Beer Matters

Taxation, Mensuration, Celebration, Evangelisation and Rectification

Itís been a while since I last wrote, so Iíd like to share with you, as preachers say, a few recent developments in the world of beer.

There are changes afoot regarding taxation. As we all know, there is already far too much duty imposed on beer in this country, to the extent that publicans can no longer make a decent profit on their core service (i.e. selling beer) and have to resort to food, quizzes and karaoke to bring the punters in. So itís not good news that the government is proposing to increase duty on beers over 7.5% ABV ďto tackle the problem of binge drinkingĒ. This strikes me as a typical politiciansí ploy to ďbe seen to be doing somethingĒ without fully appreciating the issues involved.

Beer strength is innately bound up with its style. English ales are traditionally at the lower end of the spectrum (3 to 5%) and habitually drunk in reasonable quantities (i.e. pints and formerly quarts), particularly the weaker ones which are intended as thirst quenchers. Belgian beers are invariably stronger (6 to 12%) and designed to be sipped in smaller measures. In these days when consumers are becoming more discerning and adventurous in their drinking habits and craft brewers are responding by experimenting with a wider range of styles, it seems disingenuous of the government to place obstacles in the way of this commendable trend for reasons which are probably irrelevant. Are large numbers of our citizens getting off their heads on Chimay or Duval or even Orkney Skull Splitter? With the possible exception of Carlsberg Special Brew, beer is not generally the beverage of choice for those seeking oblivion from lifeís cares. From my observations, the usual vehicles for serious alcohol abuse are cheap fortified wines (ďBritishĒ sherry, Buckfast Tonic) or industrial cider - and possibly those ghastly coloured things that young people drink in Wetherspoons.

Maybe, like me, you donít drink strong beers that often so the extra duty is unlikely to be a personal burden, but thatís not the point. Actually, duty is to be reduced at the other end of the scale but - wait for it - this generous concession only applies to ďbeersĒ of less than 2.8% ABV.

Another change in the pipeline is the introduction of the two-thirds-of-a-pint glass. We should no doubt be thankful that they are not foisting yet another metric measure on us, but do we really need it? Can you envisage circumstances where you might want to drink more than a half but less than a pint? I canít. Be very wary! Call me suspicious, but this could be the first stage in a move to abolish the pint by stealth. I can hear the arguments now: ďA pint is three units but two-thirds-of-a-pint is only two. And we have to encourage responsible drinking, donít we?Ē.

This year sees the fortieth birthday of the Campaign for Real Ale *, without which the recent history of our brewing industry might have been vastly different, and it gives me great pleasure to report that the four founder members, Michael Hardman, Jim Makin, Bill Mellor and Graham Lees, are still very much alive and well - proof, if any were needed, that regular consumption of a few pints of good beer does you no harm. (Speaking of which, the result of my recent liver function test was normal.)

Iím writing this at the beginning of National Cask Ale Week (1 to 9 October), a joint initiative by Cask Marque and CAMRA to raise awareness of real ale and encourage more drinkers to try it (Apparently only 52% have, although thatís up from 35% in 2008). Among the other statistics quoted in the publicity material is the finding that cask ale drinkers are twice as likely as other drinkers to visit the pub once a week or more. Thatís hardly surprising, but a timely reminder that our local pubs need all the support they can get. I know Iím mostly preaching to the converted here but, if your band is not in the habit of going for a pint after practice, why not encourage them to give it a try? Itís part of our ringing heritage after all.

Looking at my website the other day I realised that the recommended beers page is woefully out of date - for example I have not included any of the excellent ales from the Purity Brewery (Ubu, Mad Goose) or the magnificent Thornbridge Jaipur. I shall endeavour to rectify that over the coming weeks and maybe produce another article or two in the process.

Maximus Bibendus

* A film, rather unimaginatively entitled The History of CAMRA, has been produced to mark the anniversary and is available from www.camra.org.uk or www.britishlocalhistories.com (price £10).

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

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