Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Fill your boots

In recent years, licensing authorities have put a lot of pressure on pubs and bars to stamp out promotions that supposedly encourage irresponsible drinking, including offers of “all you can drink” for a fixed price. So I was rather surprised to see that, at next year's Manchester Beer and Cider Festival, CAMRA will be offering an inclusive all you can drink option called the MBCF Experience for £40. This will be limited to special sample glasses of, I believe, 120ml (just over 4 fl. oz). If an unlimited supply is available, there is no requirement to serve beer in officially-designated measures.

Clearly, given the very steep price and the small measures, this isn’t the same as “All you can drink for a tenner” at Porky’s Fun Pub, and it’s unlikely in practice that it will attract people who are simply setting out to drink as much as they can, or that it will lead to disorderly behaviour. But the difference is one of degree, not of principle, and it sits rather uneasily with CAMRA's External Policy 2.3, which states:

“CAMRA opposes promotions that encourage excessive or speed drinking, rather than providing a discount on the price of the product and allowing the consumer to determine his/her own preferred consumption.”

The reason given for this is to allow people to sample as many different beers as possible, and it follows the practice at many craft beer festivals. However, simply because someone else is doing it doesn’t automatically make it a good idea. Indeed, at some craft festivals it is the only payment option available, which really doesn’t seem consistent with responsible drinking and offers a very poor deal to those of more limited capacity. Frankly, I’m surprised that the licensing authorities haven’t questioned this. It’s another example of how the craft beer community imagines that it operates on a higher moral plane than the thick, Carling-swilling plebs.

CAMRA is always going on about encouraging “responsible consumption in a supervised environment”, so it offers up a hostage to fortune if its critics can then come back and say “well, but you allow all-you-can-drink at your festivals.” It’s rather like Jamie Oliver running an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant.

Presumably an offer of this kind would not be permitted under Scottish (and soon Welsh) minimum pricing, as it is theoretically possible (although highly unlikely) that the average unit price could dip below the minimum if there is no cap on consumption.

A further concern is that apparently, when beer is sold in this way, drinkers are inclined to throw away anything that isn’t to their taste and move straight on to another beer. The amount of food waste we produce is often highlighted as a problem – doesn’t this apply equally to beer waste? Although maybe the contents of the slops bucket could then be resold to the public, and no doubt some beer communicator would declare how awesome it was.

It’s also disappointing that they will be abandoning traditional British measures in favour of metric ones – what would be wrong with a quarter or a sixth of a pint?

36 comments:

  1. The Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival operated on the "Festival pour" model AFTER minimum pricing came in.

    You seem to have some irrational objection to the concept that some people are able to appreciate and enjoy the wide variety of beer available today without feeling the need to chuck it down their throats a pint at a time.

    Wine tasting events have been operating on the inclusive model for years. Why shouldn't beer enthusiasts be able to have a similar experience?

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  2. The Stafford Mudgie14 August 2018 at 12:18

    "It’s rather like Jamie Oliver running an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant". - don't give him ideas.
    It would probably work a lot better than that Jamie's Italian chain that a few months ago announced closure of 12 of its 37 UK branches and more recently was shown to have debts of £71,500,000.

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  3. "The Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival operated on the "Festival pour" model AFTER minimum pricing came in."

    Were the licensing authorities aware of it? Had it been specifically cleared with them? Was it established at what level an all-in price would be judged unacceptable?

    "You seem to have some irrational objection to the concept that some people are able to appreciate and enjoy the wide variety of beer available today without feeling the need to chuck it down their throats a pint at a time."

    You seem very keen to jump to conclusions about what I think - all I'm doing is asking the question, which others seem to want to brush aside.

    "Wine tasting events have been operating on the inclusive model for years. Why shouldn't beer enthusiasts be able to have a similar experience?"

    A tutored wine (or beer) tasting is something very different from a beer festival where, as you're no doubt aware, many customers do have a good time and consume substantial amounts of beer.

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  4. https://bristolcraftbeerfestival.co.uk/tickets/

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  5. You also say that "If an unlimited supply is available, there is no requirement to serve beer in officially-designated measures. " so I assume you don't think it illegal? The main thing is we don't breach the licensing objectives. A relatively small percentage (likely well under 10%)of festival pour sales is unlikely to do so. We will have to risk assess it for the police and venue as we do the whole event.

