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Introduction

The big brewers may all be thinking globally these days, but seasoned drinkers usually prefer their local brews when they can find them. Where the big companies often win is by persuading us that a ‘local’ brew from far away contains something special or unique – hence the success of brews from Mexico, South Africa, India and Thailand. This section covers brands of bitter, lager, stout and cider that are available nationwide.

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How many miles?

Our increasingly exotic tastes could be causing horrendous and fairly pointless pollution of the globe. Ingredients for a real ale from a local brewery may have travelled about 600 miles in all, which might seem far enough, but for some imported lagers produced by the multinationals, the ingredients can travel as many as 24,000 miles. There may be some consolation in the fact that many of the so-called ‘export’ or ‘continental’ lagers are really brewed under licence in the UK, but there is ever more beer moving across European borders.

What’s in the stuff?

Basic drinking ethics

  • Never drink and drive – take it in turns to be the designated driver or, even better, use public transport
  • Try to support the local pubs that stock local brews
  • Cans are best for drinking outdoors – and bottles are best at home
  • When drinking out anywhere, always remove your empties

Conventional hop farming uses a lot of pesticides – which results in what the pressure group Sustain describes as ‘scorched earth’ farming methods, where the ground between and beneath the hops is kept barren and dusty. Organic farming methods use mustard mixed with the hops to attract predators and combat aphid attacks.

Traditionally, the barley for malting has come from the highest-quality spring crops, but recently there has been massive development of new winter barley varieties, on which farmers use almost double the number of pesticides. These changes, and the decrease in planting of summer barley, have badly damaged bird populations.

Under current UK legislation, drinks containing over 1.2 per cent alcohol are exempt from the compulsory labelling applicable to other products for human consumption. This means that brewers don’t tell us when they use chemical additives, as many do to increase the shelf life of the beer or to alter the colour or flavour of the brew. The lack of mandatory labelling causes problems for vegetarians, as most beers do still use animal-derived products.

Organic options

Organic beers have begun to take off, although there are real problems finding organic hops – the main source of supply being far-off New Zealand. Organic production of hops in the UK is not only possible but potentially highly profitable.

Brewing your own beer can give you control over many elements of the brewing process. You can buy organic hops from www.the-home-brew-shop.co.uk. While this increases beer miles, the weight of the product is only around 3lbs. Online brewing classes are now available on the web (such as www.breworganic.com), where you will find lots of the information you need.

None for the road

The legal driving alcohol limit in the UK is 80mg%, compared with 50mg% in most of Europe and 20mg% in Sweden. Although any alcohol will affect all drivers, accident rates for young people double after only two drinks, and increase tenfold after five drinks.

Ethical Comparison – Beer, Lager & Cider Rankings Detailed Table


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Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): ESB, Grolsch, John Smiths, Marston’s, Miller, Strongbow, Old Speckled Hen, Merrydown, Blackthorn, Wadworth’s 6X, Beck’s, Foster’s, Holsten Pils, Carlsberg, Stella Artois, Heineken, Carling, Budweiser, Guinness.

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