Tuesday 25 September 2012

Reducing strength, reducing freedom

Worrying news from Ipswich where the local council have launched a “voluntary” scheme called Reducing the Strength to persuade off-licences not to stock any beers or ciders above 6.5% ABV, as these are supposedly disproportionately consumed by problem street drinkers. So far, 53 out of 130 off-licences in the borough have had their arms twisted to remove these products from sale.

I get a bit weary of having to repeat the arguments against this kind of bansturbatory nonsense ad nauseum, but here goes:

  • If you stop selling it in one shop, people will simply go to another one. If you stop it being sold anywhere, people will simply ship it in from elsewhere and sell it on.

  • This is not simply increasing price as a deterrent (whether through tax or minimum pricing) but preventing an entire category of drinks from being sold at all. While it cannot be denied that these products are popular with street drinkers, they are also bought by many responsible consumers who do not cause any problems.

  • Yet again, beer and cider are being singled out when it cannot be argued that wine and spirits are innocent of any involvement in problem drinking.

  • Does the ban also include “craft” products such as Duvel, Old Tom and Weston’s cider? If so, is that remotely reasonable? And, if not, where do you draw the line?

  • The threshold is already a full percentage point below the existing cut-off for higher beer and cider duty, providing further evidence of the ratcheting down of levels of acceptability.
It’s looking more and more likely that within ten years you’ll struggle to find any beer above say about 4.5% in this country unless you brew it yourself.

(h/t to Publican Sam)


  1. You said it pretty spot on...

    "Let's ban all beer and cider over 6.5%, but continue to sell wine and spirits at ridiculously cheap prices... can't see anything wrong with that... In fact, everyone who buys a litre bottle of Vodka can have a free side arm..."

    Blind, ignorant knob heads...

  2. Big Issue, Sir? Can you spare £2.20 for a bottle of Duvel, mate? I think the Belgian beer producers should put in a complaint to the EU.

  3. It's ridiculous. It really pisses me off that I have to charge 70-80p more for a bottle of quality Belgian beer in a nice relaxed pub because authorities are trying to curb street-pissheads drinking litres of white cider, or Saturday night lads making city centres violent areas. Especially when the lads causing trouble on a Saturday night are primarily drinking 4% lager or bloody vodka anyway.

  4. I've added my comment to the article on the EADT website. There doesn't seem to be much support there, to be honest.

  5. which to be fair is more than Ive done, and I live rounds these parts :) but Im possibly more cynical about our local press

    look Ipswich has its problems, but "street drinking super strength alcohol" isnt in my opinion one of the big ones, the council published a report only last week actually highlighting the existing schemes/measures tackling the street drinking problems were working and should be continued for sure, but whereas previously off licencees, actually were really talking about small shops,newsagents etc rather than traditional off licences of which I cant even recall one left open in Ipswich unless Majestic counts, were self regulating,now suddenly were really talking about volunteering them all to comply, the question being what happens if they refuse.

    and your absolutely right where does this leave things like Duvel, Old Tom or even Aspall's cider a particularly popular brand of cider as its made locally and generally available in most supermarkets & co-ops. Fortunately our nearest belgian beer shop,is safely some distance away in Bury St Edmunds, but certainly Ive bought beers like Golden Pride 8.5%, Old Dan 7.4% from the local Tescos whove apparently signed up to this, and there are many locally brewed strong beers like Green Jack Baltic Trader 10.5%, Ripper 8.5%, Bartrams do a 6.9% stout available in deli shops who would count as part of this off license total as well.

    so I am concerned now where this is heading, because I dont know this is something we can stop, it feels like a boiling frog moment.

  6. OK, rather than just whinge and speculate, I've e-mailed Ipswich Council to ask them to confirm whether it applies to all products, or just specific brands.

    Let's see what they say, if anything.

  7. of course the CAMRA alcoholics on the Old Tom are a more discerning sort of piss head than the Spesh drinkers.

  8. according to the East of England Co-op its just specific targetted brands,actually theyve already been doing this in their local stores which again raises questions about the timing and point of the announcement and why they didnt just say that to begin with. As certainly some of the local brewers who would have been affected on a blanket ban have been feeling very much left in the dark about it all.

    though the East of England Coop directed me to a press release which was word for word almost the article which appeared in the local press :( and didnt expand on what those specific brands were, maybe thats deliberate to avoid having to relaunch the thing everytime a new "superstrength" cheap beer they dont like comes on the market, though that really seems a misguided way of doing things.

    I suspect the borough council will be just as informative assuming they can work out how to use this interweb thingy.

  9. If just specific targeted brands then surely the tramps will just find something else that is "trampable".

    I would have thought there was also scope for legal action from brewers on the grounds of restraint of trade.

    No reply yet from Ipswich Council, by the way.


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