Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Welcome to the real world

A couple of years ago, pressure was exerted on the brewers of “super lagers” to change their packaging to bring them in to line with guidelines on “responsible drinking” that no single-use bottle or can should contain more than four units of alcohol. All of the major brands have complied, through one or both of reducing the strength from 9% to 8%, and reducing the can size from 500ml to 440ml. It’s not a law, though, and you can still find 500ml cans of Polish 9% lager in corner shops.

Now it seems that the spotlight is being turned on the craft beer sector and, as the Morning Advertiser reports, they’re not at all happy about it. Indeed, their response seems ridiculously hyperbolic. Russell Bisset, of Leeds-based Northern Monk, says that the move comes across as “an attempt to curtail them growth of the independent craft brewing sector”, and he is “troubled by the Portman group’s attempt to influence and dictate the strength of beer we are able to produce”.

Come on Russell, keep your hair on! Nobody’s trying to stop you brewing very strong beers, just wanting to control the maximum size of package you can put them in. Indeed, many people have criticised craft brewers for their tendency to put very strong beers in containers of 500ml or above, when generally you only want to drink 330ml or less at once. At the same time, there have also been numerous complaints about the craft tendency to put beers of modest supping strength in “child-size” 330ml bottles and cans as a mark of differentiation from the 500ml bottles of boring mainstream brown bitter.

Yes, this is a restriction on brewers’ freedom, but in the overall scheme of things it’s an utterly trivial one. If customers really want to drink that volume, why can’t they buy two smaller bottles instead? Although no doubt we’ll also get the guff about secondary fermentation in larger bottles imparting an additional depth and subtlety of flavour. And there is a good argument that standardisation of package sizes helps consumers by making it easier to compare value for money between different products.

It’s noticeable how the craft brewing sector imagines that it should be exempt from the rules that apply to ordinary mortals. Large bottles of mega-strong beer, cartoon characters on labels, and fixed price all-you-can-drink offers are fine for them, but not, it would seem, for normal drinkers. They are thick, irresponsible drunken plebs who can’t resist temptation, while the crafties, in the words of Mr Bisset, are “champions of considered, mindful drinking”.

Did we get a peep out of these people when the same arm-twisting was applied to Carlsberg Special? Nope, didn’t think so. So I can’t say my cup of sympathy is exactly overflowing. Welcome to the real world, crafties!

48 comments:

  1. The Stafford Mudgie5 June 2018 at 14:09

    There's no such restrictions on bottles of wine and spirits but then we're all expected to have the sense to know that one isn't meant to be drunk all at once.
    Maybe "the crafties" could try to persuade the government that by printing "This pack contains two servings" on their 500ml bottles anything up to about 12% abv would be perfectly acceptable.

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    1. Bottles of wine and spirits are, of course, resealable, while cans and crown-cork bottles aren't. Maybe to get round it they could put beers in screw-top bottles.

      I think if you look on a can of Carlsberg Special is already says "contains two servings".

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    2. It is only in the last few years that many wines have been delivered in resealable bottles. The traditional corked bottle is as hard, or easy, to reseal as a crown-corker.

      And who says a bottle of wine isn't meant to be drunk in one go? :-)

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    3. The Stafford Mudgie5 June 2018 at 16:27

      Curmudgeon,
      You are obviously more knowledgeable about Carlsberg Special Brew than I am.
      David,
      Yes, I think it was about three Christmases ago that most of the bottles of wine I was given were screw topped rather than having a proper cork.

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    4. No, it's easy enough to shove the cork back in a wine bottle which will keep it for another couple of days. And most wines except very expensive ones are now sold in screw-cap bottles anyway.

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    5. No. It is not easy to get a proper cork (as opposed to a synthetic one) back into a bottle since it expands in diameter quite a lot when it is pulled. And even if you do manage to recork it you can't exclude the air from the bottle so it wlil deteriorate.

      There are various doh-hickeys around for resealing wine and beer bottles but not, in my experience, cans.

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    6. The Stafford Mudgie5 June 2018 at 17:31

      Anyway, a bottle of wine is equivalent to about four pints of 'a session beer' so I doubt if many people wouldn't just finish it.

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  2. I agree, and you you can add single use plastics into that hypocrisy. An environmental disaster that needs curtailing but not when it's single use kegs of craft beer it's not.

    I think when anything becomes a matter of faith, it obtains a level of virtue that trumps all else, in the minds of the true believers. Craft beer is so virtuous it has it's own rules. The same occurs in politics and religion.