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  6. No, I'm pretty certain it isn't illegal, at least not in England. I'd say it is more of a grey area in Scotland and Wales because of minimum pricing. I understand why it's being done - given that the minimum legal measure in which beer can be served is a third of a pint, it gives people the opportunity to sample a wider range of beers, and the price has been set at level sufficiently high that it won't appeal to those are are interested in bangs-per-buck. But the question of whether it is compatible with CAMRA's objective in promoting responsible drinking, and its support of strength-related pricing, is one that needs to be asked. Personally I'm not really bothered as I'm not someone to come over all prissy about all-you-can-drink offers.

    Have you thought about the potential for groups sharing beers? It would, for example, be entirely possible for a couple to buy one all-in ticket between them, hire two half-pint glasses, and top them up alternately from the festival pour glass, without drawing any attention to themselves. If you're going for the stronger/weirder beers it would be quite easy for an individual to spend £20 on beer at the festival without ending up particuarly drunk. Where an all-in ticket is the only option obviously that isn't a problem.

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  7. It is possible of course. It would involve plenty of trips to the bar though. There may be some that do this. Guess we won't really know but they will only get an ounce and a half or so each. If they can be arsed.

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  8. "Did you ever taste beer?' 'I had a sip of it once,' said the small servant.

    'Here's a state of things!' cried Mr Swiveller, raising his eyes to the ceiling. 'She never tasted it - it can't be tasted in a sip!" - Charles Dickens, "The Old Curiosity Shop".

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    1. The Stafford Mudgie15 August 2018 at 11:03

      Matt,
      Quite right. it can't be tasted properly in less than a pint - or two.

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    2. Yep. There are loads of things like that. Gorgonzola cannot be appraised, just by touching a little bit with the tip of the tongue, for instance. (As kids will, when you try - usually in vain - to get them to mature their palates).

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  9. "All you can drink" depends on how much pain, and risk of gastric rupture you're willing to stand. "As much as you'd like to drink" would be more accurate and polite maybe. Does no one think about what they write any more?

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  10. How many 4.22341 oz tots does £40 buy you?

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    1. A potentially infinte number

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    2. Mebbees, if you think that ten pints are enough for a sesh, then that works out at four quid each on this particular lark doesn't it? As His Authorship correctly points out, there's no limit to pints nor to subdivisions of 'em, if you're hell bent on silliness.

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    3. What I meant was how much beer would £40 buy you at normal prices.

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    4. 'mudge. That can't be right since there is only a finite amount of beer at the festival :-)

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    5. "how much beer would £40 buy you at normal prices"?

      Between 10 and 13 pints I reckon, depending on strength. I don't think many people visiting the festival drink that much, so it works out as a bad deal for most.

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  11. The Experience tickets seem to have gone from the website, so anyone who bought one possibly has a highly collectable piece of Festival memorabilia. Beer festival consumption is usually about 4 pints per punter as the figures in the linked press release bear out (65,000 pints in 2018 and 15,500 attending), but this calculation makes no allowance for staff beer so the real figure is almost certainly lower. Some people might put a value on being able to keep the glass, but in practical terms you are looking at £8 a pint after allowing for admission. Co-incidentally, I paid £7.96 for four pints of guest beer in the local Wetherspoon on Monday (Club price) - and got a clean glass each time.

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    1. The relevant web page is still there. The appeal presumably is to those who are dead-set on maximusing the number of beers tasted, but even if you're going for the mega-expensive stuff at £3 a third, you would still need to buy 13 to be quids in.

      Real-world typical consumption at beer festivals is actually only about 3.25 pints per customer.

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    2. Seems they have hit a little legal snag which has caused the "all-in" offer to be removed from the ticket sale tab.
      The craft beer festivals have been getting round legal weights and measured legislation in order to sell in small sample sizes (under the 1/3 legal minimum) by using all in tickets as an entry item only. The beers is then considered to be a free sample for the consumer. But at these festivals ALL of the entry options are like this, so theoretically no alcohol is for sale.
      Manchester were proposing to add the all-in as an optional entry method, so there would still be traditional CAMRA entry options as well, and it seems to be a bit of a legal grey area as to whether you can mix the two.

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    3. Stifles mild chortle of Schadenfreude...

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  12. The Tickets page is still there but I can't see any mention of the £40 version (previously quoted as £43.60 inclusive of fee and VAT, when out of interest I clicked through to the payment page).

