Beer Matters

Use it or lose it

About 40 years ago Christopher Hutt wrote a book called “The Death of the English Pub”. The pub might have argued like Mark Twain that “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” (although Hutt was mainly concerned with the decline of traditional ale and the book quickly became associated with the nascent real ale revival movement). But there is no gainsaying the fact that, since that time, the pub has been in decline. Pub closures averaged 16 a week last year - that’s a deeply depressing statistic.

The reasons for the decline of the pub are many. Clearly the breathalyser has had a significant impact. Obviously I don’t wish to condone drunken driving, but drink-driving legislation has undoubtedly altered pub-going habits, particularly in rural areas where many village pubs have closed and others have survived only by re-branding themselves as restaurants and family-friendly entertainment centres. The other major cause for concern is aggressive price-cutting by supermarkets. These two factors combined have increasingly made drinking at home a more attractive option for many people.

Interestingly, the smoking ban appears not to have had the impact that might have been expected, largely due to the ingenuity of pub owners in providing heated outdoor smoking areas and the tenacity of smokers who stand huddled in doorways, pint and fag in hand.

On the whole though, successive governments have not been kind to the pub, what with the man Blair advocating “continental cafe culture” and the continual increases in taxation which now accounts for up to 40% of the cost of a pint (duty + VAT). Then there are the “recommended daily intake” and the whingeing about “binge drinking”. Here, as the award-winning beer writer Pete Brown has eloquently pointed out, beer is being unfairly pilloried as the root of all evil, whereas it ought to be promoted as a sensible choice (particularly ordinary ales with a modest alcohol content).

When you drink in a pub you know exactly what you’ve had. And of course part of the landlord’s job is to politely advise customers when they’ve had enough - and show them the door if they’ve had too much. No such constraints apply when drinking at home. There are a few signs that the responsible drinking lobby is belatedly beginning to realise that the pub is an ally, not an enemy. Unfortunately that didn’t stop Chancellor Osborne perpetuating the“beer duty escalator” (whereby the tax is raised by 2% above the rate of inflation) in his recent budget *.

[Incidentally the idea of legislation aimed at promoting sales of beer to discourage excessive consumption of spirits is nothing new; the 1830 Beerhouse Act did just that, arguably succeeding where the earlier Gin Act which merely increased duty on gin had failed.]

So there you have it. A vital feature of our national heritage and a focal point of our local communities is in serious decline for a combination of reasons, many of which can be laid at the door of our government.

Another pub lost to the Exercise

What can we ringers do about it? I’ve said before that I’m dismayed at the number of towers where it is no longer the norm to go to the pub after practice. Pubs traditionally relied on the custom of local groups like ringers, choirs, cricket clubs etc. Fortunately most of those I normally ring and sing with are doing their bit, but Mrs Bibendus comes home with disturbing reports of quarter peal bands being led into unsuitable establishments by drinkers of Pinot Grigio. Not that I have anything against Pinot Grigio you understand - why, just a few months ago I enjoyed a stunning 13 year old PG during a gastronomic extravaganza at Ramson’s restaurant in Ramsbottom - but most of the stuff dispensed under that label is pretty bland and, for Heaven’s sake, it’s not what you want after a couple of hours on the end of a rope, is it?

So, it’s up to you. If you value your local, use it or lose it!

Maximus Bibendus

* If you wish to protest about the duty escalator, please sign the on-line petition.

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

Content © 2003-13