High Strength Beer Idiotry10October 19th, 2011Comment
This month the government has quietly stepped up its attack on binge drinking, by increasing tax on beers such as Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Fullers Vintage and Belgian classic Duvel.
For years these beers have been the staple of Britain’s drinking woes, associated with football hooliganism, anti-social behaviour, reckless vandalism and drunken brawls in market towns across the land. In northern England such beers are being blamed for virtually all teenage pregnancies and at least 99.7% of Saturday night street vomiting.
The above of course is not true, even if you add to the list Tenants Super and Carlsberg Special Brew. But, in a bizarre and cruel twist of legislation, beers over 7.5% are being singled out for a significant increase in tax duty under the banner of improving our fine nation and reducing the drink related burden on society.
The high strength beer duty amendment is detailed here and here – in practice it will probably mean a rise in price of anywhere between 10p and 75p per bottle of higher strength beer – roughly a 5%-10% increase in price per bottle.
It’s a nonsensical argument – these beers account for 0.5% of UK alcohol sales and include the most expensive beers available to buy. The majority of these beers are not consumed for binge drinking despite the reputation of some of the canned beers that fall within this category. As a headline though, HSBD is an easy sell to Daily Mail readers whose ignorance (in the dictionary sense of the word) of artisan beers means that on paper the change in law seems like a no-brainer.
The government of course know this, and they know that premium drinkers will pay premium prices. They also know that they can get away with singling out beer for their fight on booze. After all how would the audience of Saturday Kitchen feel if all wine over 7.5% suddenly received a hike in price due to tax? How would Mr J Sainsbury, Mr WM Morrison et al feel?
Beer in the UK is experiencing a renaissance. So, in times when we desperately need to stimulate the economy, why add measures that thwart innovation in a growing industry?
On balance UK brewers are benefitting from three measures that will help trade: small brewer’s relief, the launch of the 2/3 measure and the reduction in duty on beers under 2.8%, which we entirely commend (even though we currently only know of five beers that will benefit, made by Harvey’s, Greene King and JW Lees).
Yes we think the government should encourage small measures (how else to enjoy a strong beer?!). And yes we believe there is not only a market but a need for less strong beers (despite obesity levels we are an increasingly health obsessed society, and whilst most brewers will agree that brewing a tasty beer under 3.4% is not easy, it’s a market to untap).
Taxing strong beers is taxing the endeavour of brewers. It is taxing the concept of slow food, and more than that, it’s fundamentally not tackling the issues it’s purported to be addressing.
Does anyone remember those three words ‘Education, education, education.’
They may have been uttered by a different party to those in blu-tacked power, but when it comes to booze, there are no three words better placed to resolve our countries struggle with the binge.
Tags: beer duty, beer tax, strong beer
- By us, on binge drinking and elections
- The Independent, on canned super lagers in 1993
- BBC Inside Out on high strength lagers (before they employed web designers it would seem) http://www.bbc.co.uk/insideout/content/articles/2008/05/01/london_superstrength_alcohol_s13_w10_feature.shtml
- On Kestrel Super, and again
- Opinions on HSBD – Zak Avery, James Clay, SW Brewery, The Indy, Moor Beer, Gadds, Broadford Brewer, Magic Rock, PDNC, Ghost Drinker
- On the under 2.8% tax (and some crucial caveats) – Hardknott Dave, Big Hospitality
- On supermarket beer prices http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2011/10/super-tax.html,
And beer prices or tax duties come from our secondary research:
- Kestrel price http://www.britishcornershop.co.uk/product.asp?id=6331
- Dark Star price http://www.beerritz.co.uk/buy/orkney-dark-island-reserve-2010-release_690.htm
- Beer duty in £s: various above plus comments of http://www.pencilandspoon.com/2011/09/new-duty-rates-on-beer-and-new-glass.html and http://thebeerboy.blogspot.com/2011/10/higher-strength-beer-duty-my-view.html
And for some high strength beer reviews during October, see our friends at http://thebeercast.com/2011/10/big-beer-month.html
Absolutely right Mark, this will de-rail a lot of the momentum that the British brewing industry has gained over recent years. Ok – there are plenty of producers who never set the bar to 7.5% – but taxing beers above this strength will discourage anyone from having a go. Great post.
Education, Education, Education… that’s what’s needed and that what Mentor, the alcohol protection charity is advocating. Government policy is currently fixated on treatment as they see this a a quick win. We want programmes in schools and for parents that work to delay the onset of drinking too early and leads to an irresponsible approach to drinking alcohol. This is not a problem restricted to urban housing estates though. Our university’s allow mind numbingly stupid adverts for freshers to basically get blasted on cheap booze and much of youth culture is based around getting drunk rather than enjoying a social night out aided by a good drink or two. We have to change the actual culture around which we talk and behave around alcohol. Most research will show that nearly all violent crime and anti social behaviour associated with alcohol has nothing to do with real ales. ‘Sorry officer, I smashed up that shop and kicked that bloke in the face because I had one too many Trappest Breune’s’ is not something you’ll see on a PC’s report sheet. Cheap larger, cider and alco pops yes… The Real Ale fraternity are in my opinion superb role models to younger drinkers in ‘how to drink’ responsibly. The people government are trying to reach don’t even drink some of the beverages being targeted. They can’t afford it! Taking a closer look at the cheap high abv largers and the way some supermarkets knock them out super cheap would be a better policy. We know what the drinks of choice are for young binge drinkers and its not Kernel Pale and Dark Island Reserve… Another case of shooting the allies rather than the enemy.