Tuesday 30 December 2014

Cloudy balls

At the turn of the year, many people offer their predictions for the year to come. At the beginning of this year, I did so too, although the results were, to say the least, mixed. Mind you, how many economists predicted the collapse in the oil price?

  • Beer duty will rise by the rate of inflation. The duty escalator will continue to apply to all other drinks categories. Wrong – Osborne slightly cut beer duty, froze cider and spirits duty, and removed the escalator from all other drinks categories. A rare example of entirely positive news – cheers George!

  • Craft keg ales will not make a significant breakthrough into mainstream pubs, but there will be a modest expansion of British-brewed “craft lager”. Again wrong – I’ve seen craft keg ales in pubco pubs in trendy locations such as Didsbury, and indeed New World Pale Ale in mainstream outlets with a Marston’s loan tie. Plus Spoons are now serving Devils Backbone. Still not seen in standard pubco houses, though.

  • Beer sales in the on-trade will decline by about 5%, those in the off-trade by slightly less, but still showing a negative figure. Nope, on-trade sales fell by a mere 0.7%, with the off-trade rising by 3.6% and the overall figure rising by 1.4%. Surely a result of the two-year cut in beer duty.

  • Overall per capita alcohol consumption will continue to fall. Indeed, and bears continued to shit in the woods.

  • There will be more breweries in the UK at the end of the year than at the beginning. And there were. It must peak some time, but not yet, although there seem to be more grumbles from brewers about erosion of margins

  • At least one popular beer brand currently sold at 4.8% ABV will have its strength reduced to 4.5%. “The taste will be unaffected”, its makers will claim. No – there have been numerous strength reductions, but the idea of draught Stella or whatever being cut is still to come. Indeed Tuborg in Spoons was restored to 4.6% from 4.0% following customer complaints.

  • A prominent pub in the Stockport MBC area that nobody had imagined was vulnerable will close its doors for the last time. Not really so – the most prominent was the Adswood Hotel, which had been thought to be under threat for some time. We also lost the Tiviot and Imperial/Petersgate Tavern.

  • Some bizarre concept of which I cannot even dream will become the “next big thing” amongst railway arch brewers and gushing bloggers will claim that “everyone is brewing XXXX”. Saison is so last year. So was it sour beer, or Gose?

  • England will not progress beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup (if that), thus denying a boost to the brewing industry and pub trade. That wasn’t exactly the most difficult prediction to make.
So perhaps I’d better steer clear of making any predictions for 2015 – although I’d say it’s odds-on that Osborne won’t increase alcohol duties in the pre-election budget.

Sunday 28 December 2014

Worse than the smoking ban?

In the sidebar, I say of the possible reduction of the UK drink-driving limit that “In my, view this is at least as much a threat to pubs as the smoking ban.” And it seems that I’m not the only one. In the weeks following the limit cut in Scotland, many pubs, clubs and bars have seen their trade drop off a cliff.

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said the law change would lead to a “complete change to drinking habits” and would be “bigger than the smoking ban.

“Rural pubs especially are at risk because people travel to them,” he said. “This definitely will be a difficult situation for many. It’s having a marked effect.

“It stops people having a glass of wine with a meal or a pint with a meal. People are not taking the chance. It’s a game-changer.

“This is a very strict ban by anyone’s standards. We have lost three pubs a week since the smoking ban and this, for many, is worse.”

It seems that bars in golf clubs, which have a much wider social base in Scotland than south of the border, are especially feeling the pinch. These are classic examples of where the primary purpose of people’s car journeys is something else, but they take the opportunity to combine it with a drink in the bar. It’s easy to say “I could have told you that”, but from my perspective it seems that the cut was nodded through with the support of all four major political parties in Scotland and little organised opposition. The point must also be made that, if drivers have cut down, they must have believed they were obeying the previous law. Existing lawbreakers would be undeterred.

I’ve written before how the growing reluctance to drive after consuming any alcohol at all has been a major and largely unrecognised factor in the decline of pubs. However, a lot of it does still take place, even though commentators within a metropolitan bubble are reluctant to acknowledge it, and across the country there must be tens of thousands of pubs that derive a substantial proportion of their trade from law-abiding drinking drivers.

