I drank a dessert stout last night and I tasted something really unusual on my palate that I hadn't come across before... it wasn't a fault or unpleasant, almost a vanilla-ish, milky flavour and of course I wanted to know what had gone into the beer because it certainly wasn't from any kind of malt, hop or yeast I've heard of. So I turned the bottle reading the label and... nothing. Not only did this beer not state any of the ingredients, it also didn't say where it was brewed. Just the name, alcohol content and a brief description of the beer...
And I started to think, would I buy and eat a packaged food item from the shop if there were no ingredients on the label? I'm one of those people who reads everything on the label before buying so probably not. Who knows what additives might be in there? Do I really want to eat twice my daily intake requirement of salt in one mouthful? Was my jar of sundried tomatoes grown locally or was it grown in Spain, processed in Norway, packaged in India before being sent back over to Australia... and that tomato has already travelled across the world more than I have before I eat it!
The stout ended up down the sink because the taste was just too weird for me, especially not knowing what was added to give that flavour. We opened a bottle of red wine to have with dinner instead... my partner complained after half of his glass that his mouth felt tingly and he was starting to feel a bit sick. We looked at the label and it told us that some preservatives were added... not the amount but at least it told us and we could look out for that in the future.
In the wine industry isinglass is widely used to clarify the wine. Isinglass comes from the swim bladder of fish, particularly sturgeon fish and is also used to settle out sediment in some real cask ales. Labelling requirements changed over the years so that a winery must state on the label if the product contains any derivatives of seafood or egg because many people are highly allergic to these food items. To get around this, some wineries have looked into using a similar product to isinglass from the bladders of animals such as pigs or cows. It's not quite as effective but it doesn't have to go onto the label under current labelling laws!
Of course everyone was talking about the Mountain Goat takeover by Asahi recently. No one really noticed that they had already been brewing some of their beer at Asahi, but now suddenly a handful of venues won't stock it and a few people won't drink it... but it still tastes great (so far...) and let's not forget that Mountain Goat did amazing things for helping the Australian craft beer industry move forward in Australia, but does the average beer drinker even care? Is it any different to buying anything from a bag of chips to a bottle of orange juice off the shelf of a major chain supermarket? Most of those products are all owned by the same global companies. There's other breweries that have been "blacklisted" by serious beer drinkers for secretly brewing at other bigger venues and not disclosing it, which is a sneaky tactic - if you have something to hide then you're probably not doing the right thing.
So my question to you is this: Do you actually care what's in your beer or where it was made?
I do, but maybe that's just because I make beer myself and have seen some pretty weird things done to beer in the industry to make a batch of beer look or taste a certain way that I never would have expected to see. I don't add anything unnatural to my beer and we are completely transparent when it comes to where we brew and what we brew - it's all on the label. I believe that people have the choice to know what they are drinking and can make their own educated decisions based on that. I personally prefer to support smaller, local and natural products and companies but everyone is entitled to their own choice.
What do you think?