Tag: neo-prohibitionism

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The Great Dentist’s Chair Hunt

BLTP raises an interesting point on my last post:

“Just been listening to Today and they mentioned “dentist chair” binge drinking, has anyone ever seen one of these? The famous (in 1996) Gazza incident happened abroad didn’t it? And yet this is talked about as if it’s daily widespread.”
I’ve never seen one. I just did a Google image search and can’t find a single picture of one.
If anyone can send me documentary proof of such a promotion happening anywhere in the UK in the last ten years, you get a free copy of my book and a copy of the HSC Report.

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Charting new reserves of willpower

Me. Yesterday.
One of the things that angers me most about this month’s fresh assault from the neopros is the timing of it. In January loads of people give up booze for a month, they’re thinking about how much they drink (even Glyn at the Rake is scaring himself silly about this) so let’s hit people while they’re vulnerable and scare them.

What makes me angry about this is that it misses the point – heavy drinkers such as me and The Beer Widow do occasionally like to prove to ourselves that we don’t have a drink problem, and whatever your views on units etc. no one can argue that it does your body good to lay off the sauce for a while. Via the twisted logic of the neopros, the very fact that we feel the need to do this – to plan a month where we don’t drink and prove to ourselves that we can go without – is proof that we do have a problem. You just can’t win with these guys. It’s like saying that if someone goes on a diet and loses weight, this proves they are still fat.
Two weeks in, I’m 9lbs lighter and feeling great (that’s not just off the beer – it’s also a diet consisting mainly of seeds, vegetables, pulses and owl pellets). But for the record, I have had no cravings – either physical or psychological – for alcohol. I haven’t had that naggy, itchy feeling when you think, “Ooh, I could really do with a drink.” Not once. Not even when I’ve been quite stressed – and when I do drink too much, it’s usually stress related. To me, rather than proving I have a drink problem, this proves I don’t have one. I’m sure thousands of other people are feeling the same way right now. And that’s one big reason why I’m so angry about the timing of this neopro assault.
But I am missing beer. I’m missing the taste and smell of it. I’m missing going down to the cellar and looking along the rows of bottles and not letting myself think about it too hard, but just letting my appetite or my subconscious decide what’s going to go best with whatever’s bubbling away on the hob. I’m missing leaning on the bar at the White Hart while my pint of Tribute, three quarters poured, settles a little while the smiling barperson goes off and gets the Beer Widow’s half of Leffe. I’m missing the wet half-moons on the varnished table top. I’m missing going down the the Rake and the slight lift in the stomach and tightening of the throat that betray my excitement the millisecond before I look along the bar and see what’s on draught.
Last night was my biggest test yet. One of the agencies I do some work for (the guys who designed the new M&S range) were having a belated Christmas party. I’m currently helping them out a bit on an exciting project around speciality beer, and they asked me to do a beer tasting session for them before the party proper got under way.
When I agreed to do this, I thought well, I’ll have one night off. That won’t do any harm. And it wouldn’t have. But then as the event drew closer, I thought, I wonder if I could actually do this without drinking? Do I have the willpower? Can I do a good event? Why not?
The audience was mainly beer novices, so I chose the theme “So you think you know beer”. The intention was to challenge the simple ‘cold fizzy lager versus warm, flat ale’ misconception that many people still have about beer. So I lined up, in order, the following:
  • Zatec lager – a lager that tastes like lager, an uncompromised expression of a true pilsner
  • Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted – the same colour as the Zatec, but much more body and aroma despite being 4.2% to Zatec’s 5%, to get them thinking about the difference between ale and lager
  • Worthington White Shield – to talk about bottle conditioning, and because it is one of the five greatest beers in the world
  • Goose Island IPA – to talk about hops, and because it’s also one of the five greatest beers in the world
  • Dogfish Head Midas touch – to talk about the history and evolution of beer, and broaden the parameters of what it might be
  • Brooklyn Dark Chocolate Stout – to talk about malt, and to open up a hint of ‘extreme’ beer (even though it’s not that extreme by most aficionado’s standards, it’s pretty out there for your average drinker)
  • Harviestoun Ola Dubh 40 Year Old – to show the innovation that’s happening and to leave conventional notions of what beer is and tastes like as a dwindling speck in the rear view mirror
  • Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus – to fuck with their heads and make them cry
I adore each and every one of these beers. With each one, I poured it, talked about it, held it to the light, swirled it, sniffed it, talked about the aroma, asked what flavours people were getting, stuck my nose deep into the glass… and then put it down on the table. I didn’t take a single sip.
I proved to myself that I can appreciate beer and be in close contact with it without drinking it.
And given that the audience enjoyed it, I proved I can give an entertaining beer tasting without drinking it.
So why did I feel like such a fucking idiot afterwards? Why did I feel like a bloke who’s found a wallet with £1000 quid in it and handed it in at a police station – knowing you’ve done the right thing, but feeling slightly foolish for having done so?
And then I woke up this morning, feeling fantastic, and discovered I’ve lost 1lb more.
I’m halfway through the detox, and have no intention of repeating last night’s self-denial when I’m back on the sauce. But long term I am going to cut out the three bottles in front of the telly on a rainy Monday night, the three pints in the pub after work just because it’s on the way home, the pint of Kronenbourg in a not very nice pub in the middle of town because I’ve got half an hour to wait before my meeting and I just might as well have one. I’ll do all of these occasionally, but not all the time.
If I do that, I’ll never again have to do something as stupid as pouring away the eight beers listed above, untouched, untasted.

