First they came for the Special Brew…part two

It seems I spoke too soon when I wrote about West­min­ster council’s scheme to ban strong lagers and ciders from off-licences in cer­tain spots.

I should point out that this is a vol­un­tary scheme, not the result of any leg­is­la­tion, and that it is localised to sev­er­al areas with­in West­min­ster which are par­tic­u­lar­ly known for “street-drinkers”.

The Con­ser­v­a­tive par­ty announced yes­ter­day that if they come to pow­er they would be seek­ing to raise tax­es on high strength beer and cider, and also alcopops.

As I said in my orig­i­nal post, and as the com­men­ta­tors added, your aver­age alkie will just switch to wine or what­ev­er else gives you more bang for your buck.

Mean­while, some of us have Impe­r­i­al Stout and Bel­gian triple habits to maintain…For want­i­ng to drink these, I am not a “sen­si­ble drinker” in the eyes of the Tories. But as a young(ish) woman, I prob­a­bly shouldn’t be drink­ing at all, accord­ing to them – the rea­son for the attack on alcopops is that these are “tar­get­ed pri­mar­i­ly at young women”. Young women drink­ing? Next they’ll be get­ting jobs and hav­ing sex.


The session: organic beer

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s Ses­sion is host­ed by the Beer Activist blog, and fea­tures organ­ic beer. Chris O’Brien asks every­one to pub­lish a post relat­ed to organ­ic beer and even allows us to decide what counts as organ­ic – handy, as we’ve nev­er real­ly under­stood the rules in the UK!

We have to say that we’ve been some­what scep­ti­cal about organ­ic beer to date. We’re rea­son­ably open to the idea of organ­ic food, espe­cial­ly as it often (although not always!) means small-scale, local pro­duc­tion with a bit more care for the qual­i­ty of the prod­uct. But we don’t always buy organ­ic, because there are oth­er fac­tors that are more impor­tant to us, like food miles. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant for beer, because there is an extreme­ly lim­it­ed sup­ply of organ­ic hops in the UK, and we know that at least one brew­er imports their hops from New Zealand.

organic2.jpgAnd unlike with some prod­ucts, like meat and cheese, where there is gen­er­al­ly a dis­cern­ably dif­fer­ence in qual­i­ty, we can’t say we’ve ever noticed that organ­ic hops or malt make for a more flavour­some beer. It’s not that organ­ic beer is bad, it’s just that it’s rarely as spe­cial as you think it ought to be. The Beer Nut sum­marised it real­ly well, when he said:

…brew­ers seem con­tent with their Soil Asso­ci­a­tion cer­tifi­cate as a sell­ing point rather than putting the graft into the flavour”

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The ses­sion: organ­ic beer”

24-hour licensing evaluated

licensing2.jpgLots of stuff in the news today about the pub­li­ca­tion of a Gov­ern­ment report inves­ti­gat­ing the impact of “24-hour licens­ing”. See here for a sam­ple of reac­tions to the report on the Beeb.

Bit of back­ground for read­ers not used to our crazy First World War licens­ing laws. Basi­cal­ly, up until Novem­ber 2005, stan­dard pub open­ing was until 11:20, with last drinks served at 11:00. A dinky lit­tle bell would ring warn­ing you about last orders, prompt­ing a Pavlov­ian response in most Brits to rush to the bar and get anoth­er round in. Yes, pubs could get late licences, but most didn’t. You’d all get turfed onto the street at 11:20, which may or may not be the root of the British “pint and a fight = great night” ethos.

Now, in the brave new era of 24-hour licens­ing, it’s all changed.  Or has it? The vast major­i­ty of pubs still open exact­ly as they used to, or per­haps extend the open­ing time to mid­night at the week­ends.

Few­er than 4% of premis­es (5,100) have applied for round-the-clock pub open­ing – and many that have are hotels, stores and super­mar­kets.

Only 470 pubs, bars and night­clubs are open 24 hours and the aver­age clos­ing time across all licensed premis­es has got just 21 min­utes lat­er.” [BBC]

Crit­ics pre­dict­ed waves of vio­lent crime and rivers of vom­it, the think­ing being that the only thing pre­vent­ing the Brits laps­ing into bar­bar­i­ty was the time lim­it on drink­ing. Opti­mists hoped that the leg­is­la­tion would bring in “con­ti­nen­tal style drink­ing”, i.e. you would no longer feel the need to drink so quick­ly, which would in turn lead us to con­sume more respon­si­bly and over a longer peri­od in the evening (and not get into fights on the way home).

And so along comes this report, say­ing that not a lot has changed. To quote the sum­ma­ry:

Its intro­duc­tion [24hour licens­ing] has not led to the wide­spread prob­lems some feared. Over­all, crime and alco­hol con­sump­tion are down. But alco­hol-relat­ed vio­lence has increased in the ear­ly hours of the morn­ing and some com­mu­ni­ties have seen a rise in dis­or­der”

So it appears that the peo­ple who were get­ting into fights between 11:30 and mid­night are now get­ting into fights at three in the morn­ing. But oth­er than that, there has been no notice­able impact on our pub cul­ture or drink­ing habits.

Not that this stops the more hys­ter­i­cal parts of our press, who have focussed in the spike in vio­lence between 3am and 6am as proof the pol­i­cy has failed.

The full report can be down­loaded hereTan­dle­man cov­ers the sto­ry here.

I decid­ed to fol­low suit with the tabloids and illus­trate this sto­ry with a shock hor­ror pic­ture of a Brit binge­ing.  Aren’t you shocked?  Go on, be shocked.


Cosy pub interiors

When we talk about pubs we like, we often find our­selves rat­ing them in terms of their cosi­ness. And in con­trast, barn-like is one of the most com­mon pejo­ra­tive terms used to describe pubs – big, cav­ernous pubs are sim­ply not cosy in any way.

Peo­ple seem to love pubs where they can have a lit­tle pri­va­cy, which is one of the rea­sons for the pop­u­lar­i­ty of some of Sam Smith’s pubs in Lon­don. The Cities of York, for exam­ple, retains a quaint lay­out with mul­ti­ple lit­tle rooms, with­in which are fur­ther sub­di­vi­sions – cub­by-holes and par­ti­tioned booths.

The great thing about this approach is that, if the pub is emp­ty, it doesn’t mat­ter – you’re not exposed, and don’t feel lone­ly. Con­verse­ly, if the pub is busy, you get some space, and can enjoy the buzz with­out hav­ing to over­hear every­body else’s con­ver­sa­tion.

We don’t real­ly know why oth­er pubs don’t try a bit of strate­gic par­ti­tion­ing to boost the cosi­ness lev­el. How much is a sheet of MDF these days?