Wednesday 24 February 2010


Suppose you had a son who was turning 18. Suppose you'd even managed to get him to like and appreciate good beer. Suppose, despite his age, he had a sense of humour and was making reasonable progress from the terrible teenage years showing promise as a young man. You'd want to get him something really nice for his birthday, wouldn't you?

Best thing to do is go on his facebook page and find the most embarrassing photo you can find, write a few silly words and paste it onto a Trashy Blonde. In my case he is my step-son, he's not a bad lad and I'm almost proud to have had some input to his upbringing. is a good idea that I like. I've been avoiding blogging about it as I thought I was getting a bit too BrewDog heavy on here. Hopefully this will lighten the tone a bit.

Anyway, why not Punk and Dog? it's easy and all on-line.

Monday 22 February 2010

Market research and brainstorming

This is an odd post, I'm not going to give you any opinion at all. It is possible you know, occasionally I like to listen to what other people have to say.

Imagine you have just inherited a large amount of money, enough to set up a brewery to your own exacting specifications, enough so that for the first few years you don't need to make a profit. Imagine you have the ability and financial resources to make any beer you want, any style, any quantity and using whatever dispense method you like.

What would be the beers you would make? What would you call them and how would you package them? What style of label design would you have, closures and bottle shapes and sizes?

Would you try to recreate something somebody has done before but has ceased production? Would you try and develop new styles? Strong beers, weak beers or standard session beers? What would you do?

You can say anything you like, providing it doesn't mention the war. Golly, you can even suggest making beers with drinkability if you really want.

Saturday 20 February 2010


I've always been a fan of stronger ales, ever since I first tasted Old Peculier many years ago. For me the fuller richer flavours of these beers are far more satisfying than standard beers. Strangely, I can stomach more volume of such beers without feeling bloated and uncomfortable than a standard bitter for instance, although admittedly I've never actually measured that, so the reader would be best advised to take my assertions with a large pinch of salt.

I entered into a debate on twitter earlier this day. I believe there were several contributors to the debate and although we probably reached a satisfactory conclusion, it is perhaps a shame that by the nature of twitter it is fast to be lost into some unreachable archive very rapidly indeed. So, I'm going to poke that one back into life again in the hope that the contributors might post some comments here, and finally help to put this one to rest.

Of course everyone is different. Everybody has different preferences in their tastes. For me I like to try something different, something that challenges my perceptions, perhaps I just get bored easily. What ever the reason I do often despair when people talk about the drinkability of a beer. It would seem some want to defend a boring bland beer because it has drinkability and moreover this is a facet of a beer often overlooked, or so we are told. I'll have to confess I normally switch off as soon as a writer decides to give a beer that accolade. To me it immediately tells me the person is trying to defend a beer that is actually boring and unimaginative. A beer that in fact I'd drink if I had to, but I'd find so boring that I wouldn't drink more if I could find an excuse.

But then the crowd on twitter got me thinking. What is drinkable for me? Sure, there are some eminently drinkable session beers. My own Light Cascade at 3.4% might just hit the bill, although I find it a little bit thin and watery to be honest. But it has been accused of being drinkable. How could I argue with that? But I do get disinterested if all I have is 4%, or there about beers. For me drinkability is about satisfaction and enjoyment. I could go down the supermarket and get a few cans of lout, for goodness sake, if I wanted drinkability. If I wanted to do my internal organs in that fast, with binge style consumption, then why bother looking for interesting beer?

I've just bottled my most recent and strongest ever beers. One is a stout that has been in a second hand oak cask. I'm not entirely sure what was in the cask before I put beer in it, but its come out tasting a lot like a good Islay whisky. If I knew it had a good islay whisky in it then there could be all sorts of trouble due to some such process called grogging. I didn't think it mattered, so apologies to Zak Avery because I didn't believe him and thanks to John Keeling for shattering my illusion.

I'm not sure how to deal with this small problem as it seems HMRC tie themselves in knots if you try to be honest about the fact. However, a hypothetical beer that was made in such a way would possibly taste really nice. I believe my ÆtherBlæc has a flavour similar to a beer that would have spent 4 and a half months in a Caol Ila cask.

The Barley Wine, called Granite, I'm also pleased with. I find both beers eminently drinkable, although I suspect many other people wouldn't. Still, I also like Paradox, Tokyo* and Tactical Nuclear Penguin. I've got another beer, with an unmentionable name, on it's way. I expect some drinking to occur on Friday when Andy is here. We will probably find many of these beers drinkable. There really is no accounting for taste.

