Beer Matters

Figuratively Speaking

Since I’ve been writing about beer I tend to receive rather a lot of information on the subject: press releases, newsletters and invitations drop daily into the Bibendus inbox, brochures and magazines come through the letterbox - I even get free samples occasionally! A recent arrival was the Beer and Pub Association’s “Statistical Handbook 2012”. It contains 136 pages, mostly filled with rather daunting tables of figures, but one or two statistics may be of interest.

The Czech Republic is still the world’s most prolific beer drinking nation with an average of 144 litres per head in 2010. Germany (107) and Austria (106) were the runners-up. At 74 litres * we are well down the list behind Poland, Ireland, Lithuania, Finland, Australia, the USA (a surprising 82 litres - I wonder how much of that is down to “craft” beer drinkers and how much to Homer Simpson and his buddies knocking back the fizzy yellow stuff), Slovenia, Slovakia, Luxembourg and Romania. The biggest beer producer is China with 445.6 million hectolitres, although that only amounts to 33 litres per person.

The alarming rate of pub closures, to which I referred last time, is borne out by the statistics: the total number of “on” licences in England and Wales was down from 116,937 in 2010 to 103,887 in 2011 (this includes restaurants as well as pubs). Figures for earlier years are broken down by type of establishment, with pub numbers showing a gradual increase from around 65,000 in 1970 to 82,000 in 2003, since when they have been in decline. (Restaurant licences more than trebled over the same period, while the number of “off” licences rose from 28,000 to 49,000 and has remained at that level for the last few years.) Pub ownership by brewers has declined from 71% in 1980 to 17% in 2011.

Looking at regional beer prices, I was perplexed to discover that part of this fair land of ours is now apparently called “Harwest”. Search engines failed to enlighten me as to which part that might be but then I noticed another region was “Granada”, which I had hitherto believed to be in Spain, whereupon I eventually concluded that they must be television regions (not having possessed a TV set for some years, I am not up to date with these things). The average national “on licence” price of a pint last year was £2.86 compared with just £1.16 in the off trade. No wonder more people are drinking at home.

It came as no surprise that the UK has the second highest rate of beer duty in the EU at 55.4p per pint (Finland has the highest rate at 69.8p and Romania the lowest at 4.1p). Meanwhile the “beer duty escalator” remains in place. If you haven’t yet signed the petition, please consider doing so.

* A rough calculation indicates that Mrs Bibendus and I each drink at least 8 times that amount, so some people clearly aren’t pulling their weight.

Enough of statistics. I have recently returned from Madeira and, whilst that island has much to commend it (spectacular scenery, exhilarating walks, fresh seafood and of course Madeira wine), it is scarcely a beer drinkers’ paradise. Coral lager, brewed on the island, is ubiquitous; even ice cream vans sell it, as I fortuitously discovered at the end of a long, hot walk (but the bars sell ice cream so quid pro quo). Mainland Portuguese beers such as Super Bock and Sagres (familiar to anyone who patronises Nando’s) are not uncommon. But should you happen to visit Funchal, do try the Beer House on the harbour. Their home-brewed wheat beer is most refreshing and also goes rather well with seafood (the food is excellent too, although not cheap).

[You may of heard of the outbreak of Dengue fever in Madeira. Fortunately I managed to avoid it, unlike another well-known ringer who was there the week before. Get well soon, Sheila, and remember Uncle Max’s advice: a couple of pints will do you the world of good.]

Maximus Bibendus

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

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