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  3. I believe that the larger containers of strong beer are often shared between people,this probably also applies to weaker beer in larger containers as well,such as mini kegs which are single use containers. As usual the Portman Group is intervening to fix a problem which is not there,as you rightly say,there is nothing to stop a 'problem drinker' buying more than one container. The Portman Group appears to have a habit of siding with larger mainstream producers and ignoring smaller more innovative producers. It is time that all drinkers were left to make their own decisions regarding their consumption

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    1. Not sure how this is "siding with mainstream producers" when said mainstream producers have already felt their ire.

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  4. The Portman Group's blurb states that it is "a not-for-profit organisation funded by eight member companies who represent every sector of drinks production and collectively account for more than half the UK alcohol market." I'd seriously dispute the claim of representing every sector of drinks production, especially considering who the companies are: ABInBev, Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands, Carlsberg, Diageo, Heineken, MolsonCoors, Pernod Ricard UK, and Jägermeister. Obviously that lot will want to retain the market share they boast about, but it sticks in the throat that they do it by exuding an air of unbiased concern and selfless regulation.

    The Portland Group is a pressure group for some of the biggest businesses in the industry disguised as a regulatory body. The crafties should note that and just ignore them.

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    1. Well said

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    2. I questioned the Portman Group's credentials as a self-regulatory body here, but it has to be recognised that, whether you like it or not, its writ does cover companies who haven't signed up to it.

      And this is an issue over which I fail to work up much, if any, outrage. What is far more worthy of comment is the sense of entitlement amongst the craft brewing community that the normal rules that ordinary plebs have to follow shouldn't apply to them. Maybe they shouldn't apply to anyone, but are they prepared to make that case?

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    3. The Stafford Mudgie5 June 2018 at 17:37

      The Portman Group's writ covering companies who haven't signed up to it must be a bit like that CAMRA for 42 years being the consumers’ organisation for all people who go into pubs including the vast majority who would never join it.

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    4. Just remind me, of about what it is, that commenters here are getting het up?

      Is it that Mr. Bisset did not accurately specify every single type that he thought might not be “champions of considered, mindful drinking”?

      And that in failing to do so, he perhaps left open the possibility, that he might have thought some to be "thick, irresponsible drunken plebs"?

      Is this the world in which we now live?

      That is, that anyone can be accused of thinking, or bearing whatever intent that they did not expressly deny or exclude? And even if they did, how could they prove that?

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    5. The Stafford Mudgie5 June 2018 at 23:46

      I think it has been suggested that a mega-hopped 10% canned grapefruit murk from a "passionate" railway arch brewer will be quite different from the "testosterone-fuelled adjunct-packed fast-produced super-strength lagers" from the multinationals but having experienced neither I couldn't possibly offer an opinion as to which of the two might or might not be "high-quality".

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  5. Thanks goodness that hasn't reached this side of the pond. We can get 750ml bottles of 9% beer over here.

    Oh, and when visiting the doctor they don't ask whether you smoke or drink and, if so, how much. :)

    Cheers

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    1. The Stafford Mudgie5 June 2018 at 23:48

      Because you doctor will know that you smoke and drink less than him.

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  6. You can have state funded regulation or self policing. If you have self policing, it stands to reason those with the money will stump up for it. Nobody is stopping the denizens of craft from stumping up for it.

    No one has presented any actual evidence that the Portman group actually treat craft producers more harshly than their own funders. Craft producers "push the boundaries" as per their own raison d'être and therefore might be expected to butt heads with regulators more often.

    But don't let that stop the conspiracy theories or unjustified sense of grievance. Craft is more virtuous and different rules must apply.

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    1. I really would love it, if you could quote someone from the craft lobby who actually said that or something like it, Cookie.

      I seldom drink the stuff, especially the strong brews, so I'm a casual spectator.

      I enjoy a good laugh as much as the next bod though.

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    2. Isn't that precisely what Mr Bisset has said, that he and his fellow crafties operate on a higher moral plane than the industrial brewers and therefore shouldn't be subject to the same rules?

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    3. The Stafford Mudgie6 June 2018 at 14:29

      Hatters,
      Dave Bailey of the Hardknott Brewery has recently commented “After all, if the small brewers can’t get into a wide enough range of pubs on THEIR terms .....” as if "the small brewers" have a right to “get into a wide enough range of pubs” AND “on THEIR terms” !

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    4. Hmm. Perhaps, Staffy, but that still rather falls into the "I suppose you wish Germany had won the war" domain for me.

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    5. well Tiny Rebel certainly felt theyd been hard done by the Portman Group ruling against them, even though the average consumer would be hard pushed to spot the change they were forced to make on their cans, and it was a single complaint. Yet the Portman Group have submitted to the government its perfectly ok to call stuff Alcohol free, even when its actually 0.5% abv, and remember the complaint against Tiny Rebel was based on believing something could be mistaken as non alcoholic because of the labelling, so it might be conspiracy theory but its not hard to feel the Portman Group only represents its majority contributor interests in its decisions, rather than its minority.