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CAMRA and the neo-prohibitionists

A few of you have asked me where CAMRA is in the whole battle against the neo-prohibitionists, and whether they have issued any response to the HSC report.

So yesterday – after receiving a press release entitled ‘Pub Goers Set to Benefit from Abolition of Land Agreements Exclusion Order’ – I asked CAMRA’s press officer the question – had they issued any response to the HSC report or were they planning to?
CAMRA confirmed that they have not issued a press release, but have released the following quote to the media:
Iain Loe, CAMRA research manager, said “CAMRA welcomes the call by the Committee for the introduction of a minimum price per alcohol unit which will benefit community pubs by curbing the below cost selling of alcohol by supermarkets which can fuel pre-loading. We also welcome their suggestion that the Government should introduce a reduced rate of duty on beers below 2.8%.”
So there you have it. CAMRA supports minimum pricing – which we already knew – and has nothing to say about the rest of the report.
I’m not just going to indulge in knee-jerk CAMRA-bashing here. I’ll be asking CAMRA why they are not commenting more widely.
But in the meantime, what do you think? Is it CAMRA’s job to argue back against the HSC? Should they do so given that they claim to represent the interests of beer drinkers? Or is it too political? Is it outside their remit?
You can understand to an extent why drinks manufacturers are not arguing back – they would be hung out to dry by the media, treated (unfairly) with the same contempt as the cigarette companies who tried to argue that the link between smoking and lung cancer wasn’t proven.
But who SHOULD be fighting back? Someone has to. Surely it’s not just down to one or two independent journos and bloggers…
What do you think?

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Some pretty ladies illustrate the problem

Everyone seemed to welcome the Myleene Klass post as a bit of light relief from my anti-neopro posts, so here’s a happy medium between the two, specially for Cooking Lager. Have a look at this poster, which is currently displayed on a crosstrack site at Finsbury Park Tube:

It’s safe to assume that these three ladies are not policewomen on duty, and should therefore not be wearing policewomen’s hats. But they are. That’s because they’re partying. They’re on a night out. They are cheeky – as well as the hats, one of them is sticking her tongue out at the camera. But that’s really all we can imply from the picture.
And what’s the caption? That’s right: ‘alcohol misuse in England is costing the NHS £2.7 billion a year’.
Simply because these women are having a good time on a night out, the implication is that they are ‘misusing’ alcohol. We’re used to the widely repeated images of women with their knickers round their ankles, or collapsed in the street, but now, you don’t even have to do that – simply by being young, happy and out with your friends, you look like someone who is ‘misusing’ alcohol.

