tonight we shall be steering away from valuable yet perhaps overly prevalent gen about pubs and what they sell and explore, albeit briefly, the complex machinations and myriad complexities of how the UK Lib-con coalition government know nothing, and are incapable of acting sensibly in respect of, beer.
Ignorant meddling - an explanation you may have missed
The Government has noticed that lots of people get very drunk. Thanks for that Sherlock. Apparently, the coalition (for it is they) have concluded, using guesswork and a blatant lack of intelligence and understanding, that stabbing wildly in the dark to find the cause is an acceptable and indefatigable means of identifying the root causes of alcohol abuse, and having pinned the tail on the donkey, have decided its super strength beer.
Initially, rational people might say yeah, that's a good point actually, all those drunks and street mentals supping Skol Super and Carlsberg Special Brew. And that is broadly correct. However, both the aforementioned brews start at upwards of 9% and are brewed by giant multinational conglomerates, with sites and revenue streams around the world, and the nounce and profit margins to, potentially at least, find legal but immoral ways to avoid paying UK tax, which whilst not exempting them from this ill thought through duty, does of course allow them to offset inconvenient things like this in the UK.
So, given the above, (and not forgetting the desire of alcohol abusers, the problem drinkers targeted but entirely circumnavigated in this unseemly quiche of shortsighted measures, to drink milm like Special brew at all costs), what exactly are Noddy and Big Ears hoping to achieve in Toytown?
Well, as hinted at by the children's TV reference, an inexcusable and frankly retarded "tar everyone with the same brush and punish anyone who likes quality higher alcohol beers from time to time". What an epic failure this will be.
Problem drinkers, a euphemistic semantic umbrella for everyone nobody making the decisions wants to think about, are, I am strongly convinced, not connoisseurs. Rarely, if ever, do they seek out a £5.00 750ml corked Chimay Blue Reserve, or a similarly priced Durham Brewery Temptation, or a Brew Dog Hardcore IPA, or a Lees Harvest Ale. These are premium products, at a premium price. If you seriously want to get shitfaced, the specialist beer importer or well stocked real ale off license is not your first stop. Yet, in la la land, the MP's have erroneously sought tp punish persons wishing to enjoy these and other bibulous treats. Why - because they are ignoramuses, making knee jerk policy on the basis of information which lacks clarity and veracity.
And the folly does not stop there. HSBD (High Strength Beer Duty) is just that - it targets beer only. So what part of the binge drinking culture have the Con-dems looked at to ascertain that quality, craft (or independently brewed, if you like) beers are the source of our drink sodden demise? Is it, perchance, precisely none? I suspect it is. Because of course, no-one drinks super strength cider to get mullered. Or cheap sherry. Or own label spirits. No, of course not. Except they do.
So in essence, what we have is a duty levied on taste, sophistication and intelligent consumer decision making based on knowlegde and pallette. The HMRC (for it is they whom implement the misguided edict) say "High Strength Beer Duty (HSBD) will be due on beer which exceeds 7.5% alcohol by volume (abv) and is produced in or imported into the UK. HSBD will be paid in addition to the existing general beer duty and is set at 25% of the general beer duty rate. At the time of introduction this is £4.64 per hectolitre % of alcohol in the beer.
Small Brewer's Relief is still available on the general beer duty element of beer above 7.5% abv. However, it does not apply to HSBD and no further relief will be applied to the reduced rate for lower strength beers.
Strangely, a search of the tinterweb offers no reason provided by the Government for this idiotic departure from logic. It is, more prevalently, the opinions of those reporting the fallacy that have mooted the reasons behind the change. So why so reticent? Is the Government and HMRC too embarrassed to argue its case? I only wish we knew, but if not, they damn well should be. This measure must have, nay could only have, been instigated out of spite and ignorance.
The End of All Sense?
But wait! There is surely a counter measure to appease unhappy folks? Why yes! A reduction in duty on despairingly weak beers! Hurrah! Its WW2 all over again - quoth HMRC "From the same date, a reduced rate of general beer duty for lower strength beer will apply to beers exceeding 1.2% abv but not exceeding 2.8% abv, and which are produced in or imported into the UK. The new reduced rate is set at 50% of the general beer duty rate, which at the time of introduction is £9.29 per hectolitre % of alcohol in the beer".
