Friday, 18 May 2012

Minimum pricing won't work

Firstly, sorry there hasn't been anything new recently I've been extremely busy with preparation for, and the doing of, my final set of exams at uni. Now to the issue at hand.

The issue of minimum pricing has come up hugely in the media recently. With Scotland recently announcing that the minimum price will be set at 50p a unit. The figure of saving 500 lives a year has been bandied around in the  papers over the last few days. This is a policy based on bad facts, government incompetence and media spin. Minimum pricing won't work. It's that simple; the fact I'm a beer fan has nothing to do with my views on this. It's just a lazy policy. The reasons for this are numerous and lengthy so I'll try and be brief.

1. "Raising the price of alcohol will lower consumption"

I don't dispute this fact. You can't really argue against this. However, while it may lower consumption of "official" alcohol, the illicit, imported and home brewed beer industries will flourish. Home brewed beer already weighs in at nearly a 1/10th price of a pint in a pub. Increasing the price differential will only drive more people to other sources of alcohol. There also has to be a real fear that increasing the price of alcohol will push more and more of the poorest people in Britain into drug use. It's not a far cry for the homeless guy to swap his few cans of Special Brew for harder drugs. This can be seen most commonly across the pond in the US where heroin addiction is an epidemic within the larger cities. The other point here is that I wasn't aware alcohol consumption was rising. The problem is not of consumption as a whole it's about people over indulging and the long term damage of this. Binge drinking and it's related social disorder is an issue upon itself.

2. Minimum pricing disproportionally affects the poorest in society

I'm a student with a reasonable amount of disposable income. I can afford to spend £6 on a bottle of Triple Quad Hopped Imperial IPA. However, for the majority of the population alcohol is becoming significantly more costly. What right does Cameron and his buddies have the right to tell people that their weekly beers on a Friday after a hard week paying off the deficit are too unhealthy, too damaging and too cheap. The minimum pricing will do nothing to reduce the consumption of those who can afford to pay for it. Taxes and price increases on goods disproportionately affect the poor. The increase in price won't change peoples attitudes to drinking it will just mean more money is spent. We've seen the tax on alcohol increase 40% since I've been an adult and binge drinking has never been worse. While consumption is falling the problems are not. We've tried the price increase method and it's been found not to work.

3. Alcohol and cigarettes are an easy target

People don't like smokers; they smell, they poison us "normal", non social lepers of soceity. People also don't like binge drinkers. Smokers and drinkers are easy targets for government taxes. I don't agree with this. Smokers are people too; they're also probably paying for a sizeable part of your NHS. I like smokers; they selflessly pollute their own bodies so we can have public services. It's very easy to vilify people for the lifestyle choices they make but it's a fruitless exercise. Plenty of other things are dangerous and cost the NHS money but I don't see anyone advocating a tax on extreme sports or bungee jumping. Things are unhealthy, get over it. People should have the right to choose how to live their life without government or the media telling them otherwise

Minimum pricing is a lazy policy from a lazy government who have no idea how to solve the alcohol crisis in this country. I think most people are in agreement that lowering the price differential between the on and off trade would go some way to reducing binge drinking. The staggering thing here is that many of the problems of the British nation could be solved by lowering alcohol duty and bringing the price of on trade beer down to off trade levels. The brewing and pub industry is one of the only real manufacturing industries we have left. It employs nearly 1 million people and Cameron is dicing with these peoples livelihoods. If I see one more politician promoting a "policy for growth" and then almost immediately smashing the few remaining industries we have I might cry.

The real solution to the binge drinking problem is proper education of young people about alcohol and a concerted campaign about the benefits of moderate drinking. Alcohol needs to change from being the big bogeyman hidden away that's only allowed out at the weekend to a social activity between friends. People need to stop drinking to get drunk and drink because they enjoy the times they have. There's a very special quality about alcohol that brings people together which isn't replicated in many other settings. But these campaigns and education schemes cost money and the current government are doing all they can to avoid spending a dime at the moment. It's highly ironic that the real solution to the problem is being left out and what we're getting is conveniently also a great tax raising exercise.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Beer Flapjacks

Any one who's ever brewed their own beer will know that after the mash you're left with a large amount of grain which is simply thrown away. As usual this was the case yesterday after brewing some IPA. In this new climate of austerity I decided that to throw away all the grain simply seemed nonsensical. After trying some of the spent grains they still tasted slightly sweet and with nice hints of caramel. Perfect for flapjacks! So I took some of the grain, dried it out in the oven and hey presto I've got a flapjack mix. The recipe can be found below.

