Apparently the average consumption per head at CAMRA beer festivals is 3.5 pints. This figure has often been viewed as surprisingly low, but in fact, if you assume the average strength of beer at such events is 4.5% ABV, it equates to 9 units of alcohol and thus, by the current reckoning, qualifies as a “binge”. And, of course, roughly half the punters will be drinking more than that.
A few months ago I referred to a CAMRA pub crawl around Stockport Market Place, which involved visiting 8 pubs. If someone only had a half in each pub, and the average strength of beer consumed was 4.0%, that again adds up to 9 units. And in reality, most of the participants would have had a pint in at least one or two of the pubs. In the old days, when there were more pubs, more of them served real ale, and people were younger and fitter, such crawls could cover 12 or 13 pubs.
CAMRA often highlights the role of the “well-run community pub” in promoting responsible drinking. But if you went in any such establishment at 10.45 pm on any night of the week, you would undoubtedly find a high proportion of the customers had drunk more than eight units over the course of the evening.
Now let me make it crystal clear than I don’t disapprove of any of this, and if you’re only doing it a couple of nights a week it’s not realistically going to do you any harm. But of course Don Shenker and Sir Liam Donaldson would be aghast at such a tidal wave of irresponsible consumption. And you can just imagine the hysterical Daily Mail exposé: “They say they support responsible drinking – but in fact they’re routinely encouraging bingeing!”
It is a fact of life that pretty much all the activities of CAMRA are centred around drinking at levels that exceed the current official (made-up) guidelines. The leadership of the organisation must be fully aware of this. But they do have to tread very carefully not to lay themselves open to accusations of hypocrisy in championing the pub as the home of responsible drinking. And it underlines very clearly that you cannot effectively combat the rise of anti-alcohol sentiment while adopting the politically correct terms of reference of the Righteous – you have to challenge the whole basis of the argument.
This perhaps helps explain why CAMRA has been much less outspoken than many would wish over the rise of neo-Prohibitionism. But they are going to have to think very hard about it – it isn’t just going to go away and leave them alone.