British general election 2015: political pint scoring

Britain goes to the polls tomorrow. The outcome of General Election 2015 will likely have an effect on the British beer industry, well, the entire alcohol industry. As a bit of a political anorak, I couldn’t help but scan each party’s manifesto to see what alcohol measures were being put forward. The following doesn’t include other business-friendly policies, such as commitments to reduce business rates, which would benefit the brewing industry.

Over the duration of this past parliament, an interesting shift has taken place in attitudes to the alcohol industry. This has been on the back of heavy lobbying by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), publicans, the industry directly and a few umbrella campaigns. Tax breaks for small breweries were improved. The infamous duty escalator was abolished and Budget 2015 marked the third year in a row of cuts to the beer tax. These cuts were small but symbolic. The lasting impact, however, of the duty escalator remains. Between 2008 and 2012, excise duty on beer increased by 42%, thanks to the British economy witnessing high inflation during those years. This is the big reason that pints have been topping £4 and above.

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Of course, alcohol is again being singled out as a key contributor to crime and violence. A number of measures are being put forward to tackle the anti-social behaviour. More support is being promised by the majority of parties to tackle the issue of alcohol dependency. These are the ‘old dependables’ in policy terms.

The introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) seems to be the flavour of the day. The rationale put forward is that it will help to curb alcohol-fuelled violence and reduce binge drinking etc.  Interestingly, the Conservative party remains silent on the issue. Back in 2013, the party ditched plans to introduce such a measure at the eleventh hour. Only UKIP remain vehemently opposed to MUP. While some are awaiting the outcome of the legal challenge to the Scottish case (Liberal Democrats), others go so far as to suggest prices to be charged per unit. This can range from 50p per unit on all alcohol (Plaid Cymru) to “40p per unit of beer and cider to 50p per unit of spirits” (Ulster Unionist Party).

Alcohol sponsorship of sport is also proving to be a hot topic. Yes, this may be more of an issue for macro-breweries but there are potential local issues involving regional and small breweries. While we may not see it in football, there are a number of county cricket teams that receive some sponsorship from their local breweries. This is not to say it doesn’t happen with rugby. The Green King IPA Championship aside, local clubs often look to their local breweries for support. The Tories, Labour and UKIP are campaigning to retain such sponsorship. The Lib Dems are silent on the issue but the Greens are against such sponsorship and are advocating a complete ban on “advertising (direct or indirect) and product placement on remuneration or reward”.

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Two parties are actively promoting ‘personal freedom’ policies but come at it from completely different angles. The Green Party wants to decriminalise cannabis because “people should not be criminalised for the recreational use of a drug which is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco”. In fact, they want to regulate it in a similar manner to alcohol and they are pushing for tougher regulations on alcohol. On the other hand, UKIP wants to reverse the plain packaging legislation and to “amend the smoking ban to give pubs and clubs the choice to open smoking rooms provided they are properly ventilated and physically separated from non-smoking areas”.

This is not to say that policies won’t pop up in the next Parliament. Some may be harder to enact. Examples of such policies may be along the lines of UKIP’s one-time policy to ban long-term welfare recipients from buying alcohol and the Scottish National Party’s attempts to prohibit purchasing of alcohol online from English retailers. Other examples might include banning happy hours in Northern Ireland and the DUP proposal to explore the introduction of a rates levy on off licences and supermarkets that sell alcohol. The revenue generated by this “could be used for dealing with adverse impacts of alcohol abuse in society”. The Green Party wants to go so far as to increase the tax on the “net profits of tobacco companies and companies producing alcohol for consumption”. These proposed taxes would be in propoprtion to the amount of alcohol in the finished products.

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CAMRA have been running a visible campaign (www.ge2015.camra.org.uk) in the run-up to the general election, including stands at the main party conferences. They have received pledges from over 1,000 prospective MPs to “support well-run community pubs”, “promote Britain’s 1,300 breweries” and “represent pub goers and beer drinkers”. This includes letters from Ed Miliband and David Cameron.  “The Labour Party are leading the pack as most pub and beer friendly,” according to the real ale body, with pledges from 292 election candidates, “followed closely by the Green Party (264), with Liberal Democrats in third place (225), Conservatives in fourth (160), and UKIP bringing up the rear in fifth (118), although famously pro-pub UKIP leader Nigel Farage is among those pledging support”.

