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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Friday, 18 March 2011

Stunning hypocrisy proves alcohol regulators simply don't get the point.

The venue used by a government minister to launch British Tourism Week is BANNED from selling beers above 5% ABV - but faces no restrictions on the wine and spirits it can sell.

"Can I have a Worthington White Shield?"
"No! Fancy a Tequila slammer instead?"
I spotted this story yesterday in The Publican.  At first it was mildly irritating, and then, while I was being pissed off with the total and utter ineptitude of both O2 and my email so-called provider, Fasthosts, I realised I was very angry with this too.

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.

8 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

You're sounding more and more like me, Pete ;-)

Realistically, there's virtually no draught beer above 5% ABV sold in mainstream pubs, and not a huge amount of bottled, so for this particular venue it probably makes little difference, but the principle is of course utterly wrong.

We'll see more of this next week when the government impose higher duty on beers above 7.5%.

Bill Bradshaw said...

Unbelievable...and depressingly typical.

Your use of the word 'stunning' to describe up their hypocrisy sums it up perfectly.

Crossing over from real beers over 5% into real ciders (the majority of which are nearly always over that and naturally closer to 6.5%) I want to ask 'Does that mean no real cider can be served either? To tourists? Who come to Somerset? and want to try...cider?'

Some of the best cider in the world is produced within Somerset and the surrounding areas but people who might make a trip to the pier might never get to try it, no matter how responsible they are, because that choice has been taken away from them. Even Weston Super Mares own award winning RCH Brewery (6.5 miles away from the pier) won't be able to serve three of their beers.

"Come to Britain, we love tourists but don't drink these beers or those ciders that we're really good at making and represent so much of our heritage and culture, you're not allowed. But do come back!"

Anonymous said...

As a point of information, Orval is actually only 6.2% ABV, but the point obviously still stands.

Anonymous said...

From Dave Atherton.

Dr. Vivienne Nathanson of the BMA has softened us up with an opening salvo on state nannying to come on alcohol. However you really want to look at this, a joint effort between me and Dick Puddlecote. For sheer hypocrisy and double standards the BMA has a wine club and last year had a very agreeable 2 weeks touring Scottish whiskey distilleries.

http://dickpuddlecote.blogspot.com/2011/03/do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do.html

Pete Brown said...

Bollocks, beer dyslexia again - I meant Duvel! Will correct it now cos Orval is not growing at 40% as far as I know...

Phil said...

Orval is not growing at 40% as far as I know

[Robinson]
Would that it were, Mr Brown. Ah, would that it were.
[/Robinson]

What's needed is clearly a Beer Awareness outreach campaign for ACPO. (Not joking, actually, although I've no idea about who or how.)

Birkonian said...

As we know the weekend supplements are full of articles about wine and mostly ignore beer. Wine seems to be getting stronger year on year. 14 and 15% red wines are now commonplace but I don't hear the health lobby screaming about that.
When I was a seriously under age drinker looking to get seriously drunk before the youth club disco it was British cheap sherry that was the weapon of choice, not beer. Remember RSVP and QC?

LearningByReading said...

Alcohol regulation has always lagged,shall we call it, the conventional wisdom of those in the know.