Beer Grain Flapjacks

  • 200g Oven Dried Spent Beer Grains (This was a mix of maris otter and carapils)
  • 300g Rolled Oats
  • 300g Butter
  • 10 Tablespoons Golden Syrup
  • ~150ml of suitable beer (I used Meantime Chocolate Stout)
  • Optional: 200g chocolate (to top)

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C
  2. Line a shallow dish with greaseproof paper
  3. Add butter, golden syrup and beer to a pan and heat on a medium heat until butter has fully melted and mixture is smooth
  4. Using a large bowl mix the oats and grain into the liquid mixture until all the grains are sticky and wetted
  5. Pour into a shallow dish and cook in oven for ~20minutes or until golden brown on top. Leave on a wire rack to cool. They will feel soft at this point but they will harden as they cool
  6. After allowing to cool for about an hour start melting the chocolate in the microwave
  7. Layer the molten chocolate over the top surface of the flapjacks and allow to cool (I decorated with some chocolate buttons)
  8. Cut into manageable sizes
  9. Eat and enjoy them!
These flapjacks would be particularly yummy with any kind of rich, chocolaty stout or alternatively a slightly sweet golden ale.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Cask Conditioned Lager?

At the Great British Beer Festival last year I was lucky enough to work on the bar which contained the Champion Speciality Beer, Oakleaf's I Can't Believe It's Not Bitter, a 4.9% cask conditioned lager. At the time I wasn't overly convinced by it. I felt that it wasn't quite lagery enough for lager drinkers but yet too lagery for hardened cask ale drinkers. I just found it to be more of a novelty and lacked any real discernible flavour. I didn't find it unpleasant and wouldn't complain if someone bought me a pint of it in a pub but it just lacked something. Despite my reservations it sold well and the reaction to it was a mix of people echoing my sentiments and people loving it. The beer did little to convince me that cask conditioned lager would sweep across the nation revolutionising the beer world. It wasn't a bad beer it just wasn't great. 

I hadn't given cask lagers much thought until recently. When on a trip to the Anglesea Arms in South Kensington, an excellent pub which stocks a great range of cask ales mainly from Sharps and Adnams but often has a few local beers available, I was intrigued when a cask was changed and a pump clip for Sharps Spring Cask Pilsner appeared. The beer is described by Sharps as "a pale straw beer with a herbal lemon aroma" with thyme added during maturation for extra flavour. When I went to order a few pints the barman commented on how good a choice I was making and that he absolutely loved the stuff. It poured a lovely light straw colour with a thick white head and had a great citrus aroma. The aroma was continued into the flavour with a slightly sweet citrus flavour followed by a clean crisp bitterness that was all backed up by just a smidgeon of malt. It was clear it had been cask conditioned as the heavy carbonation and sharp coolness associated with keg lager was lacking. A friend described it as "lager without the fizz", in his eyes a criticism, but I found it to be just the tonic needed on a warm spring evening. It quenched my thirst well and was very drinkable and moreish; the kind of beer you could drink all night. I'm not usually a lager drinker but I have to say that the Sharp's Spring Cask Pilsner is one of the best beers I've had in 2012 so far. If you see it I'd highly recommend trying it for yourself.

After trying these 2 beers I'm starting to become convinced that cask lager is an avenue which brewers should definitely consider. It's a niche market because I struggle to see hardcore lager drinkers change from keg to cask lager but as with most things to do with beer choice is always good. I can really see a place for beers like this in the hot summer months when a crisp refreshing beer is perfect.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

By The Horns Brewery Open Day

When I saw that By The Horns were having another open day at the end of the month it reminded me that I had always intended to write a little review of their beers I tried at their open day in March. By The Horns is the newest brewery to open up in south west London and a visit to London by my parents coincided nicely with their first open day. And so on a lovely sunny Saturday in March we made the short trip over the river to the brewery.
The journey down to the brewery was very striking as it took us past the old Young's brewery. Having lived in this part of London it made my Dad rather reminiscent about all the good beers Young's used to make before the brewery was closed indefinitely in 2006. On arrival at By The Horns we were greeted by a small block in an industrial estate that seems so ubiquitous with microbreweries nowadays. I like this idea though, that 2 young guys with a passion for brewing can set up a microbrewery in what is essentially a big garage and make very good brews. Speaking to the 2 owners they seemed to be very passionate about what they were doing and had big ideas for the expansion of the area to which they sold their beer. It was also nice to see that the clientèle was not made up exclusively of middle aged men with beards and sandals. It always makes me happy to go to these kind of events and see young people getting as excited about beer.