Food and drink have played a visible part in the general election campaign, from Ed Miliband bungling the eating of a bacon sandwich to the constant photos of Nigel Farage with a pint in hand. They’re easy props for photo ops, but they’re very presence may be significant. It’s reasonable to assume that the recent policy developments and new promises could indeed herald better times for Britain’s beer industry.

Of course, if a voter casts their ballot purely on the basis of what their MP might do for alcohol, their beer goggles might be on a little tight… But as a beer lover, I have to say, I’ve heard worse reasons for going out and voting.

“Sophisticated” establishments should not ignore beer

What does it take to strike a right balance between beer and other alcoholic products? Specialist beer bars are on the up and so too are places like vintage cocktail bars. The beer bar often has recognised the need to have a good whiskey selection for example. However, a recent visit to Dawson Street’s Peruke & Periwig shows that so-called “destination” bars have a long way to go.

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Perusing the spirit selection and extensive cocktail menu, one is struck by the attention to detail and the creative side to the business. The prices charged reflect this. Such places clearly want to be a top class drinking establishments. So why does this bar and others ignore their beer selection? Tell me it’s not based on the saying “beer and liquor makes you sicker“?

Want the place to ooze class and sophistication? Don’t ignore the beer offering. Meticulous attention is given to the spirits and other ingredients for cocktails. This is let down by a somewhat lazy approach to beer. A beer menu doesn’t have to run to a hundred different varieties.

The limited and largely unimpressive beer menu alongside the wine list. Dungarvan's beers used to feature but no more.
The limited and largely unimpressive beer menu. Dungarvan’s beers used to feature.

Why don’t they adopt a similar approach to wine? Bars such as these often have a limited but somewhat better thought-out wine selection. If you want class why not have a Trappist beer or two? An IPA is popular amongst the fashionistas. How about a locally produced lager? A couple of well-thought out beers is all you need and continues that attention to detail that is afforded to other alcoholic offerings.

It’s the little things that can let a place down and not maximise the enjoyment for more patrons. Yes, they’re popular and generate substantial income from their core offerings. It wouldn’t take a significant effort to improve the beers. Advertising the likes of Murphy’s Red alongside the likes of Yellow Spot doesn’t exude sophistication. Top class hotels are also guilty of this approach.

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It’s time for these places to step up their beer game. They can even make a big thing over stocking craft beers. As I was leaving Peruke & Periwig I heard two people in there for an after-work beer and they were looking for a “cleansing ale” or a “small pint” of some variety. Bars like this can go to places that we resent by cashing in on the “in thing”. So why ignore good beer? Until then, I’ll stick with ordering a coffee.

A Thursday tasting with BrewDog

BrewDog’s European Business Development Manager Jonny Reid made a quick stopover in Dublin recently. Four Corners distribute their beers in Ireland and got Jonny to host a tasting in Probus Wines. The brewery has an ardent following (and I’m not counting those in the Equity for Punks scheme) and over 50 showed up for this Thursday night tasting.

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Jonny gave the history of the company and talked us through the remarkable growth the brewery has had in its 7 year history. He may not brew the beers himself but he represents the other part of the company, which is a key part of their success. They not only wanted to put out good beers but also for people to know who they are and what they stand for. For the craft beer industry, it can be difficult to attract attention but for BrewDog, they combine good beers with a healthy dose of “he who shouts loudest” to attract attention in the crowded market-place.

BrewDog's Jonny Reid in full flight
BrewDog’s Jonny Reid in full flight
Attendees glued to Jonny
Attendees glued to Jonny

So on the night four beers from their core range were sampled. These were Nanny State, 5am Saint, Hoppy Christmas, Hardcore IPA. However, the tasting wasn’t quite finished yet. There was a surprise beer to be tasted that many haven’t had before (usually sells out quickly when it’s available on these shores) Tokyo*, which has been dubbed an “Intergalactic Stout”. Due to the number in attendance this beer had sadly to be rationed, which is perhaps no bad thing as it weighs in at 16.5% abv.

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Cheers to Jonny (who had to host the tasting standing on top of a stool) and the Four Corners crew and Probus’ Paul Fogarty for putting this on. BrewDog have put out the following tasting notes and information on these beers in their core range. image  image

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Too early for Christmas?

