In the past few weeks we have seen these headlines: Binge-Drinking Out of Control in Britain; Millions Of Middle-Class Drinkers Putting Health At Risk With Evening Tipple; Binge Drinkers Make Town Centres No Go Areas.
News outlets never splash the good news about alcohol do they? Because there is good news about booze and has been for the thousands of years that humans have consumed it. Most people drink moderately and neither they nor society suffers ill effects. So for the majority of sensible drinkers I want to celebrate the gift of alcohol and all the benefits humans have gained from it.
In addition to being a beer, cider, and wine tasting tutor, I am an after dinner speaker who talks about the love affair that humans have had with alcohol throughout history. Apart from societies where booze is forbidden an alcoholic drink is a universal symbol of hospitality and friendship. Alcohol features in all our ceremonies, celebrations and rites of passage - from the beginning of life (wetting the baby's head) until the end (the wake).
When we drink alcohol neurotransmitters initiate a reward cascade of compounds in our brains. Dopamine mellows us, and relieves anxiety and depression. Serotonin calms frayed nerves, and mood disorders. Alcohol also releases opioids - elating us and giving temporary relief from pain. It has pronounced effects on major neural pathways in the brain - particularly the emotional centres and those areas concerned with music making and language. Aristophanes knew that when he said "Quick bring me a beaker of wine so that I may wet my mind and say something clever". Humans like the effect alcohol has on their nervous system and it stimulates the 'yes' function, as they don rose coloured spectacles making anything seem possible.
There is a reason why people say "good health" when they toast you because there are health benefits associated with a moderate consumption of alcohol. According to independent medical studies conducted in several countries beer is a wholesome drink packed with soluble nutrition and fibre, a safe source of drinking water, and in some circumstances it can help to prevent kidney stones, gallstones, osteoporosis, dementia, Parkinson's disease, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, and it may promote levels of 'good' cholesterol.
As for the belly that some people have - it should not be called a beer belly because calorie wise beer is relatively low when compared to other drinks. It should be rebranded as a "kebab on the way home from the pub" belly because that weight is caused by a person's diet, general lifestyle and a lack of exercise.
Alcohol used both internally and externally was a universal palliative in ancient societies such as those in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Greece, and Rome. It was used as an anti-septic, for pain relief, to fight disease, and prolong life. It was also a medium for dissolving and dispensing medicinal herbs, resins, and spices. Fermentation contributes nutrients, flavours, aromas, and increases the nutritional value of food and drink. It supports immune function, and protects against pathogenic organisms. Early humans who drank alcohol were healthier, survived longer, and reproduced more - and that was not just the effect of the beer goggles!
And if all this were not enough, a sensible consumption of alcohol has societal benefits too. It's a superb social lubricant, helping us bond with others, it creates happiness, enjoyment, and community ties. But above all it's fun. So let's hear it for the good news about booze.
Ancient Egyptians who revered beer as central to their culture and synonymous with prosperity and well-being had poetic names for their brews - 'the Beautiful & the Good', 'the Heavenly', 'the Joy-Bringer'. Meanwhile we have 'Wife Beater'. Carol-Ann Duffy - please bring poetry back into beer!