So what were the beers like? The guys had their whole range available in a mixture of casks and bottles. The 3 highlights for me were 2 cask beers; the Doodle APA, a 5.9% pale beer made using bags of american hops, the Lambeth Walk, a silky 5.1% dark porter, and the bottled Bobby on the Wheat, a 4.7% pale wheat beer. I have to say my favourite was probably the Doodle APA. It was just the slightly bitter, citrus flavoured beer that is so perfect for quenching ones thirst on a hot day. While the beers weren't mind blowing they were very nice offerings from one of the newest breweries in London. I bought a few bottles of their beers to take away with me and I've since tried all 3 of them finding them to again be lovely beers. The Doodle in particular was excellent in the bottle with the subtle citrus hop flavours coming through nicely. I also managed to snaffle a pint of the Bobby on the Wheat at the White Horse a few days ago and found that the cask offering was a nice, refreshing and interesting, through the use of the wheat, beer.
Overall the day was good fun and it was nice for my parents to see how the brewing scene in London has changed from when they lived here. I hope the guys at By The Horns are successful in their endeavours as  any brewery which looks to crack Fullers dominance on west and south west London is alright by me! I'm also looking forward to their next open day at the end of April where the new Oat Pale Ale will be launched!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

If you've got nothing nice to say then say nothing at all

When I was little I was always taught that if I didn't have anything nice to say about something I should keep my gob shut. I've always thought this should apply both on my blog as real life. It is for this reason that I do not often outright criticise pubs and breweries when I feel that their offerings have been substandard. When questioned on this by a friend I noted that while good beer served in lovely surroundings inspires me to blog the opposite certainly does not. It is wisely noted that generally customer reviews, not necessarily of pubs, are generally borne out of a feeling of wanting to rant about how bad something is or praise its reputation. However I feel much more inspired to write in praise rather than despair. As I've said before, I drink a lot of average beer in a lot of average pubs. Do I think any of you care about it? No, not really which is why in general when I write I write mainly in praise of breweries and establishments.

But surely bad service, bad beer and bad hospitality should be held to account? Yes, they should. However, my view on this is very similar to my view on CAMRA members actively denigrating other beer styles than clear fined cask conditioned ale (See 1 below). I feel the cause of good pubs and good beer served within them is championed better by celebrating the good rather than criticising the bad. It makes little sense in my opinion to waste time I could use talking about beers I love and enjoy rather than moaning about the ones I don't.

Am I being stupid here? Should I blog about all beer whether I find it good, bad or indifferent?

1. Posts by Hardknott Dave, about SIBA and beer clarity, and Tandleman, about CAMRA's acceptance of "craft beer".

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Guest Blog: Beertails by William Hamilton

Editors Note: After a discussion with a common drinking partner of mine we came to the decision that he should do a guest post on here. Below is the results, I would like to emphasize here that the views expressed here are not my own (and nor do I agree with them hugely either).

This entry was inspired by a very pleasant chat with the regular contributor to this blog with whom I frequently discuss topics ranging from beer to politics and invariably end up in a heated antagonism. Therefore, as we sat in the sun outside the White Horse in Fulham, I was not surprised to find myself involved in a lengthy debate about a subject on which I had never considered myself to be a proud and principled champion. The crux of the problem lay in the concept of additions to beer - fruit, chocolate, honey, twigs, leaves and mud.

'Ale drinker', as you will no doubt be aware, is a keen brewer as well as enjoying his beer and was outlining his plans for the next brew. His next project, following a Scotch style ale which I considered to be fairly unpleasant but which he claimed rave reviews for, is destined to be a trio of stouts. So far so good, I am a keen fan of the darker beers and feel that they are a brilliant area for brewers to capitalise upon a dearth in the market. As regular readers will be aware, it is also an area about which Ale drinker has been keen to contribute to and so I was encouraged by the prospect of some experimental brews and the opportunity to sample and hone a fine stout or porter from scratch. It is worth noting at this stage that Ale drinker has not brewed a drop of stout before and, though I have enjoyed and commended a number of his previous projects, I am very apprehensive about the way he is approaching the trio of stouts.