Yes, folks it almost upon us whether we want to start thinking about it or not. For those not watching Netflix (although look at the number of seasonal movies being added), we can’t escape the Christmas ads on TV nor the Christmas songs being blended into an in-store playlist. The Christmas lights are not only up but they’re on in the city centre. Selection boxes were being sold as far back as the start of September. Yet, we’re still only two-thirds the way though of November. There’s 10 days to go of seeing people with questionable facial hair. However, a big shoutout to Bo Bristle & it’s #GetYourBristlesOut team, donate to them here: http://ie.movember.com/team/1541521 (soon the facial hair will be back to being owned by the hipsters)

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What makes the fast approaching silly season palatable is the arrival of Christmas beers on the shelves. However those produced by Irish breweries are only starting to arrive  with one of my perennial favourites being Dungarvan’s Coffee & Oatmeal Stout. I’ve kept a bottle from each year it has been released. More seasonal offerings from the likes of Eight Degrees, White Gypsy and Bru Brewery.

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Christmas craft imports starting hitting these shores at the beginning of November. This is natural because of shipping issues and making sure it arrives on the shelves in plenty of time to sell it. Early offerings include the return of Hoppy Christmas & Santa Paws from BrewDog, Shepherd Neame’s Christmas Ale and three from Mikkeller.

The range of 75cl bottles available in off-licences should be available in greater numbers than during the rest of the year. Apart from a few usual “Belgian” suspects, they can be hard to come by at other times. However, it’s also a time to acquire some barrel-aged stouts from the likes of O’Hara’s & the Franciscan Well. Hopefully the White Gypsy range will be available too. Also, putting in an appearance are the gift boxes that usually contain a few bottles and a glass or two.

Needless to say the range of the seasonal offerings will grow over the next week or two. On the Continent the 6 of December marks the beginning of the festive period but here the season kicks into overdrive  once this month’s pay checks arrive in people’s bank accounts. Regardless there’ll be plenty of good drinking between no and new year.

Drinking for a good cause: the role of charity beer events

Craft beer is getting in on the scene of charity events. Joining the ranks of pub quizzes and races nights are charity beer tastings. I’ve hosted a number of these over the past few years but it’s great seeing them increase in popularity. They’re definitely a break in the monotony of the usual charity events, although a good pub quiz is good fun as well (earlier this year we even had one in Probus Wines so it coincided with good beer too). Tasting nights are no longer the sole preserve of the wine drinker. In fact, to broaden the appeal a combination of both works fantastically well.

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So what’s the inspiration of the post you might ask? Well, recently I attended a Pop-Up Craft Beer night in the Inchicore Sports and Social Club. It was the latest fundraising event they organised for the renovation of the club’s roof. I really like the CIE Works and the surrounds so it was a great excuse the head down there. I had no idea of what to expect. Entrance was €5 and included a plate for the buffet (lots of artisan Irish cheese, bread and meat available). Of course, it wouldn’t be a craft beer event without Keogh’s crisps putting in an appearance too.

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Beers had to be purchased and it was less of a tasting and more of a bar, although there were tasting notes provided. O’Hara’s Pale Ale was the only beer on draught and the others from the Porterhouse, Carrig and 12th Abbey were available in bottle. All the proceeds went to the roof so one was drinking for a good cause. For those not willing to try them, there were two Irish ciders (Dan Kelly’s & Ballyhook Flyer), as well as 2 types of red wine but only one white wine could also be purchased. A lot of fun was to be had and the club’s atmosphere made it easy to get chatting to those attending and to get their thoughts on the beers being sold.

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While a given charity benefits an event like this, the ability of such evenings to introduce craft beer to a new audience shouldn’t be ignored. Take for instance people who show up to support the charity regardless of the event who go away with a new appreciation of a craft brewer or discovering a particular beer style. Charity beer tastings hit a wider audience than typically achieved through the usual craft beer channels and can be a good tool to win over new customers.


About Inchicore Sports and Social Club: It’s a community based organisation providing services and facilities for the people of Inchicore and surrounding areas. The Club provides a resource in a variety of ways to old and young in the Community. There is a bar, a lounge, a games room and a hall with a stage. Every week there are sing-along nights in the lounge. There is Snooker, Pool and Darts and we provide facilities for Community Festivals, Sports Days and local fundraising concerts, meetings, functions and a range of activities. The Club is open every week on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 7.30pm and on Tuesdays from 8.pm. We also open on other days and nights to facilitate bookings, functions, meetings and other activities. Annual membership subscription is €20 and €15 for senior citizens. For Up to date news about activities in the Club, check out its Facebook page: www.facebook.com/inchicoresportsandsocialclub