In the government response to the 1998 consultation on cutting the limit across the UK, it was stated that:

Pubs and hotels can be a locally significant source of employment, and those in rural areas are particularly dependent on access by car. It is uncertain nevertheless how many are critically dependent on customers who expect to drink 3-4 units of alcohol and drive home afterwards and would be disinclined to visit the premises at all if they could not legally do this.
However, this seems to exhibit a lack of understanding of how pubs work, and how people use them. A pub may not be “critically dependent” on this source of trade, but even a 10% drop in takings could put many out of business. And, as I’ve argued before, many customers may take the view that if they’re limited to one drink it’s not worth bothering at all.

By all means put forward the case for cutting the limit on road safety grounds – although it is my belief that it is a very flimsy one. But please don’t try to pretend it wouldn’t have a severe effect on the licensed trade.

Some may say “well, countries like France and Germany have had a 50 mg limit for decades, and still seem to have a thriving brewing industry and bar scene.” Of course this is true, and nobody is suggesting that a limit cut would completely kill off the pub trade or anything near it. But if you look at these countries they have a much lower proportion of alcohol consumed in the on-trade than we do, and likewise don’t have anything like the same rural, village and suburban drinking places. Maybe they never did, but I suspect if you looked around rural areas you would find a fair number that have gone to the wall.

And, while these countries have a lower headline limit, it was generally the case in the past (although it may not still be today) that a blood-alcohol level over 50 mg would be treated no more seriously than a speeding conviction in this country, and that mandatory driving bans did not kick in until some way over 80 mg.

Saturday 27 December 2014


It was sad, but not entirely surprising, news that Robinson’s Brewery are planning to phase out their 1892 cask mild from the end of April next year. Going through various incarnations as Best Mild and Hatters before the current name, this was once their staple beer and must still be the biggest-selling light mild in the country. It featured in a series of classic adverts from the 1930s, often featuring a cheeky-looking mustachioed hiker. Unfortunately the graphic shown below is the only example I can find.

Over the years, while I’ve always been primarily a Bitter man, I’ve drunk a fair bit of it. It’s a pleasant, well-made beer, but to be honest not really one you would go out of your way to sample. But surely that is the point of mild – it is intended to be an undemanding beer that is consumed more for refreshment than intoxication, and deliberately avoids strong and potentially offputting flavours. That may explain why it has not enjoyed any kind of “ironic hipster” revitalisation. The same role in the beer market is now performed by the standard “cooking lagers” – Carling, Carlsberg and Foster’s.

Robinson’s claim that sales of 1892 have slumped by 32% during 2014, so it seems to be a product in steep decline. However, it still enjoys healthy sales in some Robinson’s pubs such as the Armoury in Edgeley, and it has to be said that its demise may have more to do with the fact that the brewery – despite a recent refitting that supposedly made it more “flexible” – has a minimum brew length of 60 barrels, which is rather too much for the current level of sales.

The other local family brewers, Holt’s, Hyde’s and Lees, all still produce cask milds at presumably even smaller volumes, so obviously don’t suffer from the same restrictions. Indeed Sam Smith’s produce both dark and light milds in keg form and appear to shift large quantities of them, helped no doubt by the bargain price. So perhaps if there remains some demand for mild in Robinson’s pubs, they could consider allowing other brewers’ milds to be sold, or even having 1892 contract-brewed by a smaller, more flexible brewery.

They also say that, when 1892 is withdrawn, they will introduce a 3.7% amber bitter as part of their core range, something that has been lacking since the demise of Old Stockport. As I generally like Robinson’s house character, I can see it being something that I will enjoy, but in many people’s eyes it is likely to become a watchword for blandness.

Friday 26 December 2014

Growing old disgracefully

A recent study by academics from Keele University and University College London has punctured some myths about drinking amongst the middle-aged and elderly. On average, they are drinking a lot less than they did ten years ago and, contrary to popular belief, divorced women tend to cut down after splitting up rather than becoming secret dipsomaniacs.