And would you believe it, whilst going over to Andy's site to copy and paste the URL, there is another post on the subject. I do hope he brings a spare liver when he visits me, apparently he can't drink barley wine all night, light weight.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Sink the Bismarck

It doesn't matter how good a product is, it has to find its market somehow. Whether it be bicycles, burgers or beer, if potential customers don't know about it then nobody will buy it. Some businesses have a reasonably inherent shop front and need do nothing much more than put an open sign up and some sort of description of what they do. The word "Bakers" above the window of a shop that sells bread might work.

A multinational company that sells lager has to do an awful lot more. Perhaps they might sponsor a football competition. Not a bad idea really as most blokes like football. I particularly dislike football, as I've said before, and I'm rapidly realising that this is perhaps one reason why I dislike major brand lagers too.

BrewDog of course use various interesting and sometimes controversial tactics in getting themselves noticed. I've always been quite tolerant and even pleased about their tactics. I like their off the wall approach and anti-establishment ethos. When the other serious beer writers were getting upset at Brewdog's admittedly slightly silly pranks with the Portman group, I defended their actions.

I loved the idea of them making the strongest beer in the world and their willingness to regain their record when a German brewery snatched it from them. It was so obvious when they posted yesterday about all of this that they were planning to release a yet stronger beer still. By complete coincidence I tried Penguin for the first time last night. It's a very interesting beer and although I'm not sure I'd buy very much of it, it is certainly one of those experiences I'm glad I have had.

I want to try their new 42% beer, I really do.

I'm going to digress, but in a way that will be completely obvious very quickly. My father is still alive and a fact that most of the time I'm very pleased about. He was born in 1938, just before the start of the Second World War. He was evacuated from his home in Bexley Heath, just outside London, during the early part of the war but was allowed to return home towards the end. Unfortunately, Mr Hitler decided to send over a V2 rocket that exploded very close to the front of my Grandparents house - my Grandmother and my father were there at the time.

I have very fond memories of my paternal grandparents. My Grandmother in particular was a very fun loving person. She told me the story one day of the V2 rocket and how my father was in the back room at the time. He got covered in soot as he was sat in front of the fire and the shock wave travelled down the chimney. I laughed at this, only to be severely chastised for finding it funny. It wasn't until many years later that I discovered my Grandmother had been seriously injured by broken glass from the explosion as she was in the front room at the time. I didn't find this out until after my Grandmother had died. I can never go back to her and apologise for laughing.

I am young enough to have not been affected by the war. I am old enough to have learnt from many people who did suffer as a result of the war just how terrible it was. The sinking of a German boat, with 2,200 people on board, of whom nearly 2000 died, is a tragedy that may well have been a justifiable event in the circumstances, but it is no joke.

I am embarrassed and deeply sorry that I re-tweeted the news of the new record this morning. I only noticed that BrewDog had broken the record again, I had not realised what the beer was to be called.

I have no more to say on the matter.

Monday 15 February 2010

Let's party - don't worry.

I wrote this in August last year. It's now a little out of date, but still relevant. I can't remember why I didn't post it originally - too busy to proof-read and perhaps I'm a little coy about some personal content?

As a young working man I remember some of the lads going on a stag night. I worked in a big place in those days and although I knew some of the guys they were in a different department to me. I knew the groom-to-be to say hello to, but no more than that.

The central Lake District was the venue for this happy last fling. It all sounded quite civilised for a stag night and perhaps I was a little envious that I didn't know the crowd better and be able to tag along. I could certainly tell that the group were thoroughly looking forward to the night. Friday, as we left work, there was the usual anticipation about the weekend, everybody was full of talk in the locker room about what they were going to get up to. Monday morning, of course, through a haze of fuzzy hangover weariness, the tales would be joyfully recounted.

Monday morning and gloom dominated. It seemed that there had been a good idea late on Saturday night. A swim in the lake, why not? It'd be fun. But the groom to be didn't make it back to shore alive. Not the only story like this I have heard where a stag night celebration ends up with the groom defaulting on his promise to his bride due to the delicate fabric of his mortality being broken. I still wonder how terrible a fate jilted bride must feel on hearing the news.

