NORMALLY, WHEN someone refers to the ‘other ferment’, we understand it to mean beer. But technically, and chronologically, wine should be the other ferment, considering how beer was made well before wine had even been tinkered with.
But leaving all that aside, beer today—in spite of its popularity, high appeal and low alcoholic strength—suffers in many ways. I am not saying that wine has it easy, but for something as uncomplicated and relenting as beer (and beer-drinkers), life should have been easier.
For example, I never get the whole ‘strong’ beer nomenclature. What’s with the segregation? It’s all beer. Belgium makes so many types of beer and never does one feel the need to label any of it as strong—even when it reaches 11% alcoholic strength. Wine doesn’t come in the gradation of alcohol and neither does whiskey. Even when it does, they call it ‘cask strength’—never something that could be perceived as derogatory. Given how even the ‘strongest’ of beers is at least 50% lower than the weakest wine (or fives times lesser than any spirit), calling a beer ‘strong’ is
an oxymoron. In fact, instead of deterring people, ‘strong’ merely incites people to order more.
Another thing that irks me are the archaic rules to establish a beer brand in the capital of the world’s largest democracy. The amount of money the local government wishes to extort from beer brands just to allow them to find representation here is so high that it isn’t conducive to conducting long-term business. These levies also raise the price of beer, which then makes people veer towards harder spirits, preferring to get a bigger kick for their buck.
If driving down consumption was the idea that led to high taxation in the first place, clearly, it only works to the contrary. Lowering taxes on beer (and wine), so that they are naturally preferred over the harder stuff should have been the logical step and yet our century-old laws refuse to update themselves to anything contemporary or sensible.
In the last decade alone, the beer market’s growth rate has fallen from 12% to 3%. If excise laws aren’t revised to make for a volumetric system of taxation (that is, pay taxes as per the alcoholic content of a drink), it will never be a level-playing field and spirits will continue to dominate the scene. Now, I am not saying spirits are bad—I love my gin, tequila, Scotch and bourbon—but to tax beer higher than them is illogical. In no other country do spirits occupy 93% of the drinking market, leaving a paltry 7% for beers and wines. In fact, if anything, it is the reverse in most western and developed nations.
For an industry that employs millions and promises a civil drinking panorama, the voice of ferments (beers and wines) needs to be heard and fought for. I am not trying to promote alcoholism. Instead, I am just suggesting ways to naturally (and socially) curb it without having to impose odd restrictions that only make our authorities look ridiculously foolish on a global platform.
The writer is a sommelier