However, there’s one significant exception. The study found that “the group most at risk of heavy drinking in later life are older single men with high levels of education and above average wealth.” I suppose that means me! Apparently the average personal wealth in the UK – including property assets – is around £147,000 and, given that I own a house that is probably worth more than that, and am a university graduate, I must fall into that category. Maybe they have more opportunity for socialising and the funds to pay for it, or perhaps they are intelligent enough to realise that the official drinking guidelines represent the bottom point on a gentle J-curve rather than a cliff of risk.

There was a rather more in-depth report in Wednesday’s Times (unfortunately hidden behind the Murdoch paywall) which quotes Professor Clare Holdsworth of Keele University as saying “We have an image of who we think problematic drinkers are, people who are lonely or down on their luck. But people who are drinking more are actually enjoying themselves.” Oh dear, that will never do, will it?

It also quotes the egregious Professor Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Heath Alliance, as continuing to insist that efforts to reduce overall alcohol consumption would be more worthwhile than specific targeting of problem groups. But attempting to control the behaviour of the whole population has a somewhat totalitarian ring, and surely if I as a responsible adult make a free choice to accept a little bit more risk as a trade-off with a bit more pleasure, that is absolutely none of his business.

The Mail is notorious for health scaremongering, but plumbs new depths today with a story describing us as a nation awash with booze. How exactly that tallies with average alcohol consumption having fallen by a fifth this century is hard to work out, especially since the biggest fall has been amongst the younger age group who are held most responsible for the much-exaggerated “town centre mayhem”. It could even be that people are encouraged to overindulge on the rare occasions they are “off the leash” by the ever-growing censoriousness about even light alcohol consumption in daily life.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Who? Me?

I was gratified to see that I had been named joint winner of the Blogger of the Year by the Boozy Procrastinator blog, saying “Best Beer Blog or WebsiteBeers Manchester for Beer/Bottle reviews and Pub Curmudgeon for all other drink/pub/liberty based thoughts.” I don’t know the author personally, but it’s a locally-based blog that is well worth following, and as well as the beery stuff sometimes touches on wider lifestyle issues such as this post about the proposed ban on smoking in cars carrying children.

At this time of year, many bloggers put together a list of “Golden Pints” – beers, pubs, books etc that have particularly impressed them during the previous twelve months. As you know, I’m not one for constantly haring after the new and unusual, and the news that a new bar had opened where I could perch on an uncomfortable stool and pay £3 a third for beer that tasted like Ronseal wouldn’t exactly fill me with an urge to visit. However, I thought a list of highlights and lowlights of the year might be interesting, although bear in mind that this doesn’t represent my definitive view on the best of anything.

  • New pubs visited – I paid a first-time visit to two excellent National Inventory pubs, the Crown & Anchor in Llanidloes, Mid-Wales (pictured) and the Cock at Broom in Bedfordshire. Both have marvellous, unspoilt, multi-roomed interiors, and the Cock has the added distinction of being a pub without a bar counter. On balance, the Crown & Anchor slightly shades it as, while the beer, service and atmosphere could not be faulted, at the Cock I was served a bacon sandwich where the bacon was so underdone as to be nearly raw. Sadly the Crown & Anchor has been put up for sale as the long-serving licensee wants to retire – let’s hope that any new owners will maintain its character.

  • Pubs (continued excellence) – the Armoury in Edgeley, Stockport. This is a classic street-corner local (now on a busy roundabout) which hosts the regular working party meetings for the Stockport Beer & Cider Festival. It retains a three-roomed layout including a darts-playing vault and always seems to be busy and bustling. It also in my experience consistently serves some of the best Robinson’s beer to be found in their estate.

  • Pub operator (up and coming)Joule’s of Market Drayton, who have continued to expand their estate and carry out high-quality refurbishments in a wood-and-mirrors style while brewing excellent traditional British beers. I still can’t help thinking it’s all a bit too good to be true, though.

