|"Can I have a Worthington White Shield?" |
"No! Fancy a Tequila slammer instead?"
The newly rebuilt Grand Pier at Weston-Super-Mare was used by tourism minister John Penrose, along with Weston's local MP, to launch British Tourism Week this week. Presumably, this location was deemed significant because it represents what's great about British tourism and British culture.
However, the Publican learned that when the pier, previously destroyed by fire, reopened last October, police intervened in the licensing application process and demanded that the owners enforce a ban on beers over 5% so the location would not become “known as somewhere that sold strong beer”. No such stipulation was made regarding wines and spirits.
So a quality, classic British ale like Worthington White Shield (5.6%) is banned, but shots and shooters are not.
OK, so are they doing this because they hate beer? Of course not. They're doing it because Weston is home to 11% of the UK's entire stock of drug and alcohol rehabilitation places, and piers in seedy seaside towns are classic venues for hardcore drunks to gather over a few purple tins.
But it's yet another case of stupid action following reasonable intent. The pier staff say it doesn't bother them - presumably they don't see a market for Belgian ales, American IPAs or even nice homegrown winter warmers and strong ales in the average promenader.
But what if that were to change? Duvel, for example (8.5%), is growing by 40% year on year and appearing in fashionable bars not normally noted for beer geekery. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6%) and Brooklyn Lager (5.2%) are similarly breaking out into mainstream pubs, bars and restaurants, but are banned from Weston pier for the foreseeable future.
This is a classic example of our obsession with ABV in beer masking the real nature of the problem. It's insulting to brewers and drinkers to show no distinction between them and the tramp drinking Tennent's Super.
But worse than that, as is always the case with rulings like this, I doubt it does much to help the people it's meant to.
The eternal frustration in the debate about alcohol is how little attention those regulating it actually pay to the data. I've said many, many times that alcohol consumption, binge drinking, alcohol related disorder etc are all in long term decline. The one anomaly is that liver-related hospital complaints are still up (or they were until last year, when that figure fell too). What this demonstrates is that while the total population is drinking less, a particular segment is drinking to increasingly harmful levels.
So what are they drinking? Well, beer volumes over the last twenty years have gone off a cliff. But within that total decline in alcohol consumption, wine and spirits consumption is actually up. Every significant drinking epidemic in history is strongly linked with a sharp rise in spirits consumption, and that's what's happening here - the vast majority of people who drink solely to get drunk do so on spirits. If you don't believe me, just ask them - I did.
And that's the real tragedy - the recovering alcoholics of Weston-Super-Mare are still able to go on to the pier and drink as much vodka as they wish. Meanwhile, beer is yet again made a completely unjustified scapegoat for alcohol abuse.
Ignorance. Complete and utter ignorance.