Beer sales in the UK are experiencing a “slump”, according to a piece I saw in the media. The drop was 8% year-on-year. Is this really a slump? Considering how much other business sectors have been affected in this recession, I’d say that only an 8% fall means that beer is still a pretty important part of the British way of life.
The story claimed that the “slump” was partly due to an excise duty increase earlier this year, which put an extra 1p on a pint of beer. Shock, horror! When most pubs round here charge an average of £3 a pint, an extra penny is 0.3%. Who would seriously say that they gave up or reduced beer drinking based on a 0.3% increase? Does the brewers’ trade association or the media think we are stupid? There are many other factors; the extra penny can’t be that important.
Since reading that story I heard from a friend, whose work involves scouring the various business pages, a fact that this media story didn’t include, i.e. that the “slump” has mostly been in cheap lagers rather than ales. I seem to recall that we were told, not long ago, that it’s lager that is responsible for the majority of binge-drinking, with its concomitant effect on casual violence. Isn’t one of our leading brands of lager widely referred to as “the wife-beater”? Maybe this “slump” could be good news from a health and a public order viewpoint. Not good news, I realise, if you own or run a pub and your business’s viability depends on the volume of lager sold. You don’t have to go far to see pubs that have closed down due to changes in drinking habits and the smoking ban.
I should, finally, declare an interest. I like beer as much as the next man or woman. Although I have spent enough time in Scandinavia and Germany to appreciate lagers of various kinds, to my taste real ale is the real thing. So if this latest piece of news could be described as good (or at least less bad) news for brewers of traditional ales, and bad news for binge-drinking, with its effects on health and on the depressing incidence of domestic and other violence every Friday and Saturday night, then I’ll drink to that. Or, to quote Benjamin Franklin: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”. Happy, please, not in prison or hospital.