Look again at the picture: they don’t look bleary-eyed. Their make-up is in good condition. They look quite sharp and alert. Their behaviour doesn’t look outrageous – they’re simply posing for a photo. They’re not doing anything anti-social. In fact quite the opposite, they look very friendly. They show no signs of intoxication whatsoever. Christ, it could be a teetotaller’s fancy dress party for all we know. But they’re still ‘misusing’ alcohol.
The tiny writing up in the corner says ‘representative image used’. In other words, this photo was probably posed by models. But these healthy, attractive, perfectly turned out models are quite clearly meant to ‘represent’ alcohol misuse.
And this isn’t an ad from a temperance or health group – it’s an ad for ITV news. It’s not attempting to define what constitutes alcohol misuse, merely reflect contemporary understanding of what alcohol misuse is, and who is doing the misusing.
The social demonisation of alcohol continues apace.

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Answering the neo prohibitionists, 1 of 10: “Alcohol Consumption in the UK is increasing”

“Over the last 60 years English drinking habits have been transformed. In 1947 the nation consumed approximately three and a half litres of pure alcohol per head; the current figure is nine and a half litres.”The Parliamentary Health Select Committee Report on Alcohol

Why choose 1947? Oh, that’s why!

The Select Committee acknowledges that “The history of the consumption of alcohol over the last 500 years has been one of fluctuations, of peaks and troughs.” So why choose 1947 as your point of comparison? Isn’t it odd to say “How have drinking patterns changed over the last 63 years?” The reason for choosing this seemingly random date is that it represents a really low consumption point – any comparison is only going to look better if you deliberately choose the lowest point.[1] By choosing 1947, the Committee is deliberately ‘spinning’ the figures – manipulating data to suit their case. That in itself is statistically weaselly, but would be just about valid were it not for one key fact: alcohol consumption in the late 1940s was atypical of British drinking patterns over time, thanks to extraordinary and never repeated factors, and therefore does not represent a valid point of comparison. In World War Two:

  • Thanks to material shortages, the average strength of beer decreased markedly. Even though people were drinking more beer, they were consuming less alcohol through beer.
  • Spirits consumption virtually disappeared because (a) there were acute grain shortages. Production of Britain’s indigenous spirit – whisky – collapsed, and any existing volume was exported for valuable income; and (b) imports of spirits virtually ceased thanks to dangers to shipping – essentials had to be prioritized.
  • Many pubs were bombed out

The post-war years (including 1947) were even leaner than the war, as a broke country started to rebuild itself. It took years before the British economy got back to normal. When it did, alcohol consumption began to rise again. 1947 is therefore a ridiculous point with which to make comparison.

Changing British Drinking Patterns: The Truth

Alcohol consumption rose through the second half of the twentieth century because society became more prosperous, people had more income, and the economic foundation of Britain changed from being a manufacturing economy to a leisure/service economy. Nevertheless, if we were to choose 1870, or 1900, or 1914 as our year of comparison, the story would be one of declining consumption. Too far in the past to be relevant? OK, how about 2004? Not long enough? OK, how about 2000?

Over the last ten years, alcohol consumption has declined. It rose between 2000 and 2004, but has since declined – per capita alcohol consumption in the UK in 2009 was the same as it was in 1999, and 0.9% lower than in 2000. In other words – over a statistically relevant time scale, UK alcohol consumption is NOT increasing. The Select Committee Report is forced to acknowledge this inconvenient truth. Deep in the text, it admits that “since 2004 when consumption peaked, there has been a slight decrease in alcohol consumption in terms of litres of pure alcohol,” but says it is “unclear” whether this is just “a blip”. But by the time they get to their conclusions and Executive Summary, this inconvenient ‘blip’ has been forgotten. There is no mention of a recent fall in consumption, only that “the rising levels of alcohol consumption and their consequences have been an increasing source of concern in recent years”. The Select Committee also argues that the decline is not a “clear and consistent pattern of falling consumption since 2003”. But look at this chart:

I guess their point is that the increase in 2007 means the decline is not ‘consistent’. But any statistician or data analyst I’ve ever met (and I’ve met more than I would have liked) would say that this graph represents a very ‘clear’ downward trend. At the very least then, the Select Committee is being wilfully misleading about one of the central tenets of its report.

Finally – a note about international comparisons

The Committee reports that the UK has “One of highest consumption rates in Europe”. The truth is we’re actually 9th – behind Luxembourg, Ireland, Hungary, Moldova, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Germany and Spain. At the time of writing, Fulham are 9th in the Premier League. Would even Fulham fans attempt to argue that their team is ‘one of the highest’ in the Premiership?

[1] The only time in the twentieth century when alcohol consumption was lower was the final years of the First World War – probably too tenuous a date even for the Committee.

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Polls and priorities

Bless you, you’re a liberal minded lot.

My poll on kids and dogs in pubs closed yesterday and the results are as follows. Based on 181 votes, would you:
Allow both kids and dogs in pubs? 38%
Allow kids bit not dogs? 6%
Allow dogs but not kids? 41%
Ban both dogs and kids? 14%
So 44% of you think kids should be allowed in pubs; and 79% of you think dogs should be allowed in pubs. The canines have it – Captain and The Beer Widow will be pleased.
I’ve actually changed my own position after some of the thoughtful arguments people have made and would now say that both should be allowed – it depends on the owner/handler, and tighter regulation should be enforced when either behave badly.
Now on to the next poll – one you may think is a bit sarcastic – I hope you think it’s rhetorical. After a week of unprecedented hostility from parliament, the health profession and the neo-prohibitionists, there has so far been very little reaction from the beer industry to the Parliamentary Select Committee Report on alcohol. Professor Poontang asked on my last blog post where CAMRA are in all this – as Curmudgeon replied, they’re seemingly too busy taking legal action over the issue of the beer tie. They’re quite possibly also busy writing their own manifesto for pubs, even though the BBPA have just written one.
And I’ve not had a single press release with reaction from any brewer, or seen any other industry comment. The BBPA sent me an excellent press release rebutting some key points, and that’s all the reaction I’ve seen.
I believe that 2010 is the year the industry must stop fighting and work together to counter the social demonisation of alcohol. But do you agree? Let me know in the new poll, right here—->

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The Health Select Committee Report on Alcohol

I know I go on quite a bit about the politics of drinking. Here’s a very good illustration of why I do.

The Parliamentary Health Select Committee today issued its report on the ‘shocking’ levels of binge drinking in the UK, soaring hospital admissions and death rates attributable to alcohol, cost of drinking to the UK, and so on.
As usual with reports like this, the findings of the committee have been reported across the media as fact. Any dissenting voice is confined to a comment near the bottom of the piece from an alcohol industry spokesperson.
The report recommends, among other things, the following measures:
Pricing and taxation

  • Introduce minimum pricing
  • Increase in spirits duty
  • Increase “industrial white cider duty”
  • Duty increases should predominantly be on stronger drinks


  • Statutory regulation of advertising from outside of alcohol and advertising industry
  • No billboards within 100 metres of schools
  • 9 o’ clock watershed for TV advertising
  • Cinema advertising only for films with an 18 certificate
  • If over 10% of audience/readership is under 18 then medium should not be used to advertise
  • Alcohol advertising banned on social networking sites


  • Impose mandatory code urgently (which bans cut price drinks promotions, demands CCTV in pubs, and more)
  • Police to enforce ‘serving to drunks’ legislation
  • Government should assess why pubs associated with heavy drinking do not have their licences revoked
  • Government should give more powers to local authorities to allow them to restrict and revoke licences
  • Copy the restrictions on promotions in the off-trade introduced in Scotland, such as limited areas for alcohol consumption