  • Pub operator (established)Sam Smith’s, who may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but continue to maintain an estate of proper British boozers where conversation reigns supreme over piped music and TV football and also offer unrivalled value for money. They have also carried out a number of well-judged, low-key refurbishments that have maintained the character and enhanced the appeal of their pubs.

  • Saddest pub loss – the Tiviot in the centre of Stockport, after the retirement of the long-serving licensee. While it had maybe become a little tatty in its later years, it remained a timewarp pub that was like stepping back into the Fifties, with formica tables and a wrought-iron bar mounting, and was much appreciated by the older generation at lunchtimes.

  • Beers (draught) – I’ve drunk a lot of good beers once that didn’t really stick in the mind, but locally I’ve been impressed by Robinson’s two latest seasonals, South Island and the current Indulgence. Hyde’s also deserve credit for their Beer Studio sub-brand, which has steered clear of obvious crowd-pleasers. One or two have seemed like an uneasy juxtaposition of styles, but most have been excellent, and I was particularly struck by two pale, rounded, subtle brews – I think Golden Ochre and Seared Saaz – which were not obvious hop-bombs and all the better for it.

  • Beers (bottled) – it may seem an odd choice, but one I’ve recently been taken by is Greene King’s Old Nutty Hen. I’m a sucker for winter beers with a hint of chestnut, and this delivered in spades at a relatively modest strength of 4.5% which meant you might go back for more.

  • Best pub refurbishment – with the rise in economic confidence, a lot of money has been spent on local pubs in the past year. I was particularly impressed by Robinson’s work at the Hatters Arms in Marple, where they have managed to give the pub a wider and more contemporary appeal while retaining its multi-roomed layout, extensive bench seating and wood-panelled drinking corridor.

  • Worst pub refurbishment – I’ve been critical of Robinson’s scheme at the Farmers Arms in Poynton, but to my mind they take the biscuit with the Baker’s Vaults on Stockport Market Place. The previous layout wasn’t ideal, but it had a kind of faded grandeur about it, while what has replaced it makes very poor use of space, has far too much gimmicky bric-a-brac, and is remarkably devoid of seating full stop, let alone comfortable seating. I’ve also heard reports of piped music being played at ear-splitting volume. You’ll find a far cheaper pint, a welcome absence of music and a far more authentic pub atmosphere in Sam Smith’s Boar’s Head immediately opposite. I know opinions vary on this, but to my eye it’s seriously misplaced.

  • Pub cat – not a lot of competition in this category, but my favourite was the friendly coal-black cat (name not known) in the Railway at Mobberley who is happy just to curl up on your lap. An honourable mention must also go to Legolas (aka Legz) of the Charlotte Despard in London, who happily climbs up on the bar despite only having three legs, and won Outstanding Rescue Cat of the Year.

  • Blogging event – it’s been widely remarked that beer blogging has lost ground to Twitter, but one welcome development was the return of Jeffrey Bell aka Stonch, one of the pioneering beer bloggers, who took a break from it shortly after I started. I remember him as very forthright and combative, but he seems to have mellowed somewhat and is one of the dwindling number of bloggers with an appreciation and understanding of pubs.

  • Beer book – well, I’ve not really read any others apart from the Good Beer Guide, but I would thoroughly recommend Boak & Bailey’s Brew Britannia, which takes a step back from the usual in-depth profiles of beers and breweries to look at the wider trends in the British “alternative beer” market over the past forty or so years. It’s very lucid and readable and its best point is how the authors have succeeded in carrying out personal interviews with many of the key figures involved in the story.

  • Best public policy – George Osborne again making a small cut to beer duty, and on top of this freezing duty for cider and spirits and scrapping the duty escalator for all other categories of drinks. It’s excellent news that the government have at long last abandoned the policy of ever more tightening the fiscal screw on drinkers, and it’s important to remember that if the escalator had still been in place a pint in the pub would be 20-30p dearer. It’s definitely made a difference.