I used to lead a very active lifestyle, which I miss, but that's another story. I have climbed mountains, been in the bottom of a crevasse in an Alpine glacier, canoed white water and generally done a few silly things that involve an element of risk. Death was always possible although part of the fun was to manage the risk so that death was unlikely. One of the biggest problems was my mother worrying that I might not be at her funeral because I'd already be dead. I tried my hardest to make her understand that I was doing something that I enjoyed so much that life would not be worth living without it. Sadly, I did make her funeral, somewhat earlier than either of us would have wished.

I have known people who have died whilst engaging in the sport or pastime they have enjoyed. Be it motor racing, rock climbing, mountaineering, white water canoeing or simply enjoying a ride out on their motor bike. Or perhaps drinking a little bit too much.

Is life worth living if you don't have fun? "NO" would have to be my answer.

And so to alcohol. There is a dichotomy in our society about how we deal with this integral part of our socialising. Everyone needs a release. Everyone needs to relax. I'm sure in our youth we all exceeded our limits and behaved in a way that was antisocial and perhaps risked our health and safety to unreasonable levels. There is an argument that would state we all need to go through a stage of finding our feet. I've done it. I've woken up and not known where I was or how I got there. I've felt on occasions I've overdone it and needed to learn how to control myself.

I've written before about alcohol disorder and I don't think my views have changed. Looking back I notice a comment from Curmudgeon about how it's difficult to educate sociable drinking when there is so much blanket anti-alcohol talk. Tandleman posts about Roger Protz on the Panorama program about Oldham and so follows a few comments, but still leaving a hole in the discussion, somehow.

I'd like to bring out a point that the ever interesting Cooking Lager mentions. "....asking the question why cheap booze is considered the problem rather than the people causing the problem". I'd like to reiterate what I believe; it's about education. It is not the alcohol's fault, or the price that it is sold at or even, dare I say, the fact that there are not enough people drinking real ale.

It would be useful to understand how we get this education sorted. I'm sure that a documentary about town centres, when we already know that they are a problem, is not going to help. The party goers who are having their well earned release after a week at work are not going to be put off by such programs. But, I think the point that Roger Protz makes on his blog has some merit; that this sort of reporting is biased. The program is about happy hours and so inclusion of the GBBF, as Roger would have liked may not be relevant, but alcohol is rarely aired in a good light on T.V. or wider media and I feel that is not good, so in part I agree with Mr Protz.

In my time here in my own pub I feel that our own disorder problems have been largely stamped out. I suggested to a customer recently that really the problem of alcohol related disorder was on the wane throughout the country. I got disagreement and the response that his town centre was worse than ever. OK, a poll of one is perhaps not representative, but it does seem that many of the public are still concerned. Is it then the case that there is a hardcore of town centre places maintaining a hardcore of revellers and the rest of society are turning away from alcohol as a release from the troubles life brings us?

Have the problems I have had in the past with alcohol related disorder reduced significantly because I have worked to eliminate them? Is that why I now have some negative reports on web sites, because I don't tolerate inconsiderate behaviour? Is there still a problem out there in the wider world? Maybe there is a place for town centre revelling which keeps it from the nice pubs.

Climbing mountains, riding motorbikes, smoking, eating lots of fatty foods, drinking and doing stupid things when drunk all carry an element of risk. Telling a young man he shouldn't buy that fast car because he'll kill himself is unlikely to stop him buying a fast car. Banning happy hours is unlikely to help as revellers will drink at home first and hit the town already half cut resulting in further drops to the on-trade. Minimum pricing will increase the amount of booze cruises and boot leg trade damaging both the taxation system and the domestic licenced trade.

In summary, we all like a party. Everybody deserves to let their hair down, at least those lucky sods who have hair. Perhaps Roger Protz is right, the solution to alcohol related disorder isn't just to show it on the T.V. but also to show options for responsible alcohol consumption as well. What different people think is the best format for sensible alcohol consumption and even where the limits of respectability are will vary considerably. Kids will be kids, after all and stag nights are still going to happen.

I also wanted to include a link to Jeff Pickthall's blog post where lego toys are animated drinking beer in a fairly loutish way spewing and falling over. It makes me laugh and is saved for the times I feel down. I've even shown it to my children, which is perhaps not sensible as I've probably corrupted them. I now worry that including the link might corrupt my readers. But it makes me think, perhaps we are becoming a little too touchy about the whole issue, alcohol is part of our culture, it's got some good points and some bad ones. Like your best friend, perhaps we should accept it worts and all.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Tetley, who cares?