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    6. The Stafford Mudgie7 June 2018 at 07:16

      Hatters,
      "I suppose you wish Germany had won the war" reminds me that when I started using pubs in the early 1970s older drinkers would say that if Hitler had won the war "we would all be drinking lager now". If so I'm sure it would be better than the 'lager' most are drinking here in the 21st century.

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    7. I criticised the Tiny Rebel ruling at the time but I don't see how it can be regarded as an example of the Portman Group treatng small producers differently from large ones.

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    8. Well, Mudge, as far as I can tell it's not much like anything that anyone said, let alone precisely that. It might arguably be what some people could say he had implied, if they were feeling ungenerous.

      I have to say, that regrettably, a lot of what passes for debate nowadays operates on this basis. If you can get a gang to agree about the asserted implication, then they reassure one another that they must be correct.

      It won't do for me.

      (I hope that I've posted this on the correct comment now.)

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    9. accepting < 0.5% abv as alcohol free brings us in line with most of the world and allows flexibility for the trace alcohol in breads, fruit juices and anything where sugars or refined starches have been exposed to yeast or airborne bacteria.

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    10. The Stafford Mudgie7 June 2018 at 11:24

      Hatters,
      I don't need to get a gang to agree with me because I know I'm right !

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    11. @Hatters - you've lost me now. Really not sure what point you're trying to make.

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    12. It's a bit depressing, to see a clamour for the Ducking Stool, every time that someone hesitates to kick a cat, Mudge.

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  7. Another thing that springs to mind is whether there will be a move to stop pubs from selling any beer above 7.0% ABV in pints, given that a pint will contain more than four units.

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    1. I can recall not being allowed to buy strong cider in pints in a west country pub. And I vaguely remember that Old Tom was only sold in halves.

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    2. I've had a similar experience when buying cider in a Devon pub. Asked for 2 pints of the stuff and the landlord "no son you'll start with a half". It was probably a wise decision. I have no idea what strength it was but I know after about 5 halves I cold hardly walk.

      Many landlords will only serve strong stuff in halves, but there is no rule requiring them not to do so, it's just sensible pub management.

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    3. Yes, a couple of years ago Stafford Mudgie was refused a pint of Old Tom in the Baker's Vaults in Stockport, although other Robinson's pubs will serve you one.

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    4. The Stafford Mudgie6 June 2018 at 14:31

      Yes, a couple of years ago I was refused a pint of Old Tom in the Baker's Vaults in Stockport - ruined my day it did !

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    5. The Stafford Mudgie6 June 2018 at 14:34

      - and they wouldn't even sell me two halves of it, well not without going back to the bar.

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    6. you could argue pubs should be doing that anyway with their duty of care licensing remit hat on, I mean I think its CAMRA policy at most beer festivals Ive been to or worked at, and Ive only occasionally encountered a situation in a pub where asking for a particular barley wine assuming Id automatically get a half, has ended up with a pint and alot less change than I had before. But again whats the difference if I buy a bottle of wine ask for 2 glasses, but only use the 1.

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    7. It certainly isn't official CAMRA policy, although obviously local branches can apply it if they see fit. Most beer festival customers don't drink *anything* in pints anyway.

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    8. The Stafford Mudgie7 June 2018 at 11:26

      Yes, "most beer festival customers don't drink *anything* in pints anyway" which is why those of us who know beer can only be tasted properly in pints no longer go the beer festivals.

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  8. McEwans Champion is readily available in 500ml bottles. I'm assuming that as it is only 7.3%, not the full 8%, it slips in under this requirement.

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  9. A cynic might suggest that the point about weaker craft beers being sold in 330ml containers is all about increasing margins - both for the brewer and retailer - as they always seem to be priced around the same as other non-craft 500ml bottles.

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    1. Oh yes, those wacky, anti-establishment craft brewers who do weak quaffing beers in tiny bottles and strong sipping beers in massive ones ;-)

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    2. In reality, don't you think that there are just a tiny percentage of very strong craft beers being sold in 500ml and more?

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    3. Yes, which is why the prophecies of doom are so ludicrously OTT.

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    4. But 'Craft' beer is for nice middle class professionals who are happy to pay a fortune for murk so it's only right that the brewers who produce it should shriek in horror at any control that might stop them making a fortune by 'sticking it to the man'.

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  10. We put our Imperial Stout, Principia (8.3% ABV) in 330 ml bottles. It just seems sensible. Anyways, a person can drink two or three if they want to.

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