  • Mandatory labelling scheme on all drinks packaging
  • Improve alcohol treatment services

Now there are some sensible measures in there – I for one have no problem with steep increases in duty on tramp juice and a fairer allocation of duty on spirits relative to beer. And I’m still undecided on minimum pricing – I disagree with the level being recommended but can see some arguments for it as well as against it. But there are some deeply worrying recommendations too, and it’s the sheer volume of recommendations that’s really scary.

But why should we care?
Well, because Liam Donaldson told the committee (with his usual utter disregard of any factual substantiation whatsoever) that there are “no safe limits of drinking,” and that “alcohol is virtually akin to smoking as one of the biggest public health issues we have to face in this country.”
Bollocks of course. But officially published, sanctioned, and undisputed bollocks.
And that comparison with smoking is quite deliberate. Not all the measures listed above will come to pass, but arguably the most important line in the report is this one: “Education, information campaigns and labelling will not directly change behaviour, but they can change attitudes and make more potent policies more acceptable.”Smoking hasn’t been banned form British society. But consistent campaigning against smoking eventually changed social attitudes towards it. The smoking ban came in because the majority of people were in favour of it. Nobody but the ad industry minded when advertising and sponsorship were banned. Making smoking socially unacceptable was far more effective than trying to ban it outright. The anti-drink lobby have learned from this, and this report is a naked attempt to make drinking socially unacceptable.But drinking is NOT the same as smoking. The BMA itself acknowledges the beneficial effects of moderate drinking. Nevertheless, this report seeks to persuade people to treat it the same way, and is meeting with little resistance.I’ve spent most of the last day immersed in the report, following the links to its sources, trying to work out what they’re really saying, drawing graphs so data is more easily understandable. And I’ve found that the report is highly selective in the data it uses, misrepresents what other data is saying, and in many places contains blatant untruths. It needs to be challenged.I’ve got kind of obsessed with doing so, and I’ve got lots of charts, quotes etc which do not seek to manipulate or twist the data, like the anti-alcohol lobby unfailingly does, but just present the raw numbers – collated by independent and reliable government sources and even the NHS itself – which prove that many of the report’s conclusions are deeply – I’d argue even wilfully – flawed.Over the next few days, I’ll be putting up several posts which debunk each of the following, oft-repeated myths:

  • “Alcohol consumption in the UK is increasing”
  • “Binge drinking is increasing”
  • “Alcohol is becoming more affordable”
  • “Binge drinking has been made much worse by the introduction of 24 hour licensing”
  • “Alcohol related hospital admission are soaring”
  • “Alcohol advertising and promotion must be tightly regulated, primarily because it is encouraging children to drink more alcohol.”
  • “Alcohol abuse costs the country £55bn a year”

Sorry to go on. But please stay tuned. And if you ever hear someone spouting any of the above bollocks, please rip off the charts and use them to argue back.