    The 4 pints a head figure was what we used for the Pigs Ear Festival in the 80s and 90s when I worked there but I would agree that it was very roughly calculated; ullage figures were close to guesswork as was staff beer consumption. I think most of our sales were in pints then but the apparent trend to more 'sniff n sip' beer drinking/sampling would no doubt reduce consumption.

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    1. The Stafford Mudgie16 August 2018 at 20:32

      There's no mention of it on the main page, where previously it prominently shown with the £40 price, but under the top "Latest updates" is "The ‘MBCF Experience’ ticket will be inclusive with a specially-commissioned unique glass, festival guide and small pour samples of all draught beers and ciders during your visit. With previous festival beers ranging in strength from 2.9% to 11.5%, many will find the traditional half or pint measures simply too much. So for all those who wished they’d been able to taste more, this could be the answer!"

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  13. I agree with the last paragraph of the piece. Traditional measures for personal matters, such as food and drink servings, and for body weight, height etc. convey real meaning to most people.

    When an American says "I weigh two hundred pounds" it means no more to most of us, than when a Frenchman says the same in kilos. Nowt of clarity, that is.

    This is cultural, and linguistic. it ain't a generational, political, or other matter.

    I'm hot on metric for scientific and technical stuff, mind. But let's keep our pounds for baby weights, stones for the rest of us, pints for beer, and feet for tallness.

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    1. It is entirely generational. My twenty something daughter would just roll her eyes if I told her I weight thirteen and a half stones and ask "What is that in real money?"

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    2. OK, hands up on the weight point, but where everyday dealings still happen in traditional units, such as the sale of beer, that doesn't arise. Weight-watching etc. have indeed become scientificised, to forge a word crudely, on the other hand.

      My point is a general one about language though. There are circumstances where measurements have meanings beyond the technical, and I for one object to a small number of presumptuous people buggering about with the language spoken by sixty-six million of us in that regard.

      (It all started with "Istanbul")

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    3. But if she were to have a baby (I have no idea whether she has or not) I'm sure its weight would be announced in pounds and ounces. And a twentysomething must have some comprehension of miles and miles per hour in order to be able to drive.

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    4. Attached as I am to some of our familiar measures, I don't think that - as Peter Hitchens, a man with whom I quite often agree, claims - it it is their loss which signally announces the disappearance of nationhood and culture. For me, it was in the 1980s, when some grubby kids banged on my door, and squawked "trick or treat" at me when I answered. The endless parades of KFC, McD, Frankie and Benny's, Dunkin' Donuts, Pizza Hut, and all that lot everywhere you look tells me more too.

      So let's take comfort, in the fact that British pub culture and brewing are far from extinguished, and that some aspects are flourishing.

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  14. I just cannot see the appeal of these festivals where beer is served in tiny sub-1/4 pint measures. Unless you drink ridiculously slowly, you'd spend the entire time queuing up for your next one, no? I refuse to pay to attend an event where the organiser sees fit to dictate what measures I should drink my beer in. (I suspect downing one at the bar and asking for another immediately is frowned upon/banned too?)

    (And don't tell me the appeal is for tickers - I *am* a ticker. I just only count full pints.)

    Might I commend to all serious drinkers the Wandsworth Common festival, where the preview night is 'all you can drink' for about £25 AND you can have it in proper pint (or half) measures.

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    1. I suspect the appeal is for the craft beer experiencers, since its pretty much the default ticket setup for craft beer festivals that Ive come across, on the basis they only want 1/4pint mouthfuls of beer, as the abv of the beers they want are generally near to or in excess of double digits for all those rare limited edition one off collab beers, and you arent going to be wanting to spend all the time even drinking halves of those, as theyll be carrying you out of the festival after more than a handful.

      Whether a beer festival should be about the one off experience style of flavoured beers, or something a bit more substantial to promote the art of brewing and beer making and its role in the pubs industry, is probably a debate for another day.

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    2. Serious drinkers? I prefer frivolous ones.

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    3. I don't really think the sampling culture is something that CAMRA should be encouraging, given that it is so alien to the world of pubs. Just because the crafties are doing it doesn't mean that CAMRA should slavishly copy them.

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  15. I've paid 30p for pints of slops before now.

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    1. That would be illegal in Scotland now. Mind you, I've paid £3+ for pints that tasted like slops.

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    2. Arsenal Fan 36s Greatest Tribute Act23 August 2018 at 11:06

      Remember the Golden Age of "putting back"?

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    3. They put it all back into the craft murk now, as nobody can tell the difference ;-)

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