The trio will consist of a chocolate orange, a coffee and a chilli-chocolate stout. The vast majority of these delectable flavours are not created by the hops, malt, liquor or yeasts which make up beer and so are additives. This is not necessarily a problem, many fine brewers have added fruits, minerals and other items to their beer to add flavour. I had enjoyed a chilli-chocolate stout with Ale drinker a few weeks ago and so am not averse to the concept, the stout in particular is a style of beer which can be really enhanced by the intelligent and calculated addition of a rich fruit or other deep flavours.

My opposition lies in the philosophy here. Ale drinker's rationale was that these novelty additions to beer make it 'interesting' and while I am aware that I may appear to be a purist, I feel that the real work should be done on the beer. Good beer lies in the malt and hop combinations rather than throwing in a cheap novelty flavour, it would be a real philistine to throw cassis into a fine vintage champagne because it shouldn't need to be called a kir royale to be enjoyable - hence my opposition to these 'beertails'. I feel this lack of effort is reflected by some larger brewers; in the same way that a gimmicky name or a themed beer can bump up sales, throwing in a novelty item can disguise bad beer and enables it to be sold as 'interesting'. These fruit salads remove some of the impetus behind creative and exciting beer generation.

Heaving a plum into a brew disguises many of the flavours of the actual beer which means that it is hard to learn from, refine and perfect a beer. Because Ale drinker has not brewed a stout before he has not identified the need for a coffee bean in the beer and has no idea of how such a strong flavour would fit in with his malt or hops mix. It is, in essence, a cheap and lazy option to create a novelty beer. 

While these beers may tempt a few new drinkers to experiment with an ale they are, in fact, being sold a beertail in which the flavours of the beer are masked. Good quality, interesting and exciting beers can be created from malts and hops and this is an area with a wealth of opportunity for innovation and creativity. This is part of the value of ales and is where the real work should go in.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Have the words stout and porter become interchangeable?

As you may have read I've recently started a love affair with dark beers. Even the rising temperatures have not been able to tempt me towards light spring beers. One thing I have noticed however is the interchangeable use of the terms stout and porter.

First a little history lesson. Porter was originally named so because it was popular with river and street porters. Stronger variations of the style were known as Stout Porter, Double Porter or Imperial Stout Porters. Eventually the porter was dropped and these stronger beers began simply being known as stouts. 

After reading up on the style I decided to look back through the bottles I'd been drinking and see if there was actually any correlation between the use of the word stout and being of a higher strength. While I didn't find any  meaningful correlation, I found porters ranging from 4-11% and stouts from 5-10.5%, I did notice that the large majority of the "flavoured" beers (chocolate, cherry, raspberry, chilli etc) I'd had were stouts rather than porters. I have to point out here that I thought the Bristol Beer Factory Raspberry Stout was delicious. It was like a black forest gateau in a pint.

Maybe this doesn't mean anything, maybe I'm looking too deeply into something which really has no relevance but hey it kept me entertained for an hour or so.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Can craft lager save the Great British Pub?

