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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Drinking for the Buzz

Last week I made an argument that craft brewing has encouraged a competing culture of drinking that focused on the flavor, not the buzz. This guy didn't get the memo:
The lawsuit claims that Deschutes Brewery allowed Joseph Umphery unlimited access to beer in a keg room at the back of its bottling plant and at its brew pub in Bend....

According to the suit, on Feb. 22, 2008, Umphery drank 10 to 13 beers at the keg room and brew pub, then five to seven more beers at a strip club called "The Fan" in Redmond even though he was visibly drunk, the lawsuit alleges. A bouncer told him to leave for arguing with another customer, then helped him to his 1992 Oldsmobile Cutlass, according to the suit.

As he drove home along U.S. 20, Umphery slammed into the rear-end of a 2003 Toyota 4-Runner, driven by Brian Vajda. Vajda and three passengers were injured when the SUV rolled several times, crashed through a "guard fence," and hit a pine tree, according to the suit.
Afterward, police measured Umphery's blood alcohol level at .29%--almost four times the legal limit. I have no idea what the facts are around Deschutes' culpability here (Gary Fish disputes the claim.) I guess that's a question the courts will answer. (Though I'm betting Deschutes' employee policy is about to get a lot more strict.) Yet a few amazing details spring from the article.
  • Deschutes is being held responsible for Umphery's drunkenness, despite the fact that after he left the brewery he went to a strip club and continued to drink. (The strip club is also named in the lawsuit.) Fascinating.
  • He was sentenced to six years in prison for the crime.
  • In addition to the time, Umphery will have to pay $384,000 in restitution. Given that the current personal median income for males is about $39,000, he could lose half his pre-tax income, earn the median salary, and not pay this off for 20 years.
When I was doing my research into consumption levels and the effect of craft beer, I discovered that the one clear, measurable outcome has been the precipitous drop of alcohol-related deaths in America. With consequences this dire (and I'm agnostic about whether they've struck the right balance), it's no wonder. Amazing.


  1. Wow. What an idiot.

    On another note, it annoys me when companies change their policies in response to frivolous lawsuits. I suppose it's understandable, but why not wait to see if the courts throw it out before changing the way you do business?

  2. The article says that Deschutes workers can have a pint after they get off work, but that this isn't enforced and Umphery got smashed in the break room.

    My guess is that it won't be a change so much as a new way to ensure it's just a pint. Even if the lawsuit is totally bogus, they'll probably want to watch it closely. Because, even if it is bogus, if something like this does happen going forward, Deschutes will get killed in the press.

    With a thing like this, in PR terms, it's one strike and you're out.

  3. Another Darwin Award for Oregonians!

  4. Not sure what this does to the theory about the tempering effects of craft brew drinking. In defense of my own thesis--it's not the level of inebriation it's how the culture defines the rules--I'd say that Deschutes may have been looking the other way. On the other hand, pulling pints from the back of the bottling plant is not the same atmosphere as sitting in the pub. Perhaps that is the mistake that needs to be corrected.

    I am curious how someone can drink a total of, at minimum in this report, 15 beers and still be standing?

  5. This guy is an extreme case. He was clearly beyond drunk, totally irresponsible and I will leave it at that.

    I would like to expand on my comment on an earlier post – people drinking to get buzzed. I draw a distinction between “drunk” and “buzzed”. Drunk is when you have had a few drinks and you are above the legal limit. I believe a buzz is obtained much quicker and in smaller quantities.

    Example: It’s the afternoon, your stomach is empty and you have a beer. Most people are going to feel that beer and that is why I say that most people drink for the buzz. That is different from saying most people drink to get drunk. The person that has that one beer buzz is below the legal limit and they can choose to stop there or get some food, etc.

    Everyone’s body if different and the way alcohol effects people is different. I would say that most people are going to feel two beers even if it’s a small effect. Now considering that I’m using “buzzed” as the pre-drunk stage, is it even possible to drink more than one drink and NOT get buzzed?

  6. Keep in mind, what is reported is what the plaintiff (State Farm) alleges. Our investigation paints a very different picture. It's difficult because we cannot present our case as they have. Maybe one day we will.

  7. I need to make an effort to tie this all back into your idea that the new brewpub atmosphere leads to more responsible drinking. The individual is going to decide if they are going to drink responsibly or not. The establishment will have little control over this. They can provide an atmosphere where excess drinking will be frowned upon by staff or other customers but they have no control over it other than cutting someone off.
    So the points are:

    1. Drinking and drinking problems are not brewpub specific.
    2. Plenty of people get drunk at brewpubs.

    I do like that the atmosphere at certain brewpubs are less like bars where you go to get drunk.

  8. Wasn't this a scene from the Family Guy when Peter got a job at the brewery?

  9. It pisses me off that drunk driving always gets blamed on the "drunk" part and not the "driving" part.

    If this guy had a 0.29 and walked home or -- imagine -- called a cab, then the worst thing that would have happened that night was an argument between two drunks at a strip club.

    On the other hand, sometimes car crashes happen when the driver hasn't been drinking. The real problem here is expecting each person to drive themselves everywhere in a car, drunk, not drunk, tired, distracted, or 100 years old.

  10. An element partially missing in the discussion of craft beer and drunkenness is the high Alcohol By Volume of many craft beer; extreme beers.

    Brewers seem to amp up the ABV when they amp up the IBU. I've noticed the ABV value often is one 10th the IBU value.

  11. I think part of this is that insurance companies try to cast as wide of a net as possible when trying to recoup their money. As OBC officer, I was almost involved in a lawsuit for someone being served at the OBF a year before I was on the board. they went to two bars afterwords and got in an accident. OBC recruits servers for OBF, but has nothing to do with their training. everyone who was vaugly connected to this persons drinking was named. If that is actually how many beers that guy had 10-15? I am impressed and concerned.