Well, more on the subject, anyway.
Further to my last posting, I read a story in yesterday’s Independent, entitled “We’ll drink to that: pubs hail the return of real ale.” I had written that real ale sales were reported as holding up better than “cheap lagers”. The latter will apparently suffer further in the long-predicted event of a Tory victory, because of today’s announcement of plans to appply minumum pricing.
The Indy’s real ale story was simply that 2.3 million more pints were sunk in the first half of this year than the same period; the last time that full-year consumption rose was in 1982, so if the rise is maintained that’s going to be good news for the traditional brewers, the number of which is growing.
That volume increase, by the way, is 1%:in the current climate that’s a healthy rise.
One oddity: the last line of the report states that Britain’s beer market is worth £18.3 bn; of that real ale represents very much the minority, at £2bn. However, elsewhere in the piece a large graphic shows the the number of pints of real ale sunk last year as 237 million. Unless I’m missing something, that values the wonderful stuff at £8.44 / pint. If I were a brewer, I’d say it’s worth that much, but round here I pay an average of £3 a pint. I’m surprised that nobody at the Indy noticed the discrepancy.
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.