Many of us, CAMRA members especially, are extremely worried about the large number of pub closures in the UK at the moment.  I have to admit that in my local area, Hammersmith and Fulham, it isn’t as noticeable as say where my parents live in Cheshire.  You’d be quite hard pushed to drive for very long in the suburbs of any UK city without seeing at least 1 boarded up or shut down pub. The closures can be devastating to the life and soul of small country villages where the pub is sometimes the sole communal meeting point. The reasons for these pub closures are varied and many and could probably constitute a post on their own (and in fact probably will at some point). What I’ll look at here is the solutions.
Most of the UK drinking population drink lager. That’s just a fact. However a large proportion of those lager drinkers drink “lowest common denominator” beer that’s industrially manufactured in factories rather than breweries. The companies who make these beers, while hugely successful businesses which should be applauded, care little about the quality of the final product. Their main concern is that they can sell more of it than their competitors. This is done by utilising huge advertising budgets and pricing competitors out through economies of scale. Many of these beers were initially advertised as exotic and European when initially introduced into the British market; like Stella Artois using the taglines “reassuringly expensive” and “We were brewing in Belgium before Belgium was Belgian”. However, over time they began to be weakened both in ABV and flavour. Very quickly the public’s opinion changed and phrases like “piss water” and “yellow water” became ubiquitous with them. The big 4 brewers quickly realised their strangle hold on the British lager market was slipping and so looked to Europe and the world for small new breweries to acquire. The likes of Tyskie, Hoegarden, Tiger and Asahi were all bought and brewed under license in the UK. Unfortunately they, like their ancestors before them, have now begun to slip into mediocrity and may well join their older cousins on the dump heap of foreign beers now no longer considered foreign. It is shocking the amount of beer advertised using suave Europeans or exotic beaches with the mandatory “brewed in the UK” slipped in at the end in some obscure corner of the screen.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel though; a new breed of lager drinkers has emerged. People are now demanding quality over quantity. This trend has run in comparison with the new educated middle classes demanding higher quality, more wholesome foods. Whether this is driven by a need to appear more sophisticated and cultured than the “plebs who drink Carling” or that there actually has been a taste revolution is irrelevant; the change has been made. When 20 something graduates start seeing the pay checks coming in and head for after work drinks they are now turning more and more to craft lagers. The word “craft” has had some debate about how it is defined. In my book I define craft as any beer which is made by people who care more about how it tastes than about watching the cash flood in. The trend was started by the importation in large scales of American craft beers such as Brooklyn Lager, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Sam Adams Lager. It almost seems that no posh London bar worth its salt now doesn’t have at least one of these on draught nowadays. The success of these imports in the more well to do areas of the country led domestic brewers to follow suit and try to brew quality lagers which would challenge people’s perceptions about the British brewing scene. Some of the more well-known versions include Camden’s Hells lager, Harviestoun’s Schiehallion and West’s St Mungo. Many of these are now available country wide in both keg and bottle. The Hell’s lager seems to be very popular with a new USA Hells being released last week. This version is similar but uses American hops in the brew. While I am not a huge fan of most of these lagers, I just don’t really like lager. 2 that have caught my eye are Republika from Windsor and Eton and St Austell Cornish Bock. They are both great brews that I feel could sway even the most ardent ale fan to think that lager may have its merits.

This burst in domestic larger brewing has also increased the amount of quality lagers being imported from the continent and America. One particularly fine example of this is Brouwerij Roman’s Black Hole Lager from Belgium. I purchased a bottle of this from Cask Pub and Kitchen a few days ago and cracked it open last night. There was definitely a big lager flavour there from the malt but there was also a pleasant hop bitterness. I haven't had much of an oppurtunity to try many foreign craft lagers but I'm open to any suggestions of quality ones to try.
But how does this save the Great British Pub? If we are going to convince the arseholes at Whitehall that we can drink sensibly then binge drinking and its associated disorder needs to be dealt with. I’ve discussed before how I think the current policies are failing. What is needed is to try and convince people that a good night does not need to consist of 10 pints of Stella, a donner kebab and a fight with a stranger. If people can begin to think of alcohol as something to be enjoyed both as a social lubricant and as a drink to be enjoyed then maybe the Government will stop their relentless campaign against drinkers. Since the majority of drinkers in this country do prefer lager it is therefore important that they are presented with the same choice between quality and mediocrity that the rest of the drinking public are. The lager world in the UK has for too long stood for mediocrity and loutish behaviour, let’s take it back for the appreciation of one of Europe’s most famous beer styles.
In other news, I'm going to London Drinker this evening so there should be a little write up in the next fews days.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A night with HardKnott

After last months meet the brewer session at Cask Pub and Kitchen with Arbor Ales, I was eagerly awaiting this months instalment. Last night Dave from Hardknott Brewery was down and had brought with him a selection of casks and 1 keg beer. I'd heard of Hardknott before and regularly follow Dave's blog. Unfortunately I'd only had the chance to taste the Infra Red before, which was great,  and so I was pretty eager to get stuck in and try some more Hardknott beers.

Top of my tasting list was the Colonial Mayhem, an 8.1% mild using bags of American hops, which Dave had brought down as the only cask ever! Luckily, despite arriving a little late and missing Dave's talk, we still managed to snaffle the last half of the cask. It was truly inspiring; I fear I don't have the words to give it justice but it was smooth, silky and with hints of dark winter fruits. Other notable brews of the evening were the Dark Energy, a 4.9% silky stout, and Cool Fusion, a 4.4% pale beer with a nice ginger taste. It was also nice to try the PyroWeisz which was a smoked keg beer. It was very good and a heated discussion soon enveloped our table as to whether it tasted of smoky bacon crisps or beef jerky! Both delicious treats in my book!

