Thursday 11 May 2023

Boys’ (and girls’) bitter

From time to time, you see stories about under-18s being ID’d in shops when trying to buy alcohol-free beers. On the face of it, this seems heavy-handed, as anything with an alcohol content of 0.5% ABV can be legally purchased and consumed by under-18s. However, the issue is complicated by the fact that these are products that carry the names of alcohol brands, and are specifically designed, as far as possible, to mimic the appearance and taste of normal-strength beers.

The Morning Advertiser has recently been looking at the legalities of selling these products to under-18s. The conclusion is that, while there is no law against it, as they do not legally qualify as alcohol, it does create several problems, such giving the impression to others that young people are drinking alcohol, and the fact that it may not be immediately clear to staff which products are alcoholic, and which are not. Therefore most pubs are understandably unwilling to do it, and will ID any customers wanting to buy them. You also have to wonder how often under-18s actually order anything at the bar of a pub anyway, although they might be more likely to buy meals with drinks in a casual dining restaurant.

There is a more fundamental question, though. While they certainly meet a genuine demand amongst adults, one of the key reasons alcohol-free beers exist is to act as a marketing tool for the parent brand. That’s why every major lager brand now has its own alcohol-free version. So we are asking whether under-18s should be buying a product that not only is a form of alcohol marketing, but specifically sets out to mimic the experience of consuming the standard product. It’s more than just wearing a Guinness-branded T-shirt.

When I was a kid, we used to enjoy chocolate cigarettes, and pretend we were smoking the real thing as consumed by adults. They tended to be American brands such as Camels and Chesterfields rather than British ones like Players and Rothmans, but they certainly looked pretty realistic. These obviously would be frowned on nowadays, but there is something of a read-across to under-18s and alcohol-free beers. Nobody would raise any objections if the same products were sold as something like “Malt Cola”, with no mention of beer or links to alcohol brands, but then they would lose much of their appeal to adults.

I’ve often argued that we tend to be rather heavy-handed about alcohol marketing potentially appealing to under-18s, but few people would seriously argue that it’s OK to specifically market alcoholic drinks to them. Therefore, while I see no problem with a parent giving their child an alcohol-free beer, it’s probably not a good idea for pubs or shops to sell them directly to under-18s.


  1. Many years ago, the beer served in the old 'Castle Hotel' in Wellington Square in Hastings was labelled 'Boys' and 'Old Boys'.

    I cannot remember which brewery supplied the hotel, but as it was the HQ of the local rugby club, one can assume that they sold up and retired as soon as the ten-millionth pint was consumed and the brewery owners went on to live in The Bahamas...

    When 'The Castle Hotel' was demolished to make way for a Tesco - one of the first in the county, the HQ was transferred to the 'Castle Bar', under 'The Queens Hotel' in the town, but the names of the beers remained the same so we all felt 'at home' for a while!

    The beer was pretty good, and a couple of pints before a game set up the whole late afternoon back at the clubhouse, and what this has to do with the subject matter of the post is a complete mystery, but I just wanted to record a fabulous time back in the sixties...

  2. I well remember buying cans of Shandy Bass as a young teenager, maybe 14/15, back in the 1990s. Much like candy cigarettes, which I also remember, we drank it because it gave us some ersatz adulthood, and of course the Bass logo was prominently displayed. I think it is more concerning that breweries package their full strength beers in cans that are distinctly in the style of soft drinks than NA products being similar to their regular products.

    1. I don't think shandy falls into the same category, as it's always been seen as a diluted drink suitable for older children. Plus it doesn't attempt to ape normal beer. Incidentally, you hardly ever see people order shandy in pubs now, do you?

      I don't think cartoon can designs really encourage kids to drink craft beers, but I can't say I feel much outrage when their brewers fall foul of the Portman Group.

    2. Shandy is an excellent drink when you are very thirsty after a hard days excercise but don;t want to get rat-arsed.
      In Germany shandy is known as radler bier - cyclists beer - for that reason.