I've looked on with slightly bemused wonder at the complaints over the closure of the Tetley brewery at Leeds. I can understand why people are upset about the loss of something they cherish dearly, after all, the production of one of my childhood sweets, CurlyWurly, is to move to Poland. The bizarre chocolate covered toffee bar will never be the same.

Clearly the loss of British jobs is something we should worry about. The continuing re-adjustment of the economic situation is causing various industries to contract with the inevitable shedding of workers. There is probably nothing we can do about that.

The beer industry is of particular note; not only is the recession having a detrimental impact on sales, the beer market is in decline also. Very simply the brewing industry has over capacity and so some breweries have to close.

There has been a significant increase of brewing capacity in the microbrewery sector further putting pressure on the larger breweries.

Personally, I'd rather a continual increase in volume of micro-brewed beer than have preservation of outdated breweries that make yet another brown bitter which most people don't care about. After all, the beer is not exactly exciting, so all we would really be mourning is the loss of a brand with no substance. Caring about that, to me, is just as silly as worrying about the shape of your chocolate covered toffee.

Why beer CAN be the new wine

Pete Brown wrote an interesting post about his experience holding a house party. The basic summary is that the vast majority of people do not choose their drink based on taste but on what they perceive as being an intelligent choice. Beer, for many, is not a choice they would make over wine. They may know nothing about wine either and are not interested in knowing. These people would also not care about quality beer. It's just beer. If they don't get what we love about beer then we should not worry about it.

Now appreciation of anything extraordinary can be something of a personal thing. I like mountains for instance. I like climbing them when I get a chance. Many people don't get the answer to the question "why?" which of course, all mountain climbers know, is simply "Because it is there"

I dislike football. I dislike it quite a lot if the truth be known. I don't begrudge anybody else their passion for the game, but I find the playing and watching of the sport completely pointless.

I do appreciate, in a casual sort of way, objet d'art, ancient monuments, architecture, theatre, poetry, literature, a wide range of music and other such pointless subjects. I would not expect the vast majority of the population to share my appreciation of the same things. However, sometimes it can happen that you enthuse about something to somebody and the next thing you find they have become a greater fan than you could ever imagine.

Beer can be the same. Sure, there is the argument that beer should be treated with the irreverence it deserves, after all it is a social drink first and a connoisseurs drink second. But there are people who are interested in exploring the hidden depths of the beer world, not many, and we should be careful not to get too excited, too flamboyant and become complete bores; it's working out who might be receptive that is the key.

I wish to illustrate this with my own story:

Yesterday we had a visit from a nice couple who are seriously thinking of holding their wedding here. We discussed many things like timings and the menu, flowers and accommodation. Eventually we got onto the subject of drinks on the table during the meal. We discussed the price verses quality issues of wine, carefully explaining that our wine list might not be the cheapest, but that for the price they could be sure they were getting quality for their money. I apologised that we didn't hold a large stock of champagne so they would have to confirm in advance the amount we needed to order. "We don't really care for champagne" came the reply "We're actually more interested in your beers"

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. How could I be so stupid not to have mentioned beer up to this point? So proceeded a tasting session which concluded with a Chimay Blue and a Mort Subite Gueuze. I even, sin of sins, got them to taste them in wine glasses. They declared the beers to be very nice indeed, especially the gueuze. They seemed impressed by the idea of tasting small amounts of lots of different beers in small glasses. They then went on to suggest a beer tasting session as part of their happy day. They thought it would be great fun in lieu of wine on the table. Of course, there would be a plentiful supply of cask beers available too.

This sort of experience with customers is not unique. I feel that it is happening with increasing frequency. The reason for this might be due to my improved awareness, or an improvement in the number of people coming to my pub because they have heard I have interesting beers, but I don't think that is all of it. I believe there is a growing market, if still very small, for specalist beer and that market still has an opportunity to grow still further.

So yes, there is a danger of becoming too evangelical about beer. Most people just want to go down to the pub and have a pint with their mates, the actual beer is not as relevant as some of us would like to think. But we also need to just keep an eye on the opportunities and grab them when they arise.

Since I first wrote this I've gone back and read the increasing number of comments on Pete's blog, including his own comment which balances out the original post. And that's the point isn't it? Balance.

