The great H. L. Mencken once said “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.” This is something that is very true in standing up for pretty much any aspect of lifestyle freedom.
The Independent newspaper recently seems to have specialised in bansturbatory hysteria, and a particularly egregious example is this: Special report: Super-strength lager ‘causing more harm than crack or heroin’. It is, predictably, full of the usual exaggerations, half-truths and downright lies, such as:
- Alcohol is half the price it was in the 1980s – no, in terms of the RPI, it’s actually dearer, on average
- You can buy a can of super-strength lager for just over £1 – you’ll struggle to get one much below £1.50, I think
- Making the duty on a pack of four cans £1 – wrong again. The duty is more like £4. £1 was the increase resulting from High Strength Beer Duty.
- Tesco and Sainsbury's sell four cans of Special Brew or Tennent's Super for £7.09, making them and bottles of white cider the cheapest route to oblivion – nope. There’s still plenty of cheap wine around for £2.99 a bottle, and two of those will contain just as many alcohol units. Not to mention cheap vodka.
But, you may say, surely super lagers are products of little intrinsic merit, whose prime selling point is just their strength, and which are disproportionately consumed by problem drinkers. They would be no great loss. Maybe not, but, apart from the strength, is Special Brew any worse a product than the standard 3.8% Carlsberg lager? And it really isn’t possible to construct a coherent intellectual case that the cognoscenti of craft should be allowed to drink very strong beers, at a price, but the irresponsible plebs shouldn’t be.
Plus, as I argued here, these products were adopted as favourites of problem drinkers, they weren’t originally created for that market. And the dividing line between “good” and “bad” strong beers is by no means as a clear-cut as many might imagine. What about this, which in my view is lovely stuff, but at 6.3% ABV is 70% of the way to a can of Spesh? Deprived of super lagers, the tramps would just move on to something else.
So, as Mencken said, if you want to defend the right to enjoy Duvel, and Hardcore IPA, and Old Tom, then you need to defend the right to produce and consume super lagers.
Although I can’t help thinking that, as a sensible defensive move, it might make sense for Carlsberg to switch these beers to 330ml cans. They could even give Special Brew a bit of a “craft” makeover while they’re at it.