    3. T'other Mudgie13 May 2023 at 17:34

      "you hardly ever see people order shandy in pubs now, do you?" except that I've seen it bought twice today in Wolverhampton, and two pubs there selling pickled eggs. Probably to do with the food and beer matching that we're all meant to be interested in.
      "Meal and pint £8" in the Stile is what we all need.

    4. Shandy has been almost completely displaced by Schofferhofer, a fruit radler, and a couple of other less well-known brands.

  3. Real Camels are great if you can get the US ones !

  4. Modern puritanism is a strange thing and anyone can hark back at how things were different and freer when they were a kid.

    But back then the nonces had the key thrown away rather than let out after six months, so maybe it is better to drive your kids to school these days. The roads are full of parked cars so no, that's not a place for a ball game really, so they get supervised team sports in a leisure centre. It's not better and arguably worse. Kids are being let down.

    Coddled and wrapped in cotton wool at one end and free to access hardcore filth on their computers because they know more about parental filters that their parents. Turn off the internet and bring back park hedge jazz mags ! That's how you should learn what lady parts looks like, Old school ones with full 80s bush!

    The idea that a beer commercial is harmful is rubbish. The legal drinking age is okay and there's no harm in the tall lad that can grow a bit of lip fluff but a year or tow under buying some can of whatever is heavily advertised and of the moment for him and his mates. If kids want a none alcoholic lager, more fool them. It's not as nice as Vimto but if that's what the kids want, let them have it.

    Though to be fair the telly when was a kid was full of the golden age of lager commercials so you might say they have some influence. But that influence is an adult enjoyment of beer, all kinds of it and even some of the muck you lot drink. I entered the house of fun keen to try it's delights, cautious about French ladies as my granddad told me they all had the clap, rather than terrified. Maybe the current crop of kids deserve the same.

    1. Very very true. And you can't beat a full bush and 20 Capstan Full Strength.

    2. "What a happy thought, hey Mabel,
      The beer I like is Black Label,
      Always wanted in good company...
      Carling Black Label Beer,
      Yes Carling, Black label;
      Sparkling bright and clear...

      And that's from way back in the sixties!

  5. When I was about 16 it was considered a challenge to get a pint in a pub, simply because it 'wasn't allowed'. We might well have drunk less if it had been permitted (to drink). There was a pub opposite the school with two bars and it was understood that the staff used one bar and pupils the other. There was only trouble if a pupil tried to get served in the staff side. This was around 1972-74. [IPW]

    1. When I was a lad there was a snooker club a few hundred yards from the school well known for being happy to serve pints to anyone. As teenagers we used to often frequent it at lunchtime, or during free periods for a pint of Tennants. The school uniforms must have been a bit of a give away to the staff and there were also a few teachers who frequented the establishment after 4pm. We never had enough money fo more than a couple of pints and I assume as there was never any trouble both parties allowed the practice to continue.

  6. Professor Pie-Tin14 May 2023 at 14:57

    Well I'm reliving my youth down here on the island of Ko Samui in Thailand.
    It's hot but not unbearably so ( 34c), the rather tasty Chang is 70Baht (£1.70 ) a bottle, dinner for two with beers about £15.
    But best thing of all after years of strict drug laws they decided their jails were overcrowded with low-level drug dealers and users.
    So last year they decriminalised weed, released 1500 from prison and taxed profits from regulated head shops at 30%.
    It's like being 18 and on the hippy trail once again and Mrs Professor Pie-Tin and I have had a glorious two weeks on the beach, on the piss and on the toot.
    Cambodia next then Bali where I suspect things aren't quite so tasty.
    Lots of temples though.

