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Fergus on some recent beer-related stories

By Fergus Fitzgerald, also posted in News on

Adnams' Brewer Fergus FitzgeraldWe knew we had a relatively good year in 2011 but as our annual results came out last week the numbers are there for all to see. There are a few more beer-related stories that have been in the news of late – here are some of my thoughts on them: 1.    The budget Despite what it may have sounded like, duty on beer has gone up by 2% above inflation, which meant a 5% increase. Disappointingly, there was a resignation throughout the industry that the increase would go ahead, the only good news was that the inflation figure it was based on was slightly less than had been feared. The case against the duty escalator has been made more eloquently here and it includes a brilliant picture of what a beer escalator looks like. Pete Brown also does an excellent job here, although Pete’s choice of photo for his piece isn’t up to much. 2.    Low abv beers As most of you will probably know last September the government introduced a 50% reduction on the rate of duty payable on beers at 2.8% or less. There has been plenty of talk about whether the low abv beers will be a successful part of the strategy to tackle heavy drinking. I don’t know if it will, but certainly over the past month or so we’ve seen some good sales figures for Sole Star and from a personal point of view it has reduced my alcohol intake when I had an few after work pints last week. Not that my head is easily turned but an American brewer who I know said it was the best beer he’d tasted on his trip to England and even if I do say so myself it’s one of the best low abv beers that I’ve tasted. I think there are two schools of thought on whether these beers will work, one says that the beers need to be as cheap as possible to get people to drink them, the other is that they need to stand up for themselves in terms of flavour and the low abv should be part of the package rather than the sole reason for buying them. Personally, I’m in the later camp so that’s where we’ve pitched our tent with Sole Star. 3.    Minimum pricing The plan to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol was announced quite hastily after the budget was less than well received. Obviously totally unrelated. I’m not really sure how I feel about minimum pricing. It won’t affect the price of any of our beers as we are well above the level that’s being talked about, however, it’s quite likely that the 40p will be a starting point and once the principle is established it will rise in successive years. There is a school of thought that suggests it might benefit the pub, I do think the pub is where I would prefer to do most of my drinking. A properly inclusive pub that attracts people of different generations seems to me to be the best place to learn how to drink in a responsible way. Obviously this picture doesn’t apply to every pub, but as an ideal it seems to me much better than sitting on a bench by the river drinking the cheapest cider your friends older brothers money can buy. That said I don’t really agree with those who do drink responsibly having to pay more. I know it’s normal for people in blogs to come out totally in favour of an idea or totally against, I have to say I find that most things are not black and white but instead are just shades of grey. Fence sitting is often derided on the easy option but in reality it is the most difficult place to stay when people on both sides of the debate try to pull you over to their own side often, quite often you do have to make a decision but that shouldn’t then mean you ignore the doubts and questions you had before you came down on either side. I can’t help feeling that the overly confident posturing on matters where the evidence isn’t conclusive is just hiding the same doubts that we all have. I’m thinking minimum pricing is a Suffolk grey sky just after a shower. If anyone is interested in reading more opinions on politics and drinking then Phil Mellows' blog is definitely worth a read. 4.    Beer goggles I’ve left the most important story until last.  It has been discovered that alcohol reduces our ability to determine symmetry in faces and hence appear more attractive after a few drinks. I’m sure you can all write your own jokes. However, another bit of research found contradictory evidence. I especially like the last quote, "The Leicester University researchers said: ‘There was no difference – the men were just as undiscerning as ever.’"

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