  • Worst public policy – cutting the Scottish drink-driving limit from 80mg to 50mg. This will erode sociability and community spirit, damage the pub trade, criminalise previously law-abiding people and possibly set an unwelcome precedent for a similar measure south of the Border. And there’s no guarantee it will save a single life. It’s essentially an anti-drink and anti-pub measure, not a road safety one.

  • Historic attractionEltham Palace in South-East London, a surprising juxtaposition of the Great Hall of the original mediaeval Royal palace with an ultra-modern Art Deco mansion built by the wealthy Courtauld family in the 1930s which, given its location, seems surprisingly under-appreciated. The lady of the house had a pet ringtailed lemur who enjoyed his own living quarters and had a tendency to bite guests.

Friday 19 December 2014

A little of what you fancy does you good

The "Star Letter" in January's edition of the CAMRA newspaper What's Brewing comes from one Peter Edwardson of Stockport, and reads as follows:

Pete Black (What's Brewing, December) is very wide of the mark when he says "it seems extremely unlikely that there are any dangers of abstaining completely from alcohol".

In fact, there is an overwhelming weight of research evidence indicating that, even excluding those who have had to give up alcohol for specific health reasons, moderate drinkers have a lower mortality rate than total abstainers.

To give just one example, in 2006, the Archives of Internal Medicine, an American Medical Association journal, published an analysis based on 34 well-designed prospective studies and incorporating a million individual subjects, which found that "one to two drinks per day for women and two to four drinks per day for men are inversely associated with total mortality."

What is more, these benefits persist to some extent even if people drink significantly more than the offical guidelines, which in effect represent the bottom point of the risk curve.

While obviously it has to tread carefully, there is plenty of opportunity for CAMRA to take a more robust line in countering the misinformation of the anti-drink lobby.

Sounds like a sensible and well-informed chap. I'll buy him a pint if our paths ever cross...

Thursday 11 December 2014

Who’s killing the British pub?

Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs has produced a new paper called Closing Time? which looks at the reasons for the sharp decline in the pub trade in recent years and considers possible remedies. There’s a summary here and the full document can be downloaded here.

He points out that, since 1980, Britain has lost 21,000 pubs, with half of that coming since 2006. While some of that has been due to long-term social changes, more than half is the result of excessive taxation, unnecessary regulation and government meddling. Beer, and especially beer in pubs, has borne the brunt of the fall in per capita alcohol consumption. He argues that, while the pubcos may not represent a sound business model, their role in pub closures has been much exaggerated.

To claim that people are not going to the pub because PubCos are closing them down is to confuse cause with effect. In truth, pubs in every part of the sector are struggling from a fundamental lack of demand.
This point is reinforced by his blogpost How not to lie with pub closure statistics.

In conclusion, he says

Pubs are struggling from a lack of demand for pubs which has been largely due to government policy. The government cannot - and should not - undo the cultural changes that have led to people choosing alternative leisure activities, but it can undo the damage it has caused through taxation and regulation. If it is genuinely concerned about the future of the pub trade, it should significantly reduce alcohol duty, relax the smoking ban, reduce VAT to 15 per cent (and lower it further for food sales), abolish cumulative impact zones and scrap the late night levy.
Even if you don’t agree with everything he says, it’s well worth downloading and reading. And no doubt it will raise a few hackles amongst those who can’t see any cause of pub decline beyond the evil pubcos.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Give me strength

Once it has emerged from the still, Scotch whisky is put into oak casks to mature for a minimum of three years, often much more. When it is ready for bottling, it has an alcoholic strength of around 60% ABV, but is typically watered down to 40% (sometimes a little higher) for public sale. Occasionally, limited edition bottlings are made of undiluted whiskies at cask strength, which are obviously much more expensive than the standard product, and are much prized by connoisseurs.

I recently spotted that Jennings had sneakily reduced the strength of bottled Cumberland Ale from 4.7% to 4.0%, to bring it into line with the cask version, and now describe it on the bottle as “cask strength”. Likewise, bottled Marston’s Pedigree, from the same brewing group, which was increased from 4.5% to 5.0% and then reduced again, has “Brewed to cask strength” on the label. While this isn’t untrue as such, it comes across as distinctly disingenuous, given that a cask strength whisky is much stronger than the norm, but a cask strength bottled beer seems to be one that is weaker than it used to be.