Meet the brewer events really are a great way of encouraging people to go to the pub and try different beers. Its also great to be able to listen to the brewers talk about their beers with such passion and enthusiasm. Needless to say, next months evening with Fyne Ales has already been put in the diary.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Once you go black...

2 years ago my view on dark beers was simple; I didn't drink them. The reasoning for this was twofold. Firstly, in an average pub there is generally very little presence of dark beers and so I was never really exposed to them. At best you might get Guinness and one other darker beer. Secondly, I think that my palette just hadn't developed enough to appreciate them. Now I would have to say that dark beers are now my favourite style. While I still thoroughly enjoy a good, hoppy IPA at this time of year nothing tastes better than a smooth, silky malty beer. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Bricklayer's Arms Yorkshire Beer Festival this week and I was overjoyed upon perusing the beer list to see a good range of stouts and porters available for quaffing.

Despite living in west London for the last 4 years this was the first time I'd attended one of the Bricklayer's Arms beer festivals. Shamefull I know. Even as a solid supporter of Manchester and Lancashire brewing, having grown up there, I have to say I was extremely impressed with the beers from Yorkshire. Which is a good sign as I'll be moving there in 6 months or so. Notable beers were the Thriller in Vanilla from Brown Cow, a 5.1% porter which had been made with real vanilla, and the Saltaire Triple Chocoholic, a 4.8% porter with chocolate malt, real chocolate and chocolate syrup added.
The Triple Chocoholic was a rich, chocolaty beer (unsurprisingly) that is exactly the kind of beer I've grown to love over the last few months. The Thriller in Vanilla was sublime. There were huge flavours of chocolate and coffee with a delicious overtone of vanilla to the whole thing. However special mention does have to go to Wentworth and their Chilli Chocolate Stout which without a doubt was the best beer I had all evening. The beer itself was a lovely rich stout and the addition of the chilli added a whole new dimension to the experience. At 4.8% it wasn't as strong as some stouts, but it was absolutely yummy.
After all this it got me thinking as to the reasons why a lot of pubs, even ones with a reasonable range of ales, don't have any dark beers on regularly. The flavour you can get in the darker beers is amazing and I think a lot of people who don't normally drink ales would be most surprised to realise that you can get such different flavours in beer. I can only assume that the landlords don't think they'll sell or that they in fact don't sell. In that case I think there's a huge case for pubs and staff to educate the drinker into the range of beers available.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The solution to binge drinking?

I came across this article on the BBC today. It bills itself at a radical solution which will solve binge drinking. However what it actually provides is a summing up of the general misconceptions about how binge drinking will be solved. There are some ideas I actually agree with scattered through it for which I do applaud the author. In this post I'll go through each one and provide some brief comments on each one. In the future I may also extend each one to an individual blog post.

1. Subtly make drinks weaker
They use the example of bringing the average strength of lager down from 5.5%. This abhorrent viewpoint has already begun blighting this country as we see a whole raft of new announcement from various multinationals about bringing down strengths of some of their flagship brands. As I've often stated before I'm a huge fan of lower alcohol beers, what I'm not in favour of is "watering down the workers beer". Beer that was designed and the recipes made at a certain ABV should stay at that ABV.

2. Enforce a minimum price of alcohol
Again an awful idea which will have very little effect. I'd quite like to see some statistics on how much booze as a percentage of the total booze sold is actually sold below the 50p limit. I'd imagine it's very small.

3. Get people back into pubs
This actually is a good idea and I've always been an advocate of this policy. When I was 16/17 I, like many others in Britain, often sneaked into a pub for a few crafty pints from time to time. The landlords likely knew we weren't 18 but we didn't cause any trouble and surely this is better than children's first experience of alcohol being 3 litres of White Diamond in a playground. It is also very important that landlords here play a key role in the control of alcohol sold. While it makes little business sense in the short term selling alcohol to clearly drunk people should be actively discouraged in bar staff. I've worked in pubs before and have never been told that I should not serve clearly drunk customers even though it is the law.

4. Raise the legal drinking age
An awful decision for the same reasons as I've stated above. They use the example of the States as a good example of where this is working. How many drunken students need to injure themselves at frat parties before our Atlantic neighbours realise their policy isn't working. And don't even get me started on the problem on drug use amongst American teenagers.