1I'm sure somebody once wrote that they wanted beer to be treated with the irreverence it deserves. My dictionary says irreverence means "Lack of due respect or veneration, disrespect" and I've always had trouble with that. I would like to think, in the context I've seen it written with respect to beer, it is meant to be an opposite to "over-reverence"

Thursday 11 February 2010

Blog Comments

OK, you win, I'm back.

I think every blogger realises how important it is to have comments. It makes the whole job of writing blog posts worthwhile. I've said before that the only thing that makes this pass-time more fulfilling are direct face-to-face mentions. Best of all when I meet a complete stranger and they say that they read this blog. It's a little bit of minor fame, a realisation of a minor media success perhaps. More likely vanity, it's true, but whatever, it gives me a level of satisfaction that makes this worthwhile.

There have been times when I've been perplexed by some comments from worthy bloggers. Often, after a period of reflection, the more challenging comments generate a useful thought process that often provokes a new post. This, to me, is blogging at its best; a truly interactive media that explores various issues. Whether it be the validity of the definition of real ale or the relative morality of stealing glasses from pubs, the best bloggers can agree to disagree so that at least next time they meet they can enjoy a pint together, even if one might insist on it being Lout. It is important to recognise that constructive disagreement should never create a problem.

When I first started blogging I put all the checks and controls on to prevent unpleasant comments. I activated that irritating "word verification" thing that is occasionally amusing but often stifles the interactivity of this medium. I also set the comment moderation to "always".

After a while it dawned on me that these things are counter productive. I eventually decided to remove them all and simply monitor for problems. Surprisingly, very few problems appeared, until recently. Over the past few weeks I've noticed an increase of spam comments from various sources, all advertising irrelevant services. Just occasionally there will be a stupid anonymous comment, probably from some mischievous local intent on annoying me. I don't like to delete comments and try and deal with them by intelligent interaction. However, somethings are simply off-side.

Yesterday I had a comment on my blog that was effectively local gossip about my business and was inappropriate and completely unrelated to the blog. I deleted it. Today the exact same comment appeared. Some people just can't take a hint.

So, apologies for taking away liberties of the many sound people who comment here. I apologise especially to those who feel they should not have to sign up to a blogger account to be able to comment. Why should they have to? Sadly, the actions of a very small minority spoil it for everybody else, something of a parallel to my overall experience here. Hopefully I'll remove these controls again in time, I don't want to have to be tied to the PC to approve comments.

Finally, thank you to all my twitter followers who have chivvied me along today. Although Tandleman has a point about twitter possibly detracting from blogging, it does have its good side too.

It's only temporary

I like the fact that blogging is interactive. However, due to a couple of comments that have been well off topic, which I have had to delete, I've decided to turn commenting off completely for a while. This then makes blogging pointless so I'll give writing on here a rest as well.

Hope to be back real soon.

Monday 8 February 2010

Minimum Pricing

I started to write this several days ago, actually, nearly a week it seems, when the offending program was still available on IPlayer from the BBC web site. So, lets try to finish it. I thought the whole of the Decision Time program, broadcast on 27th January 2010 was very interesting. The fact that Frank Dobson has never seemed to know what he's talking about shouldn't stop us analysing what the other speakers said. I thought there were some very intelligent and thoughtful speakers on the program and I wanted to capture the main points, I try to here.


Here we go again. Arguments about minimum pricing are doing the rounds. It seems that Frank Dobson, who used to be the Secretary of State for Health 1997-99, has upset Pete Brown due to Frank's derogatory and sweepingly generalised comments about people who are "heavy drinkers".

It is indeed an unfortunate opening to the program. I can't say the Right Honourable Mr Dobson MP has ever really inspired me to be honest and I can see why Pete has got a tad upset with him. When politicians use language normally only used in tabloid headlines I find my intelligence being insulted. I decided to have a listen to the whole program before I followed Pete's request to contact Frank.

I found the whole debate interesting. Mr Dobson rather clumsily putting his points and spoiling any effect he might have had by continually repeating the derogatory word "booze". I wonder if anybody counted the number of times he said it, I think it must have got to around 30.

There were some good balancing points put by the other panellists. John Redwood former Conservative Cabinet Minister, Lorraine Davidson formally a spin-doctor for the Scottish Labour party, Holly Grender who is a lobbying PR consultant and Sir William Sargent who until last year was the head of the Governments regulation executive.

