Friday 30 November 2007

The new smoke

At last there’s a recognition of reality in December’s What’s Brewing with a front-page headlining article recognising the strong links between the campaigns against tobacco and alcohol. This really does leave those sadly deluded CAMRA members who thought the smoking ban might usher in a new dawn for pubs looking very silly.

Back in July, I wrote:

Even if you abhor smoking, if you enjoy going to pubs and drinking alcohol you are sadly deluding yourself if you think this has nothing to do with you. In the US, anti-drink groups are now running seminars on the implications of tobacco legislation for alcohol policy, something that inevitably is going to spread to this side of the Atlantic. Over here, respected medical professionals have expressed the view that further curbs on alcohol sales and promotion are a logical follow-on to the smoking ban. The anti-smoking lobby are basically the same people, with the same motivation and the same funding, as the anti-alcohol lobby. If you claim to support pubs and yet are in favour of the smoking ban, you are taking a very naïve and short-sighted view.

It seems that CAMRA has now belatedly woken up to this. But will there be a concerted, high-profile campaign against the New Puritanism? I wouldn’t hold your breath – it’s more likely that the membership will return to their favourite pastime of arguing over how many angels can stand on the head of a pin.

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Unintended consequences strike again

Well, what a surprise! Apparently following the smoking ban, more people are having their drinks spiked, not for sexual assualt, but to steal their belongings. The list of adverse consequences from this law gets ever longer.

Monday 26 November 2007

Rose tinted glasses

There have been a number of articles recently such as this one by Roger Protz and this one by Ian Marchant suggesting that the independent brewery and pub sectors are in rude health. For some businesses this may well be true, as it is still possible to prosper even within a market that is declining overall.

However, for the industry as a whole, the situation is totally different, with pubs closing at an alarming rate and beer volumes nationally falling off a cliff. For more and more people, going to the pub is becoming an activity that is simply irrelevant to their lives. In this context, celebrating your cosy corner that is for the time being protected against the storm begins to look like dangerous self-delusion. Unless the wider issues are robustly addressed, before long the remaining havens will be swept away too.

Friday 23 November 2007

Make your voice heard

I would urge all readers to sign this petition on the Prime Minister's website opposing the proposals of the so-called Alcohol Health Alliance for an increase in alcohol taxation:

The description reads:
We call on the British Chancellor of the Exchequer to call time on any plans to raise alcohol tax as being lobbied for by the Alcohol Health Alliance.

An alliance of health campaigners is calling on the Government to increase tax on alcohol by as much as 20-30% as a way to solve binge drinking in Britain.

We at the Morning Advertiser, the newspaper for the pub trade, think this would have disastrous results for pubs and drinkers - and do nothing to reduce alcohol-related harm.

The UK already has some of the highest duty rates on alcohol in Europe and evidence from high-tax Scandinavian countries has shown that increased duty does NOT lead to a reduction in heavy drinking.

Higher alcohol tax would be extremely damaging for pubs, which are struggling with the impact of the smoking ban, excessive red tape and competition from supermarkets that can offer beer for as little as 22p a can.

It would also penalise the majority of drinkers who consume alcohol responsibly and don't want to be burnt every time they order at the bar. Higher alcohol tax would be bad for business, bad for the drinker and bad for Britain - let's resist it!

Thursday 22 November 2007

Reaching the tipping point?

Some time ago, I questioned whether the giant pub companies really constituted a viable long-term business model. So far, they have proved surprisingly resilient, but now we have a growing recession in the pub trade, there are plenty of signs that the wheel is coming off the cart. The author of this article certainly believes the tipping point is fast approaching.

I know that locally there are a number of pub company owned pubs that have been closed for weeks running into months, with “To Let” signs prominently displayed. I wouldn’t have said any of them were unviable, but that state of affairs must indicate severe difficulty in finding new tenants to pay over-optimistic rents. And, the longer a pub is shut, the more of its customers leach away elsewhere or take to drinking at home. It is notable how you never see pubs belonging to family breweries or small pub companies closed for any length of time.

Sunday 11 November 2007

Domino theory

Well, I’ve said it many times in the past, but here’s Mark Hastings, communication director at the British Beer & Pub Association, saying it too – the anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol campaigns are two sides of the same coin:

Hastings claimed many lobbyists working for public health groups, who campaigned on tobacco, had moved across to focus on alcohol.

“The same skills set, the same tactics, the same people are involved with the issue of alcohol lobbying, that what’s gives it the profile it now has,” he said.

“Alcohol is the big issue at the moment and it’s absolutely essential that our industry gears up for what is going to be a considerable battle over the next few months and years.”

Let that be a reproach to all the short-sighted fools within CAMRA who thought the smoking ban might just be a good thing.

Drunk for £1?

Yet another misleading anti-drink scare story from the Daily Mail. Yes, you can buy cans of “value lager” for 22p – but they are generally extremely weak (typically around 2% ABV) and you would have to drink a damn sight more than 4 or 5 to get anything remotely resembling “drunk”. It might be more realistic to focus on the 3-litre PET bottles of own-brand cider available for around £2.50 that typically contain more units per pound than the cheapo lagers.

Sunday 4 November 2007

Who are you calling fat?

There have been a number of recent reports focusing on Britain’s so-called “obesity epidemic”. But, as Professor Patrick Basham points out, the nature of the problem has been seriously misrepresented. Yes, there are a lot more seriously obese people, but the average adult weighs only a pound or two more than those of a generation ago. Statistical extrapolations that half the population will be obese in 25 years’ time are simply incredible. Yet again, “we are all guilty” stands in the way of effective public policy.

Saturday 3 November 2007

The Emperor’s new beer?

There’s a lot of stuff in November’s What’s Brewing plugging bottle-conditioned ales and wondering why retailers don’t do more to promote them. I suspect the answer is that they simply don’t sell enough. CAMRA has made a major strategic error in putting so much weight behind BCAs. At the end of the day they will never become a mass-market category because:

(a) there are obvious practical difficulties in storing and pouring them,
(b) they remain wildly inconsistent in quality, particularly those produced by smaller micro-brewers, and
(c) they do not deliver any significant improvement in flavour or character over the better brewery-conditioned bottles – something I have learned through extensive participation in CAMRA tasting panels

People will only go so far in drinking beers they have been told are good, as opposed to those they actually enjoy. All the advertising in the world will only sell a bad product once.

The taste of Oktober

One of the pleasures of this time of year is that bottled versions of the Oktoberfest beers from the Munich brewers appear in the shops. Typically coming in around 6% ABV, these are full-flavoured, malty beers bursting with character, far removed from the typical British conception of thin, insipid “lager”. They can also often be found at surprisingly low prices – the Löwenbräu version is currently available in Morrisons at £1.29 for a 500 ml bottle and – possibly because of a mix-up with the regular beer, which has a similar label – the Paulaner brew was a mere 89p in Tesco. Others to look out for are Höfbräu, Spaten and Augustiner – well worth trying if you come across them.