CAMRA’s plea for the government to scrap beer duty on low-strength beers of 2.8% ABV and below was a predictable publicity stunt to coincide with the launch of the Great British Beer Festival. But it is regrettable that they chose to promote an idea that panders to the anti-drink lobby and displays seriously muddled thinking. Haven’t the powers-that-be at CAMRA realised by now that anything that appeals to Don “weasel words” Shenker and his chums at Alcohol Concern is inevitably going to be a thoroughly bad idea?
It is very difficult to brew a beer below about 3.5% ABV with much flavour and character. Many of the old-style milds and boys’ bitters were very bland, and were designed to be drunk in large quantities by industrial and agricultural workers wanting to restore fluid levels after a hard day’s work. However, as society changed and people became more prosperous, they started switching to bitters which were more expensive, but had more taste and body.
People drinking in pubs are not generally motivated to choose cheaper drinks to save money, otherwise mild would still be all the rage, and (whisper it quietly) one of the main reasons people drink beer is because it actually does contain alcohol. Ordering a cheap, weak beer is hardly a very “aspirational” choice in the pub and comes across much more as a distress purchase. If people want to cut their alcohol consumption they will tend to drink “less but better” rather than making a conscious decision to go for weaker drinks.
In the early 1990s, some of our local brewers introduced cheap “economy” bitters at around 3.2% ABV, such as Hydes’ Billy Westwood and Boddingtons’ Old Shilling. When well-kept, these could in fact be surprisingly tasty, but they never really took off in the marketplace and were dropped after a year or two. And in recent years we haven’t exactly seen the 2% ABV Carling C2 setting the world alight.
The idea that micro-brewers would be able to sell 2.8% beers for substantially less than stronger ones is misplaced anyway, as they benefit from Progressive Beer Duty and thus pay a greatly reduced rate of duty in the first place.
The comments on the BBC article are laughable, as many are along the lines of “I hardly ever go in pubs, but I would like to have the choice of drinking weaker beers” – no doubt from the same kind of people who say “on my annual visit to the pub it is great I no longer have to put up with smokers trying to murder me.”
And please can we drop the nonsense of calling such pisswater mid-strength? It’s only “mid-strength” in the sense that a Smart is a “mid-sized” car, i.e. halfway between a proper car and a pushbike.