5. Nationalise off-licences
This is one of the only points here that is actually a bit different. As a fundamental free market capitalist I intrinsically distrust all nationalisations. My main concern here is that if nationalised these off-licences could easily be used to push government agenda etc.

6. Discourage rounds
An old WW1 policy that rears it's ugly head again. An awful idea; the Great British Round is here to stay.

7. Ban alcohol marketing
I'm not too sure on this one. While I think this would make a more level playing field for all breweries to compete on I also don't think this would really do anything to change the culture of beer and sport being intrinsically interlinked. It'd also be interesting to see if when a similar ban was placed on smoking advertising if it made any difference. (Does anyone know this?)

8. Target middle-class professionals
This I'm also stuck between 2 points. While I agree that the Rioja brigade may need to sit down and look at their drinking habits, the bottle of wine a night man is clearly not doing his body any good, in between complaining about the poor people getting drunk on cheap tinnies of lager. I think the point that needs to be made here is that there is a whole generation of people (40-60 which is my parents generation) for whom the amount they drink has never really been questioned or discussed. However I think that in comparison to the wider problems of anti-social behaviour, public drunkenness and violence it clearly is not as much of a problem.

9. Not in front of the children
Another absolutely awful idea. Frank Furedi from Paranoid Parenting sums it up quite nicely. The more  the mystique is taken away from alcohol the less children will want to rebel. Again see point 3. If parents don't teach their kids about responsible drinking then who will? The big bad government wolf?

10. Stop exaggerating the problem
Here is the crux of the argument. I can't agree with this more. Alcohol consumption is falling, we already drink less than, but pay a load more tax than, a whole swathe of European countries who don't think it necessary to have this ridiculous alcohol lobby. 

So that's my rant on common alcohol misconceptions over but what solutions am I proposing? Well that's for another time I think.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

A night with Arbor!

A desire for a good tasting session led me and a couple of friends to Cask Pub and Kitchen for the Meet the Brewer event with Arbor Ales.
Jon and Paul spoke very passionately about their brewery and the inspiration behind their beers. They spoke of how a lot of the beers they made were inspired by the craft brewing scene from the states and this was clearly evident with the large array of IPA's on offer. I'm always impressed when brewers talk about simply brewing beers they enjoy drinking. In my mind this is the best way to do it. Brew good beers and people will drink them; to many brewers try and predict the market and end up with uninspiring or simple beers. Jon described about how if they had a beer they liked or had an idea for something they'd like to drink but couldn't find it they'd get back to the brewery and make it. This was hugely evident in the huge array of beers on offer; 10 in total.

Highlights of the evening for me included the Nibiru IPA, a lovey citrus 6.3% IPA, and the 7% Yakima Valley IPA which were both big hoppy West Coast style beers. What really impressed me about these 2 beers was the big citrus overtones which weren't the usual lemon and lime flavours but big tastes, and forgive me if this sounds a little poncey, of mango, grapefruit and papaya.  The other thing that really struck me about these 2 beers was the intense hoppy flavours and aromas without the overwhelming bitterness of some West Coast IPA's.
The other hugely impressive beer was the Bullion IPA, a 6.5% beer, that they had chosen to serve through a randall (a container of hops which sits between the cask and the beer engine). I loved the aroma and flavour this imparted in the beer.

I was also very taken with the less heavy session beers like Inferiority Complex, a 3.4% dark session beer, and the Mild West, a 3.6% dark mild, which both packed huge amounts of flavour considering their strength.

Overall it was a great night and, even though I managed to burn a £75 hole in my wallet buying the "sale" bottles of foreign beer, I can't wait for next months edition with Hardknott!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

More hypocrisy from the Government.

After I wrote the previous article I did a little searching around on the internet and found the House of Common's report by which the new Government guidelines are based which can be found here. I just thought I'd post a selection of snippets from the evidence section to highlight my earlier point.

"There is a lack of consensus amongst experts over the health benefits of alcohol, but it is not clear from the current evidence base how the benefits of drinking alcohol at low quantities compare to those of lifelong abstention."
In other words, there is no evidence either way.

"We have heard sufficient concerns from experts to suggest that a thorough review of the evidence on alcohol and health risks is due."

So essentially since they have no evidence they are calling for a review.