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Dog Jumps Shark*

I hate having to write two consecutive posts about Brew Dog, especially when the first one was a satirical post in which I took the piss out of myself more than anything else.
But last night James Watt ruined my mood for the fireworks with the announcement of his latest wheeze.
Tokyo* has, allegedly, been banned by the Portman Group. But it turns out the complaint that led to this ban came from James himself, in order to show up Portman for how ridiculous they are. James’ Tweet explaining this simply said “lessons in marketing”, and linked to the blog post about the story.
When Portman announced they were to investigate Brew Dog back in August, Brew Dog fans threw up their hands in horrified outrage. At the time, I said on their blog:
“Careful we don’t all go for the wrong targets – if Portman have received a complaint they are obliged to investigate it – they are just doing their job. The substance of the complaint to me seems to be nonsense. If Portman uphold it, that is when to lay into them, because that would be a ridiculous decision. But if they throw it out, it could do loads to help get the right message about craft beers across.”
So is now the time to slag off Portman? Well, from our point of view we’ll always think they’re overreacting a tad. But this morning I’m afraid it’s Brew Dog who look like idiots. I wouldn’t mind that so much – but I fear their antics have damaged the entire beer industry, and the worst thing is, they couldn’t give a shit.
The thing is, Tokyo* hasn’t been banned at all, as James claims it has. Portman have not objected to the beer; they’ve objected to some inflammatory wording on the label – wording it now seems was written with the sole intention of winding up the Portman Group in the first place, given the only person who has complained about it was the person who wrote it.
I could go on here to point out that we have to have regulatory bodies overseeing alcohol promotion, that every market in the world has such regulatory bodies, and that by international standards ours is not that bad. I could explain that we need such regulation in order to stop fly-by-night small businesses – usually hawking nasty spirits – from packaging their gutrot in a way that overtly appeals to children, or links drunkenness with sexual success.
I could explain that the alternative to bodies like the Portman Group is direct government regulation. I could point out that this would be much harsher than what we currently have, that there are lots of floating voters who don’t like seeing drunk people in their nice middle class town centres, and that the Tory government-in-waiting – never known for their relaxed attitudes to people enjoying themselves – are murmuring about aggressively tightening restrictions on any beer over 5%, and that if they had direct control over alcohol regulation most of Brew Dog’s beers, as well as 90% of the speciality beers we love, could actually become illegal.
I could point out that this stunt not only damages the credibility of the Portman Group – its avowed intention – but also gives perfect fuel to those who believe the alcohol industry cannot be trusted and needs to be more tightly controlled.
But there’s no point. Because BrewDog James already knows and understands this perfectly, and he doesn’t care.
James loves the Portman Group. They are central to his marketing strategy. This is how he promotes the Brew Dog name and gets column inches. The fact that he refers to the blog post as “lessons in marketing” tells us all we need to know about the real reason for this stunt, whatever mealy-mouthed justification is trotted out on the Brew Dog blog over the weekend. This is about self-promotion. It does nothing to further the debate about great craft beer. It does no service to drinkers and Brew Dog fans, who were as duped by this as anyone else.
I’ve worked in marketing and consultancy for 18 years, most of that in booze. And in that time I’ve met a lot of talented, headstrong 26 year-olds who think they know everything, who think they can stick it to the man and usher in a new wave of cool. Every single one of them falls flat on their arse, usually with wider damaging consequences. I know, because I was one.
“Lessons in marketing”? So this is how we should all behave, is it?
The craft beer industry needs gifted brewers like Martin Dickie. And it needs edgy, iconoclastic brands like Brew Dog. It needs conventions to be challenged, and it needs fresh ideas. But it needs schoolboy pranks like this one like it needs a hole in the head. There’s no place in the craft beer world for someone who seeks publicity by winding up regulatory bodies just for the sake of it, sending an early Christmas present to neo-prohibitionist Op-Ed writers in the process.
What angers me the most is that even by writing this, I’m playing into James’ strategy. It’s what he wants. So let me state my opinion very clearly:
Brew Dog: either grow up, or get out.
My Equity for Punks prospectus has been refiled from ‘to do’ to ‘recycling’.

*If you don’t know, ‘jumping the shark’ is a phrase from the TV industry that refers to the episode when popular comedy Happy Days finally lost it and ran out of ideas, symbolised by Fonzie jumping over a shark on water skis.

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Oh, for fuck’s sake

From an article in today’s Sunday Times:

“A forthcoming audio adaptation of Doctor Who dropped a reference to a character being drunk, partly because it could encourage children to hit the bottle. The character was instead described as being merry and cheerful.”

From yesterday’s Daily Mail (thanks Jeff Pickthall):
“Deals like M&S food and wine for two ‘fuelling middle class alcohol abuse’.”
Can the least person leaving the planet please turn out the lights?