Needless to say, there’s no price reduction, even though there’s a saving of about 8p per bottle duty plus VAT on duty. Given that this seems to be happening with more and more beers, isn’t it perhaps time for a two-tier pricing structure to be brought in for premium bottled ales? There’s nothing wrong as such with beers of 4.0% or less, but at present there tends to be no benefit in choosing one in preference to one of 5.0% or more. I would also say that, subjectively, sub-4% beers often taste a bit watery in bottle whereas they are fine on cask, which is maybe a reason why the bottled versions were made a bit stronger in the first place.

I wonder if we’ll see the same happening with other beers like Bombardier, London Pride and Spitfire where the bottled version is currently significantly stronger than the cask.

Sunday 7 December 2014

Culture shift

Over the years, I’ve sometimes listed a change in ethnic make-up as a cause of pub decline in inner-urban working-class areas. Now Tory peer Lord Hodgson has acknowledged this trend, but has rather inevitably been accused of “scapegoating Muslims”.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who was previously a director at one of Britain's biggest brewers, said that the "tides of history" have led to large numbers of Muslims in Britain's cities who do not drink.

He said that "socioeconomic change" is more responsible for the decline of pubs than "rapacious" pub chains.

He said: "I identify three fundamental features behind this. The first is the rapid rate of socioeconomic change in Britain. Twenty-five years ago, the company of which I was a director would have operated probably a dozen pubs in Kidderminster, the home of the carpet trade.

"The carpet trade has gone and there are three pubs left. In areas of Nottingham, Leicester, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham the increase in the Muslim population, who do not drink, leads to many pub closures. It is exceptionally hard for a publican who has put 10 years of his life into trying to build up a business to accept the inevitabilities of these tides of history."

But surely it’s simply stating a fact of life, not a case of “look at these bloody Muslims coming over here and shutting our pubs”. If an area becomes largely populated by people who for cultural reasons do not drink alcohol, then inevitably the potential customer base for its pubs will reduce. It’s not a uniform nationwide effect, but it is very obvious that this factor has led to large inner-urban areas of places like Oldham, Rochdale, Blackburn and Bradford losing most, if not all, of their pubs. In the comments to my blogpost, Simon Cooke says:
In sunny Bradford - and I suspect some other areas too - there's a further factor. Bradford's working class is now overwhelmingly Muslim and they don't drink (or rather they don't drink in pubs - almost all the Asians I know drink).
It has also been mentioned in relation to the Gateway in East Didsbury, where it’s not so much Muslims but middle-class Hindus moving in locally.

I wonder which bright spark will be the first to come up with the idea that pubs need to “broaden their appeal” by stopping selling alcohol. And it’s interesting that comments have been disabled on the news article.

Friday 5 December 2014

Taking the low road

Today sees the implementation of the lower drive-drive limit in Scotland. I’ve discussed the rights and wrongs of this at length in the past, so don’t propose to revisit that now. What is done is done. But here are some miscellaneous reflections on the topic.

Scotland has a distinctively different and more urban pub landscape than England and Wales. It doesn’t really have the characteristic village and country pubs that are commonplace south of the Border. For many people, the archetypal English pub is a thatched and half-timbered rural inn, whereas in Scotland it’s more likely to be a wood-and-mirrors city gin palace or a grim stand-up bar in the ground floor of a tenement block.

I can think of numerous pubs in England and Wales that it would be very hard to see surviving a limit cut, but there are proportionately fewer in Scotland. Having said that, outside the Central Belt it is a far-flung and sparsely-populated country, and a lot of drink-driving of both legal and illegal varieties takes place. Trade is unlikely to suddenly fall off a cliff, but outside the big cities there’s likely to be a slow but steady fall-off.

