News, Nuggets & Longreads 4 August 2018: Alcohol, Mirages, Contracts

Here’s everything to do with beer and pubs that struck us as bookmarkable in the past week, from alcohol guidance to estate pubs.

First, a bit of news from the oth­er side of the world: Lion, which seems to be on a spend­ing spree, has just bought pio­neer­ing New Zealand ‘bou­tique brew­ery’ Har­ring­ton’s, found­ed in 1991.

Mean­while, in Aus­tralia, AB-InBev (via it’s ZX Ven­tures invest­ment wing) has acquired online beer retail­er Booze­Bud, to go with sim­i­lar pur­chas­es world­wide such as Beer­hawk here in the UK.


Illustration: poison symbol (skull and crossbones)

For the Guardian philoso­pher Julian Bag­gi­ni reflects on the essen­tial prob­lem of alco­hol guid­ance in the UK: the entan­gle­ment of sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence-based advice with mat­ters of moral­i­ty.

[We] like to think in clean, clear cat­e­gories of good and bad. With our puri­tan­i­cal Protes­tant his­to­ry, alco­hol has always fall­en on the dark side of this divide. So when the truth turns out to be com­pli­cat­ed, rather than accept this mature­ly, we refuse to acknowl­edge the good and car­ry on as though it were all bad. Because drunk­en­ness is sin­ful, moral con­dem­na­tion of it trumps any oth­er redemp­tive qual­i­ties it might have.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 4 August 2018: Alco­hol, Mirages, Con­tracts”

Minimum Unit Pricing: Let’s See How it Goes

BrewDog Beers on a shelf.

This week, after much deliberation, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the Scottish government can set a 50p minimum price-per-unit for alcohol.

This is a dis­cus­sion of which we’ve tend­ed to steer clear because fol­low­ing the argu­ments is a full time job and oth­er peo­ple are more invest­ed in it; and because it tends to get a bit frothy as lib­er­tar­i­ans with com­pli­cat­ed con­nec­tions to think tanks and the booze indus­try yell at researchers and pol­i­cy-mak­ers with com­pli­cat­ed con­nec­tions to the his­toric tem­per­ance move­ment and gov­ern­ment, and vice ver­sa.

With that in mind, we can’t say with any con­fi­dence whether MUP is a good pol­i­cy or not, and we’ve heard con­vinc­ing argu­ments for and against from both sides.

For exam­ple, we do wor­ry that it will make it hard­er for ‘respon­si­ble drinkers’ on low incomes to get tid­dly while mid­dle- and upper-class drinkers can con­tin­ue to get as wast­ed as they like on what­ev­er they like. (A few years ago we won­dered about set­ting up a Christ­mas Booze Bank dish­ing out bot­tles of whisky or slabs of beer to peo­ple who might oth­er­wise have to choose between hav­ing fun or hav­ing the heat­ing on.) It seems clear that MUP is intend­ed to tar­get very strong white ciders and super-strength lagers – the kinds of thing few peo­ple actu­al­ly choose to drink if they can afford oth­er­wise – but will catch lots of oth­er types of less sin­is­ter booze in its net.

Equal­ly, it seems daft to ignore the real­i­ty of the prob­lems alco­hol caus­es for some of the most vul­ner­a­ble in soci­ety, espe­cial­ly when it’s wil­ful igno­rance in sup­port of abso­lutist anti-reg­u­la­tion dog­ma. Some peo­ple drink too much – we’ve all seen the evi­dence of this, or known fam­i­ly mem­bers who demon­strates it – but their lives, and those of their loved ones, might be pro­longed and made hap­pi­er in the long run if they drank at least a lit­tle bit less. This is real­i­ty, peo­ple’s actu­al lives, not a philo­soph­i­cal par­lour game.

We cer­tain­ly don’t think all alco­hol pol­i­cy cam­paign­ers and researchers are cyn­ics and killjoys attempt­ing to intro­duce pro­hi­bi­tion via the thin ends of var­i­ous wedges. (Even if some of their fel­low trav­ellers might be that way inclined.) In gen­er­al, the thin-end-of-the-wedge argu­ment winds us up – we’d nev­er do any­thing if point B inevitably leads to point Z. No, we tend to think they are moti­vat­ed by gen­uine con­cern for their broth­er man, even if that some­times reads as con­de­scen­sion or med­dling; and, in the case of researchers, we’ve no rea­son to doubt that they are striv­ing for sci­en­tif­ic objec­tiv­i­ty.

(If you believe oth­er­wise we’d be gen­uine­ly inter­est­ed to know what you reck­on moti­vates them – sure­ly not reli­gion, in 2017? Chron­ic dour­ness? Insan­i­ty?)

Politi­cians, gov­ern­ment PR peo­ple and news­pa­pers on the oth­er hand… Well, they’re prone to over-sim­pli­fy­ing, over-drama­tis­ing, grand ges­tures. If there’s a prob­lem, it might be there.

So, again, we don’t know if MUP is a good idea. What we do know is that Scot­land won’t be tak­ing this step with­out due process hav­ing been fol­lowed. Much research has been under­tak­en; hours have been spent labour­ing over every detail and foot­note; the final judge­ment from the Supreme Court seems bal­anced and cau­tious (PDF); and there’s going to be a sub­stan­tial eval­u­a­tion project to judge its impact.

Good pol­i­cy or not, this is how it ought to work – small steps, cau­tious­ly imple­ment­ed, chal­lenged in court where appro­pri­ate, fol­lowed by a seri­ous assess­ment of whether it has achieved what was intend­ed, and whether they have been any unde­sir­able side-effects.

There is, after all, no way to real­ly test pol­i­cy with­out try­ing it in the real world, and there’s nev­er been any pol­i­cy, how­ev­er well-inten­tioned, that didn’t wing a few bystanders along the way.

Ulti­mate­ly we have to accept that pubs and the alco­hol indus­try aren’t the only things that mat­ter, even if they’re very impor­tant to us, and if the col­lec­tive judge­ment is that they have to take a hit for the greater good then, well, that’s part of the give and take of liv­ing in a democ­ra­cy.

Further Reading