After Frank's rather unfortunate outburst John Redwood went on to give, what I thought to be, a very balanced view. He pointed out that a policy like minimum pricing would put money in the supermarkets pockets, increasing alcohol duty would raise money for the treasury. There is the point that is often made about minimum pricing that it would disadvantage the less well off in society, which is an interesting point for a Conservative politician to make. He does of course ask questions about how it would effect businesses, but also asks if it would work.

There was considerable debate on the whole lobbying process. It was pointed out that the Department of Health is an extensive lobbying operation. This is compounded by the fact that the Media is sympathetic to minimum pricing. In actual fact the media is quite sympathetic to the whole neo-prohibitionist movement, but then we know that.

Several speakers pointed out that the problems are the antisocial behaviour - putting up the price will not stop this. Sir William Sargent putting this point quite well with the following:

"I think you have to analyse what the research is telling you. For example, the price elasticity, its reaction to being put up actually doesn't result in the lower paid part of the community consuming less automatically. They might find ways of getting it on the black market, or getting it from overseas, going to Calais at the weekend and filling up a transit van. That doesn't necessarily stop the leakage so to speak, if you want to use that analogy."

The Buffoon Dobson then points out that Supermarkets have been selling booze at below the duty rate. I am having difficulty finding evidence of this. I have not found a single case where this has happened. If any reader of this blog can give me firm details of sustained periods where alcohol really is sold at below duty rates I'd like to hear about it. OK, loss leading occurs from time to time but it is in practice short lived isolated cases1.

Supermarkets will absorb the price increases, it is claimed, if duty is used as a weapon. How will they do that then? They are businesses; they cannot absorb price increases indefinitely, any business that does that loses money. I agree that we should consider duty increases before minimum pricing, at least that way we get a little bit of the countries deficit paid off rather than increasing the supermarkets profits. After all, minimum pricing is just exactly the same as a price cartel.

Mr Dobson goes on to tell us that pubs would welcome minimum because they do not sell cheap "booze". But pubs are private enterprise and as such they might well welcome a price cartel. But private enterprise being pleased about Government interference in the free market?I for one think it might be a very dangerous slippery slope. Has price fixing, or should I say minimum pricing ever worked before to help a country? It would effectively have the same effect as large Monopolies as far as price is concerned.

Several of the speakers pointed out that there was legislation already in place to deal with the problems of alcohol related disorder, underage drinking and other drinking related problems. The examples were given of a scheme where police, retailers and Cambridgeshire council had an unpleasant relationship and so they got together with the child protection part of the council and the result is that they got the selling to underage down by two-thirds over a space of a very short period of time. Breaking it down into it's elements and dealing at grass roots, where the problems really are, is the way to deal with the problems. Not with broad brush legislation that is probably ineffective and risks hurting those who deserve it least.

A controversial point, that is made in the program, was that much of the problem drinking does in fact occur in certain licensed premises. In this writers view the vast majority of alcohol sold in the supermarkets is sold to people who want a quiet tinnie or two in the evening, not in actual fact where the vast majority of disorderly drinking is occurring. I am not disputing the teenage park bench crowd exists, drinking their low priced white cider, but that is an anomaly. The vast majority of the trouble is caused by city centre nightclubs, if indeed we want to think of it all as trouble.

I would like to think I have a reasonable amount of experience in surveying nightlife at first hand. I've walked through a few parks in my time as well. The assertion that the trouble is caused by youths taking a slab of cooking lager into the park is simply absurd in my view. No, most people like to get out into the town in a Friday or Saturday night and possibly both. I know there is this theory that many are pre-loading but that is not my experience, who are these people who pre-load? I do not know any and I suspect these people are few and far between. Drinking is not just about getting pissed. People like to go out and have a good time, you can't do that at home. For all these reasons I agreed with the panel that minimum pricing won't actually work. People will find ways of paying the bill and will simply cut back on spending in other areas. That's the nature of price elasticity of alcohol.

The point was made that the problems exists within a few percentage points of the population and ages. Because of the actions of a small proportion of the population the Government are suggesting bringing in another crazy law. There are already laws on the statute books to deal with problems and it would seem to me more legislation is being generated just to make us think the Government is doing something to justify their existence. It is sound bite politics to produce publicity.

The panel did bring out a very important point for me; how exactly would minimum pricing work? Would it apply to all shops? What about home brew? How would we deal with places that might trade as both retail and wholesale? Obviously wholesale and brewery gate prices are lower. What happens if I sell a cask to a mate for his party in a church hall? I would have to charge him more than I might now?