One of the most interesting things I could find was this little graph which I think they have gotten from the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, a part of the University of Boston's School of Medicine, and Alcohol in moderation who state on their website (found here)

"The Forum consists of an international group of invited physicians and scientists who are specialists in their fields and committed to balanced and well researched analysis regarding alcohol and health. The Forum includes epidemiologists, statisticians, and basic scientists; cardiologists, hepatologists, neurologists, oncologists, and other medical practitioners; psychologists and social scientists; and specialists in social matters, psychology, and public health."
Sound like a fairly credible organisation to me. Much more credible than a Government funded lobby group like alcohol concern.
Now, to the graph itself. It doesn't really need a huge amount of explanation; the graph quite clearly shows that from their data the relative risk of mortality is minimum for both men and women when around 0.5 drinks a day is the average consumption. It is also necessary to point out that the relative risk only meets that of abstention, even taking the lowest confidence interval, for men around 3.75 drinks a day and for women at around 2 drinks per day. Now if we say the average drink has around 2 units in that would mean that if a man was to drink 7.5, or a woman 4, units a day their relative risk of mortality would still only equal that of the case of abstention. So where oh where have the Government plucked these 2-3 for women and 3-4 for men from? It truely does baffle me that this is clearly stated in the same Government report they use to campaign for reducing the guidelines.

Would "dry days" make a difference? A comment on Government policy and bad science journalism in general.

Mark Dredge recently wrote an interesting article about the new government recommendation for drinkers to have a least a couple of "dry days" within a week which can be found here. He makes the good point that we occasionally feel like we can "reward" ourselves after these dry days. As a younger drinker, with a reasonably hectic university life, I know all too well the feeling of "saving up" a weeks worth of drinking to have a few too many at the weekend. To me this notion of a dry day from the government just goes further to highlight the lack of understanding of the affect of alcohol. As far as I could tell from the original article here this new advice has come on the back of very little scientific studies or evidence; the article claims that "recent studies have cast doubt on the health benefits of regular drinking". However, as with all good science articles the names of, the sources of funding for and any information about these studies is nowhere to be seen. As a science student I am intrinsically unsure of any article which fails to disclose where the information has come from. It wouldn't surprise me if the funding for this study came from one of the well known impartial bodies like Alcohol Concern. While I do agree that there is a problem in this country of alcohol abuse, especially amongst people my own age, I think to attack the sensible drinkers with policies like this is not only pointless but also downright irresponsible. I am almost certain a large amount of young drinkers read these headlines and thought "Great if I have 4 dry days during the week it means I can drink as much as I want at the weekend because the government said it was ok!"

The article also raises the older issue of the actual safe amount of alcohol the body can deal with in a set amount of time. According to current Government legislation my mum having a glass of wine with her evening meal would render her a binge drinker. A good comparison to the current non-guidelines is that of speed limits; in my opinion they are both too low and importantly everyone knows it. Most drivers would have no real qualms about hitting 75mph on a motorway and similarly most drinkers have no problems drinking more than 21 units a week. Many people will have drank over 21 units a week and seen no ill affects from it so clearly the current guidelines are simply too low to be believed. The other big problem with the current guidelines is the fact that they are very confusing to the average person on the street. The notion of units need to be scrapped ASAP if the Government ever want people to understand  the guidelines. Call me Dave seems to have realised this with calls for the simplification of the system and for more education for young people about the amount of alcohol in certain drinks. If the Government want their guidelines to be taken seriously, they need to present the public with the actual evidence and set guidelines which are both understandable to the average person and also don't appear patronising.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Low alcohol beers; it's not all about getting pissed you know!

Having recently raved about a couple of excellent low alcohol beers I'd had recently, and with everyone's favourite government announcing more drinking advice, I took the time to find a selection of the new low alcohol delights that should be available this year.


The first of these is Wadworth's small beer which is described as "using six different malts along with three hops added at various phases of the brew". They also say that the duty saving WILL be passed onto the consumer meaning the price should only be around £2.50 a pint. So far so good I think.

The second is Fuller Mighty Atom which is supposedly a "2.8% beer that doesn't compromise on flavour." Fullers also say that the tax saving will be passed onto the customer.
Finally it's the turn of one of my least favourite breweries. In the past I have often accused Greene King of churning out some truly mediocre beers. However, at last they have tried something new. As with the other 2 they say the beer should retail for well under £3 a pint.

Low strength beers are a great idea and something which I think could revitalise one of the major areas of concern for pubs; the decline in lunchtime drinking. I wholeheartedly urge any brewers out there to give the style a bash.