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Scare Tactics Won't Brew Better Beer

Stocks in this article: BUD TAP SAM

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- There are some fairly easy ways to find out what's in your beer. Just about none of them involve half-truths and scare tactics.

Food and beverage bloggers have yet to receive that message. One such blog gave itself a hearty pat on the back after it "forced" Anheuser-Busch InBev  (BUD) and MolsonCoors (TAP)/SABMiller joint venture MillerCoors to reveal their ingredients. That those "hidden" ingredients are known to just about every homebrewer, bottle shop owner or guest on any brewery tour in the U.S. was among its many lies of omission.

Fear is a whole lot of fun, isn't it? The accelerated heart rate, the paranoid suspicion that you're being poisoned a drop at a time, the intrigue surrounding the parties behind it. What fear isn't, however, is a measured response to a threat that's not all that threatening once you step back, unload the wording a bit and present facts.

None of that happened last July, when the FoodBabe blog unveiled the subtly titled entry "The Shocking Ingredients In Beer." Its goal was to call attention to the gap between the Food and Drug Administration and Treasury Departments Tobacco and Alchohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) that allows beer to be bottled without listing ingredients or caloric content on its label. What resulted was a complete divergence of fact and fiction that somehow led common beer ingredients to be labeled as "harmful" by the blog in question.

Transparency is always a good thing and the discussion of ingredient labels have been a long time in coming. However, blogger Vani Hari opted to start that discussion by fearmongering and baiting her way to the point. Let's start with her most damning accusation: There are fish bladders in Guinness. Yep. Guinness has used isinglass, or air-filled fish swim bladders, since the 18th Century to clear yeast particles out of beer. It speeds the process without affecting the flavor of the beer and is easily separated from the beer batch itself. Vegetarians and vegans are warned each St. Patrick's Day about faint traces of isinglass that end up in their beer, but these folks generally have a tough time with beer to begin with -- as most mass-produced beer is clarified with gelatins derived from the bones of cows and other animals.

Then there's the stunning revelation that some beers are made with corn and rice. Yes, they're called adjuncts and they've also been used here for hundreds of years. In fact, when the first German and Czech brewers arrived in this country, they used corn and rice when the two-row barley here in the U.S. didn't produce nearly as much protein as the four-row barley they used back home. It was costly, it was a pain, but it needed to be done. BeerAdvocate dedicates an entire subsection to American Adjunct Lager, while the Brewers Association craft beer industry group just changed its definition of a craft brewer to make room for adjunct beers.

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