Many of those who pontificate on this subject seem to do so from inside a London (or Edinburgh) bubble and fail to appreciate that, across large swathes of the country, there are plenty of pubs where most, if not practically all, the customers travel by car. There must be hundreds of thousands of people who scarcely ever visit a pub unless they have driven there themselves. The politically correct may be reluctant to admit it, but very often that is the reality of the pub trade.

This is an interesting perspective on the issue from New Zealand, where a similar limit reduction has recently been implemented. The author suggests that those modelling the effects have significantly underestimated the extent to which it is likely to change behaviour. If you’re going out for a meal, it probably won’t put you off, but if you’re just calling in for a drink and a chat, you may very well conclude that if you can only have one pint rather than two, it isn’t really worth bothering at all.

The effects may well be like those of the smoking ban – a slow erosion of the customer base and camaraderie of pubs as people one by one drop out from the group and their friends increasingly follow suit. And, just like the smoker exiled to a draughty outside shelter, the drinker nursing his solitary pint where for twenty or thirty years he legally enjoyed a couple is going to feel that his pubgoing experience is forever diminished. People may put up with it – indeed a higher proportion of smokers than non-smokers still visit pubs – but they will never become entirely reconciled to it and it will create an abiding legacy of bitterness.

The point is often made that, following cuts in traffic policing, the chances of getting caught are very small. There’s undoubtedly much truth in this, but if people were willing to take the chance surely they would have been doing so already with the higher limit. The vast majority of the pub customers who currently believe they are keeping within the 80mg limit will adjust their behaviour to keep within 50mg, as they fundamentally wish to abide by the law and also don’t want to be seen breaking it by others. And, even if the chances of being stopped are negligible, the potential consequences are severe and in some cases could result in loss of livelihood and home and marital breakdown. Plus police attending accidents will now routinely breathalyse all drivers involved, even if obviously not at fault, so you can end up being tested due to circumstances entirely beyond your control. And no licensee should feel happy to be depending on customers who are taking a chance on breaking the law.

The New Zealand article also makes the point that those drivers who want to make sure they don’t fall foul of the law tend to keep well below the limit rather than possibly nudging up against it. With a lower limit, they will do the same. I also get the impression that New Zealand, and Australia, are much more willing to publicise the potential effect on blood-alcohol levels of various types and quantities of drinks, while in this country we continue to parrot the head-in-sand mantra of “don’t touch a drop” which doesn’t reflect the reality of real-world behaviour and also fails to take account of the morning-after issue.

Thursday 4 December 2014

A middle-class embrace

Here’s a perceptive and entertaining article by Peter Robins in which he looks at how the metropolitan middle classes have finally taken beer snobbery to their hearts.

Unlike many such media pieces, it’s pretty well-informed, with the rise of the railway arch brewer nailed and saisons accurately described as “what a brewer makes to show they can do something subtler than their big IPA”. The one slightly false note is where he refers to “Relatively low alcohol content (most of the time) makes it possible to complete a wine-tasting-style ‘flight’ without either spitting out or reducing yourself to a Sideways-style mess.” Well, it may have a low alcohol content compared to wine, but much “craft” beer is actually stronger than mainstream brews.

In the conclusion he looks at what the future may hold:

I’ve begun to wonder whether anything could pop this bubble, and what I think about is the force that held back middle-class beer snobbery to begin with: the fixed prejudice against real ale. No matter how many demographic surveys Cask Marque produced, no matter how many Sumerian wheat goddesses Camra dug up for its marketing, for most people real ale still meant nerdy old men with beards. Craft beer, by contrast, means nerdy young men with beards. And while nerds have a great deal more cultural capital than they used to, young men continue to grow old. Within a few years, the craft beer boom may seem as difficult to separate from the ridiculous fashions of the 2010s as the real ale boom was from the fashions of the 1970s. If we’re lucky, it will leave as many enjoyable new flavours behind.
There was a brief period in the early days of CAMRA when beer snobbery did raise its head with the middle-class gent in the saloon bar holding a dimpled mug of Ruddles County or Wadworths 6X and pontificating about its virtues, but by the 1980s it had become the opposite of aspirational.