Monday 8 October 2012

Defending the indefensible?

The great H. L. Mencken once said “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.” This is something that is very true in standing up for pretty much any aspect of lifestyle freedom.

The Independent newspaper recently seems to have specialised in bansturbatory hysteria, and a particularly egregious example is this: Special report: Super-strength lager ‘causing more harm than crack or heroin’. It is, predictably, full of the usual exaggerations, half-truths and downright lies, such as:

  • Alcohol is half the price it was in the 1980s – no, in terms of the RPI, it’s actually dearer, on average

  • You can buy a can of super-strength lager for just over £1 – you’ll struggle to get one much below £1.50, I think

  • Making the duty on a pack of four cans £1 – wrong again. The duty is more like £4. £1 was the increase resulting from High Strength Beer Duty.

  • Tesco and Sainsbury's sell four cans of Special Brew or Tennent's Super for £7.09, making them and bottles of white cider the cheapest route to oblivion – nope. There’s still plenty of cheap wine around for £2.99 a bottle, and two of those will contain just as many alcohol units. Not to mention cheap vodka.
The article also states with faux horror that “a single can contains more alcohol than the recommended daily maximum”, when every time a couple in a comfortable home share a bottle of wine and finish the bottle one or both of them also exceed that figure. Is the Independent going to be campaigning for a switch to a standard 500ml wine bottle size?

But, you may say, surely super lagers are products of little intrinsic merit, whose prime selling point is just their strength, and which are disproportionately consumed by problem drinkers. They would be no great loss. Maybe not, but, apart from the strength, is Special Brew any worse a product than the standard 3.8% Carlsberg lager? And it really isn’t possible to construct a coherent intellectual case that the cognoscenti of craft should be allowed to drink very strong beers, at a price, but the irresponsible plebs shouldn’t be.

Plus, as I argued here, these products were adopted as favourites of problem drinkers, they weren’t originally created for that market. And the dividing line between “good” and “bad” strong beers is by no means as a clear-cut as many might imagine. What about this, which in my view is lovely stuff, but at 6.3% ABV is 70% of the way to a can of Spesh? Deprived of super lagers, the tramps would just move on to something else.

So, as Mencken said, if you want to defend the right to enjoy Duvel, and Hardcore IPA, and Old Tom, then you need to defend the right to produce and consume super lagers.

Although I can’t help thinking that, as a sensible defensive move, it might make sense for Carlsberg to switch these beers to 330ml cans. They could even give Special Brew a bit of a “craft” makeover while they’re at it.


  1. The campaign for the right to enjoy Special Brew unhindered by government intervention starts here!

  2. Craft Spesh make over? Liking it.

  3. This story is also covered by Phil Mellows here, although in my experience Phil never approves any comments on his blog :-(

  4. The problem is that quite a lot of people who view themselves as beer connoisseurs look down with contempt upon people who drink any cheap alcohol just to get drunk, and will therefore go along with actions to attack the undesirables of the boozing world. They don't understand that, sooner or later, the same actions will be taken against them, because in the eyes of the anti-alcohol campaigners, there is no distinction.

  5. If alcohol had gone up by no more than inflation since 1972, bitter would now be around £1.40 a pint.

  6. While I don’t agree with everything on your The Pub Curmudgeon Blog – who does?

    I do find it of interest particularly given the current debate surrounding Minimum Alcohol Unit Pricing.

    Anyway I’ve just come across this article in my local evening newspaper tonight which as it covers some an Alcohol Watch ‘survey’ in a city in the news recently for other ‘investigations’; Newcastle. I thought that you may like to read it too?

    As I see it if Frosty Jack was priced at 50p/unit i.e. at £10+ for 3 litres it simply wouldn’t sell in supermarkets/off licenses and as, as far as I know anyway, is never sold on draught the brand would have very little future indeed.

    But, of course, all other white cider brands like Three Hammers, also produced by Aston Manor, would be similarly affected (as would many other ciders and beers too but I’ll leave that debate for another time) leaving a massive void for illegal manufacturers using the likes of pasta to make ‘industrial cider’ to sell for say a very profitable (no VAT etc.) £5 for 5 litres on the black market. With all the problems which would then ensure.

    By the way I had a look at the Aston Manors Website and learned that besides Frosty Jack being suitable for vegans they give “Units” (presumably of alcohol though it does not say as such) “per 250ml” a very odd measure in my view. Unless they want to state how much drinkers need to consume to get as much alcohol as in a pint of low strength beer/lager that is?

    Keep-up the thought provoking writing.


    John Holland


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