Well fuck me sideways kids. That is certainly aimed at the massive market percentage of sub 3% beers that, erm, don't exist. There are some good low gravity beers, but immeasurably few below 3%. You could paint this as a challenge for brewers, but its not because the reasoning applied is palpably WRONG!
So how to make the reduced beer duty on products that don't exist work? Well aside from reinventing a world where its 1940 again, we could look to the supermarkets to plough a furrow for failed logic. After all, they sell most of the chemically enriched uber crap at 11% that's quaffed at home before people go out, so they must be leading the way on pricing? Surely? See part 2 of my Review below for the Answer....
ASDA beer pricing farce unwrapped!!!
Yep, good ole Asda is leading the way once again in promoting cheap strong alcohol for binge drinkers, and making it more expensive to drink weaker beers, in line with upcoming Government legislation, erm, well, not.
On a recent visit, my regular tipple Brewdog IPA (which is 5.6%, and I buy it for the (albeit reduced) hops and bitter flavour ) is back to £1.46 a bottle, or 3 for £4.00. So, this makes it per ml the cheapest beer on sale in the UK beers section, and significantly more expensive than the two lonely low gravity offerings, which are Brakspear bitter at 3.5% and Manns Brown Ale at 2.1%. What foresight!
Clearly they saw the duty changes coming so have ensured that its financially unrewarding to drink low gravity beer but cheaper to get smashed quicker on the loopy stuff. When the changes bite, customers will rush headlong into the welcoming arms of Daddy Asda to crave their low gravity offerings, which will be cheaper to produce, but whose current over inflated price can be harmlessly reduced to ape the magnanimous actions of the purse string tighteners in HM Treasury. And if they don't? Well, happy days! The strong beer the customers crave is already heading for being too expensive for them to afford so they'll either cut back, and thus generate less revenue for HMRC (or buy from abroad thus sidestepping import taxation and utilising laughably generous allowances and loopholes like coach drivers using tee-totaller passengers combined allowances) or move to cider or spirits! Either way no memberof the public wins! Yet (and) neither do HMRC! Such philanthropy oh American owned friend.....
So here's to a stupid idea, neither justified by its proponents or its deriders, set to make enjoying quality UK and overseas strong beer a much less affordable luxury, for the good of nobody.
Retail Behemoth rises up in Sheffield
Hot on the heels of news about shortsighted government meddling in areas it clearly fails to understand, the new Tesco Extraneous has opened on Saville Street, bringing with it a maelstrom of greedy brand led neediness, and, an interesting range of frol.
Notwithstanding that Tesco, the anti competitive tax evasive giant that strangles fair trading out of every hectare it poisons, is nowhere near as good a destination for beer choice as say, the Archer Road beer Stop. It is, however, on my way home, and brand new, so i felt a single, if final, visit was required to assess the wares on offer.
Overall a fairly humdrum selection of British beer was offered, supplemented by an achingly conservative rosta of world and continental offerings that would make beer ignoramus's Morrisons feel proud of their core range, the UK lines resembling the decisions of a trigger happy Sainsbury's beer orderer, with a few notable highlights in the form of some Scottish Micro offerings, for instance brew Dog. I chose their Alice Porter, which is a sublime dark concoction, and a Tesco branded Double IPA which turned out in all but name to be Brewdog Hardcore IPA.
The appearance of Alice Porter and Glencoe Oat Malt Stout (not BrewDog) is a welcome addition to the Sheffield bottled beer scene, what with ASda, Sainsbuys' and Morrisons steadfastly failing to ignite more than begrudging interest in their Greedy King Wells/Youngs slew of identical ale products. However, how ironic this bounty is! Since, all too soon, we will be punished for our adventures in taste - as the Government wishes.
This means that anyone not wanting to drink Old Speckled Hen and Spitfire til it bubbles through their eyeballs will feel the impact, whether it be in the form of direct price increase on classic beers like Old Tom, or through brewers offsetting the onerous impact with moderate rises across their portfolio.
In short - HSBD - a baseless shot in the dark resulting in a shot to the head for consumer choice and brewing innovation. Shame on the Government.