    1. Professor Pie-Tin25 May 2023 at 02:31

      Bali update.
      After nearly a month in SE Asia without even a sniff of Brexit Soup I seem to have developed quite a liking for Pilsner lager.
      Currently breakfasting by our villa pool with a large bottle of something called Bintang, a rather tasty 4.7% throat charmer.
      I've started early as today I'll be watching the funeral feed via my dodgy Firestick of an old pal who pegged it this week aged 77.
      We once attempted to walk the Camino de Santiago but gave up after two days and fucked off to Bilbao to get legless for a week.
      He was a successful artist who owned a yacht and drove a Porsche before suffering a midlife crisis when his wife ran off with a fellow rug-muncher. His pals nurses him through years of alcohol abuse before he met a lovely Irish girl and became a father of three late on in life.
      Quite a few of my chums have shuffled off this mortal coil recently.
      I must address my own unhealthy habits I suppose but it's 9.30am and already toasty so I'll postpone it for a while as I sit in the pool with that bottle of Bintang.

    2. Professor Tin Pie, pints of Chang lager in Ko Samui are you sure you weren’t with lads from Black rock college

  7. Its interesting that the Morning Advertiser could find no legality issue, as I remember this issue came up at a beer festival in a local bar over the August bank holiday last year I was at, and as is increasingly common in lots of pubs they have a kids are allowed with adults during the day kind of setup. And there was this big group of atypical rugby club style dads,mums, and one of them had their teenage son with him, out on an afternoon drinking session.

    Now maybe there was more to it than I witnessed as they did seem to be quite a pain to get served, all the women drinking exotic gin cocktails and all the men trying to taste as many beers they could get away with before settling on something that was basically just the nearest to lager.

    Anyway they did this big order, and last beer he ordered was an alcohol free beer for his son, which I think was either the Heineken or Peroni one,and the barman looked at him and said Im sorry I cant serve you that because your son is underage.

    Perplexed looks all around,but its alcohol free ? so the barman then went on to explain because the alcohol free beer looked exactly like a normal beer, they could go back to their table and swap the beers around and then the underage kid could then be seen to be drinking illegally in their bar, which was a bad thing. So their bar policy was no alcohol free beers to be sold to anyone underage and seemingly that applied if they were in a group situation too, where clearly anyone of the group could have wanted to drink an alcohol free beer as well,so in the end they settled on a coke.

    But it did puzzle me at the time what the strict licensing situation was, since I remember being brought up on half bitter shandys as a kid, that my parents had bought at the bar and brought back to us, and no-one remotely caring what I was drinking.

    1. Spoons won't sell alcohol free beers to under 18s either. They say it is because they look so similar to the real products that their staff will find it difficult to police.

  8. There are pubs in the CAMRA good beer guide with no entry for under 21s policies.
    Pub near me is in it. Dining pub full of reserved tables, drinkers discouraged. No entry for under 21s unless accompanied by their parents for sunday lunch.
    Pathetic if you ask me.
    CAMRA don't want the kids in pubs, only old men. And when they die, pubs will die.

  9. Best to keep underage people out of pubs. I hate kids in pubs.

    1. Somebody who is 18 is not underage

  10. Hi Mr. Curmudgeon. Off topic. I stumbled upon this while browsing around the internet. As a real ale drinker I am not sure what to make of it.

    I do enjoy some of the Otter Breweries beers and will probably try this stuff if it becomes available around here.

    1. I'm a big fan of the standard Otter beers as well, Andy, and would give this "lightly carbonated cask" (?) a try to see how light the carbonation was.

      For me the most important aspect to freshness is how quick the beer is shifting; a pint of Otter Bitter that's lasted longer than a few days is often a disappointment.

    2. People tend to arbitrarily divide beer into "cask" and "keg" and unfortunately this may end up falling between two stools. If dispensed through a handpump it might be condemned as misleading.

      I agree with Martin that the key aspect of freshness is that the beer hasn't been on too long.

    3. I can't see how a carbonated beer could be served through a genuine handpump setup, Mudge. especially as most are now diaphragm assisted.

    4. Over the years there have been many examples of keg beers being dispensed through what appear to be handpumps, although generally the handle simply activates a switch, and if you look closely it doesn't replicate the action of a genuine handpump.


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