Monday, 4 April 2011

Weak interest

With the government planning to halve duty from October for beers of 2.8% ABV or lower, I asked the question “Would 20p off a pint encourage you to buy 2.8% ABV beers?”. It can’t be said there was much enthusiasm about the idea, as the 84 responses broke down as follows:

Very likely: 3 (4%)
I’ll see what they taste like: 28 (33%)
Highly unlikely: 53 (63%)

This cut will provide a significant saving of duty plus VAT of 16p on a 500ml can, and 18p on a pint. The problem is that one of the key reasons people drink beer is that it actually does contain alcohol, and at this kind of strength level the alcoholic content becomes so low that it is little more than a distress purchase. Also, especially in pubs, drinkers don’t tend to choose their drinks primarily on the grounds of cost.

I can’t honestly see much demand at all for cask beers of this strength, especially given the fact that the weaker a beer is, the shorter the time it keeps. The chief beneficiaries will be the big lager brewers. Paradoxically, it will make the supermarket “value” lagers that are supposedly sold “cheaper than water” even cheaper, and I can see the major brands like Carling, Fosters and Carlsberg bringing out 2.8% “light” versions to take advantage of the duty cut. And, of course, the concern is that this, combined with the extra duty on beers above 7.5%, will lead over time to a tiered duty structure in the UK that penalises stronger beers.


  1. They did this in Ireland in 2008. Guinness did a "mid strength" version, which bombed and that was the last I heard of it. I am unaware of any beers available in Ireland at this strength (with the exception of Tesco Value Lager, which really doesn't count as beer).

    People just don't want this stuff.

  2. I do think, though, that paying 15.6p duty+VAT on a 500ml can of 2.8% Carling, as opposed to 44.6p on a similar can at 4%, will be sufficiently attractive that some people will go for it. But it'll be overwhelmingly an off-trade phenomenon, and won't really trouble anyone interested in cask beer or "craft beer". It's basically a subsidy for weak, crappy lager.

  3. Aren't Carling already ahead in the game with their 2% C2? I do like how they describe it as a "mid-strength beer", instead of saying that it's 50% weaker than a normal beer.

  4. Although it's not an area of the beer market I follow closely, I don't get the impression that Carling C2 has been much of a success.

  5. I think it's generally regarded as a "joke" beer. I am wondering, however, if the intended changes will boost its supermarket sales? I somehow doubt it, but only time will tell.

  6. I went on the Carling website to see what they had to say about C2. After the stern warning that I had to be of legal drinking age to enter the site, I typed in a date of birth that suggested I was 12, and was admitted immediately!

  7. And did they have anything to say about C2?

  8. Refreshing, suitable for busy people who had to drive or go back to work, and apparently great tasting: "We can't say exactly how it's done, or anyone with a mash tun and a lifetime of brewing expertise would be at it."

    I love the conceit that home and micro brewers will rush to reproduce C2 at home if Carling discloses the secret.

  9. Found it now, see here. Actually, they're very careful NOT to make any mention of driving, even though it's obvious one of the target markets is people who want to drink three or four pints but keep within the legal limit. I think it'll die the death come October and be replaced by a 2.8% variant.

    "Check back shortly for details on where you can buy C2 in pubs and clubs throughout the UK" – hmm, how old is that webpage? I wouldn't hold your breath.

  10. Milds and a German style, forgotten the name, were traditionally this strength because they originated from steel towns, where foundry workers drank them to rehydrate. Useful if you've just been been to the gym or playing football or squash.

  11. Berliner Weisse, I think you're referring to.

    However, before the First World War, even milds in the UK tended to be about 5% ABV - it was Lloyd George who created the British taste for weak beer.

  12. I'd love a few 2.8% beers for week nights after work, something I can drink a few of...
    But I'd be brewing it myself in the garage.

  13. Apologies for the delay in posting but I've added my thoughts on this issue. Basically think it's going to be interesting to see what current brands (C2, etc) do and see whether the brands around 3% drop some abv?

  14. I'm a great fan of "ordinary bitter" around the 3.6 - 4.0% mark, but I would be worried that dropping the strength of milds from say 3.2% to 2.8% would alienate their remaining customers.

    Incidentally, Dave, how do I get a feed from your blog so I can put it in my blogroll?


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