I am constantly told that as a pub I should be pleased about minimum pricing and in many ways I can see how it might help the on-trade. But supposing I wish to run a perfectly legitimate free night? Suppose for instance I wish to have a party for a loyal group of customers, to show my gratitude for their continued support. Right now I could put a barrel on for free one evening and it would be completely legal. Although I'm tight and the likelihood of me doing so is remote, but I'd like to retain the option. What about free tasters at a brewery? A free glass of wine with a meal? The list could go on and on.

The panel also made a nice ridicule of the term "passive drinking" quite clearly the majority of the speakers thought this was just being silly. You can sit in a room drinking a glass of wine and do no harm to anyone else in the room. This is quite a different situation compared to the passive smoking argument.

Interesting parallels were made with the questions surrounding porn activities on the internet. Many people are worried about the activities of paedophiles, for instance, on the internet. Many of us are also worried about the possibility of draconian measures to limit our freedoms on the internet. Currently IT companies are helping police to combat the real issues and dangers without the requirement to bring in new laws. Perhaps we do have a responsibility as an industry to do something to show we are tackling the problems.

I'd have to say I was horrified by the suggestion that 24 hour licensing was a mistake. This seemed to be said without any regard for the fact that it probably isn't the problem its made out to be. I've lived through, drank through and run a pub through the changes. My experience does not agree that any alcohol problems have got worse and indeed the 11pm kick-out has been significantly reduced.

One speaker was at pains, and I think it was William Sargent, made the point that much of the legislation over the past 30 years has been difficult to administer. Often the nub of the legislation has as its key, a "scheme" that is worked out in detail by civil servants. Not a democratically decided scheme but one that is left to those in ivory towers to determine. Considering that most legislation is, as I've already pointed out, made to justify the elected parliaments salaries and expenses, rather than in the best interests of the country, it would seem to me that the next government would be best advised to concentrate on quality of legislation rather than quantity. Minimum pricing is a blunt weapon that will solve little and make most low paid drinkers suffer.

After listening to the whole program and trying to summarise the whole issue it struck me that there would be a maintenance problem. There is the first question of setting the correct level for minimum price. Moreover, how is the price adjusted? No doubt once the legislation is approved there will be a back door allowing the NHS to dictate what they consider to be the correct level. There is sure to be an escalator included that will increase at greater than the rate of inflation. But why should I complain? Eventually the pub retail industry will be part of one big price cartel.


1I didn't notice that unintentional pun until a re-read.

Sorry, that took over a week to get to the point of me hitting the "Publish post" button. I hope my summary of what was said, mixed with my own opinion, was worth the wait. Sometime soon normal service should resume on this blog, in a weeks time perhaps. I'm visiting a big brewery that resides in some place called Burton soon. Expect some words from this excited small brewery brewer agog at a place reputed to be the birthplace of British Bitter. You never know, I might even find out what "Burtonising" is.

Monday 1 February 2010

Straight and narrow

I wish I had more time to post, I really do, unfortunately there is so much going on here I haven't got time. I'm getting bogged down with all sorts of administrative stuff that keeps me from more fun activities. Plus, we've got a pub to open for the season and the list of jobs to complete isn't getting any shorter.

It really does perplex me the amount of hoops one is expected to jump through when running a pub. Environmental health, accessibility issues, licensing objectives, advertising, fire safety, accounting and tax, electrical testing and many, many others. Now I'm not saying that these things are not worthy of some form of regulation. Indeed I do not want the death of one of my customers or staff on my conscience, but I do wonder sometimes if we have gone well beyond the point of diminishing returns with many items of legislation.

When licensees get together we often lament some of the pitfalls of the job. It is also the case that we share our high points as well, we're not miserable all the time. However, we often have subjects of joint complaint with which to mutually commiserate about. One such subject for me is legislation. Most publicans I know try to keep up, but are really unable to.

One evening, in a friends pub, I was mentioning the problems of keeping everything above board and legitimate. My friends reply was along the lines of "why bother, you'll never keep up so just ignore legislation".

This was something of a surprise to me. I consider myself to be an honest and law abiding citizen. I like to remain legal. This guy was actually suggesting that it was impossible to run a pub and remain legal so you might as well ignore legislation.

I think this is one of my problems; I try to do things right. Perhaps I should take this guys advice and forget about legislation.