But we have a restrictive two-tied system such that craft brewers cannot operate their own stores – something at least a portion of Ontario’s Craft Brewers are arguing for. Intermediaries in relation to consultation. Being a lawyer, I realize there are many processes which do not need the involvement of a lawyer: think of notarizing as opposed to witnessing. Well, consider the role of the state-owned liquor monopoly’s tasting panel as this craft brewer faces it. Do I need a consultant or a bureaucrat tasting for me? No, and in this way you can see that this is an elaboration of principle #1.
    • #6: What? You have no second-five in the US? OK, I fixed it. My point here is that packaging can be a form of false advertising, pimping up a bottle to increase margin. We have unconscionable transaction regulation up here as well as consumer protection law. I am going to hang my hat for this one somewhere under those fields of law. In Canada, we have little use of the growler but this is an example of low cost. I have bought the vessel once. I should be able to use it again. It also goes with sustainability and I understand if I claim a matter is green it has greater chance of political acceptance these days.
    • #7: The regulation of foods for wholesomeness is an entire regulatory industry here in Canada. Even the state-retailer, the LCBO, has white-coated eggheads in labs at work. And the whole pursuit of happiness thing is riped from your constitutional documents so don’t blame me.
    • #8: Welcome to Canada. Our entire set of rights and freedoms is subject to this test set out in s. 1 of our Charter. Frankly, I just poached it to give an air of authenticity but this is how, for example, a law barring children (freed otherwise from age discrimination) for consuming alcohol before a certain age.

    So there you have it. Not as entirely flighty as possible. I welcome further berating.

    Mike H – December 9, 2007 1:05 AM
    I would like to see a law so that all glasses that beer is served in must have a line ti mark the amount of beer you are getting. There are four countries that I know of that require this, the UK, Australia, Germany, and Czech Republic.

    In Canada I get angry, when I order a beer and the server does not know how much volume the glass holds. When the odd chance the server tells me how much the glass holds, I can tell by looking at it that I am getting less, but there is no way to prove this unless I carry a measuring cup with me (which I don’t) so I pay $5 for an unknown amount of beer.

    We would never put up with this if we brought our case of beer home and found all the bottles to be 50mL short so why do we all put up with it at a pub??

    I would like to see glasses with 350mL (because our beer bottles are 341mL) and 500mL (like Europe) lines. This would also make it easier to compare prices to the bottled beer the pubs cell.

    Alan – December 9, 2007 11:23 AM
    I think that is an excellent proposal and one that falls squarely under #4. Canadian provinces used to do this. I have an Alberta government approved 8 ounce glass with a neat line on it. There are also campaigns in Germany and the UK against the short pour.

    Being sure that the measure bought is the measure received is a beer drinker’s right and well within the state’s power to provide.

    Andy Crouch – December 9, 2007 3:23 PM
    A few years back, Boston Beer put together a Beer Drinker’s Bill of Rights. Here it is:

    I. All beer drinkers are guaranteed a right to enjoy the highest quality beer.

    II. Beer shall be brewed employing only the four classic beer ingredients; water, yeast, malt and hops.

    III. Use of adjuncts such as corn syrup, rice or corn grits is strictly prohibited as it lightens the true character of a fine brew.

    IV. Beer shall be brewed over a length of time to maximize flavor, not a shorter time to maximize production.

    V. The color of the bottle is essential to the quality of the beer; hence, bottling shall occur only in brown bottles to safeguard the beer from the damaging effects of light. No skunky beer.

    VI. Beer shall be offered in bottles, not cans, so that no brew is jeopardized with the taste of metal.

    VII. Beer shall be savored and enjoyed responsibly.

    VIII. Beer shall be served at 35 (degrees) – 42 (degrees) F for maximum flavor.

    IX. Light beers have equal right to flavor and body, as do all styles of beer.

    X. Freshness of beer shall be considered of the utmost importance to all citizens.

    I think that it’s kind of instructive to review this list to see just how difficult (and potentially errant) it can be to create such a document. It’s funny just how close-minded this document was. Rights 2, 3, 6, and 8 just seem downright wrong. The Reinheitsgebot, while admirable, certainly has no place in the diverse world of craft brewing. Also, several of Boston Beer’s offerings violate this ‘right.’ The assault on cans, some other adjuncts, and the rigid rules on serving temperatures also strike me as incorrect and unduly restrictive.

    To some of your points, and not to get too wrapped up in this fun (if geeky) debate, beer drinking will always be a privilege and not a right. Short of having it enshrined in a constitutional document (which I think is pretty unlikely in even the most welcoming of countries), beer drinking is always something that society, laws, and pub owners will be able to restrict. And as a lawyer based in America, I have no problem with that. Now, the relationship between the consumer and the pub owner or brewer is another matter. I would like to see producers and retailers offer certain guarantees (as opposed to rights) to their customers, as I mentioned in my previous post. I think it would be a good thing for trade organizations, such as the Brewers Association in America (especially on issues that should have uniformity, such as freshness dating), or the National Restaurant Association (on issues of pricing and descriptions on menus) to lead this charge. Those are my thoughts…

    Alan – December 9, 2007 3:40 PM
    Those are good thoughts and, frankly, less nutty than mine. I am not a libertarian but my thoughts do wander towards autonomy, perhaps too far. But it is always interesting to me what the state thinks it can regulate. In the bit I wrote for “Beer and Philosophy” I think I made mention of a Nova Scotian regulation that allowed for the publication of books about beer – a permission that more than implied that jurisdiction thought it could prohibit such writings despite constitutional protections relating both to the press and expression.

    I wonder, then, where is the right to food? It must exist. Under our constitution it would be under “security of the person” perhaps. Is beer food? Is beer expression?

    BTW, you are quite right about the Boston Beer document (II is a faslehood as is VIII) and the need for that marketplace Pledge or Accord.

    Mike H – December 9, 2007 6:55 PM
    When I was working in the England last year, on our first road trip my boss bought me a pint and asked for a top up since it was maybe a half cm short from the rim, I told him he was being petty, but he told me that it was British law to have it to the brim (in that type of glass).

    I had no idea that some of the provinces did the measure line. When I moved back to Ontario my memory was unfortunately refreshed with badly poured glasses of beer.

    I read your post from April 2006, didn’t know that Germany was having the same problem as the UK for full measures, but at least those countries have the marking line so they know that they are being cheated!

    Been thinking of trying to change our laws, but not really sure where to start, Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs, or would this be a provincial problem?

    I think the breweries would like it changed, it would mean that a 50L keg would have 100 500mL glasses worth of beer in it. If the pub servers a glass with 475mL then it can sell 105 475mL glasses, and at $5 each thats an extra $25 per keg. It would also mean that they would not have to order as much from the brewery. So the breweries should like the idea, but I could be wrong.

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