Thursday, August 6, 2009

Brilliant idea from CAMRA (no, really!)

The Campaign for Real Ale has a fantastic idea they're pushing to the UK government, which is simultaneously struggling with the country's boozing problem (drunk youth violence) and imposing ridiculously high and unpopular taxes on beer (whilst claiming there's a connection between the two). CAMRA's brilliant suggestion: zero tax on beers that are 2.8% ABV or lower.

What? 2.8% ABV? Yes, really. CAMRA is showcasing Welton's 2.8% ABV Pride'n'Joy ("Strong in Character. Weak in Confusion.") at the Great British Beer Festival this week. CAMRA chief executive Mike Benner said: "Zero duty on low-strength beer is a win-win scenario for brewers, pubs and consumers. Low-strength beer can be packed with flavour -- low strength does not translate into a reduction in flavour. It also makes it easier for people to drink responsibly."

And with over 100,000 members, its biggest membership ever, CAMRA may have the voice to be heard. The organization estimates that the zero tax option would drop the price of a pint of 2.8% beer by about 60p, a substantial amount that should encourage folks to grab a pint of something reasonable -- and tasty.

Seriously, this is genius. I think the key to successful alcohol policy is not to merely punish folks for doing the wrong thing; we have to reward them for doing the right thing. You're drinking responsibly? Hey, we'll knock down the price of your beer! Question is: will the UK government put its tax policy where its mouth is?


  1. Hmmm... Guess it comes down to two things. Is the 2.8% beer really worth drinking? (Local brewpub General Lafayette Inn's Mirage Belgian Pale Ale definitely is, at 2.7%.) And how much of the tax savings will publicans pass on to customers...or will they laugh and pocket most of it? CAMRA may have screwed up by maximizing the amount the pint could drop, but there should be a drop for the consumer if a substantial drop comes through for the landlord, not so?
    I guess I'm seeing some of Woolpack Dave's slant as knee-jerk anti-CAMRA (WD's often a contrarian, from what I've seen on Jeff's blog, and I've been anti-CAMRA at times myself), and the Pub Curmudgeon's rant (linked from WD's blog) as simply anti-low ABV beer. Were there crap low-alc lagers in the past? Absolutely. Is it fair to tar every low-alc beer because of them? Absolutely not.
    But what do you think, Knut?

  2. Alot of talk on other beer site about MGD 64 and Select 55. Most posters, who probably never had either, seem to believe that any beer with 2.8% alc can't possibly be good. How do you move hardcore/extreme beer people to appreciate session beers? As long as all sessions beers are questioned as to validity as beers then selling in the tax concept is more than an uphill battle. Can't win the war when there is arift in the troops.

  3. Owch!

    I hope that I am open minded rather than contrary. Sometimes I change my mind. I'm not anti-CAMRA, just CAMRA sceptic. There are good things in CAMRA, and I am a member after all.

    But two things stick in my mind:

    One; the beer market could be more diverse than it is, narrowing it down is counter productive in my mind. Session beer and beer that might as well be shandy has it's place, but singling it out for special treatment will do little good.

    Two; 60p a pint reduction ain't going to happen. On my 3.4% beer, (yes you see, I've nothing against session beers for people that want it) I pay about 15p per pint in duty. Where does this 60p a pint come from? To add to this there is a lower limit that a publican might be prepared to accept as payment for the service per drink.

    I'm doing my beer duty returns today, so it's in my mind.

    On the plus side, I very much agree that beer does not HAVE to be strong to be good. Although in my less-than-humble opinion, stronger beers are even better. Sometimes, even I have to drive and so 2.8% would be great. Damn, am I being contrary again?

  4. If you live in the more rural parts of the UK you are usually stuck with bland session beers with almost no access to higher ABV stuff (apart from ordering through BrewDog).

    It's as frustrating walking into a beer bar and realising there's nothing under 6% as it is going into a pub in England and realising that you have three out of four almost-identical tasting beers at sub-4%, strengths. What do you do if you walk haven't got all day but want a stronger beer with a intense flavour? True IPAs in summer and porters/stouts in the winter are non-sellers even when they are under 5%.

    So while the US (and Denmark) has the problem of their beers being too strong (I can't drink five pints of 7.5% beer) much of the UK has it the other way with beers often being too weak and unvarying. I don't really fancy having a bar stacked with weak, lagery golden ale when it's freezing cold outside.

  5. I am not anti low ABV beer as such, but was merely pointing out that:

    (a) it is difficult (though not impossible) to brew tham with much taste and character, and

    (b) the demand for them is inherently limited. There is no history of drinking sub-3% beers in the UK and, quite frankly, one of the key reasons people drink beer is because it does contain alcohol.

    I'm all in favour of the sub-4% beers that constitute what are generally recognised as session beers in this country.

    Original blog posting here.

  6. I've had the Welton's and it's very pleasant, and doesn't taste "Low alcohol", unlike other sub 3% beers I've tried.

    @woolpack dave - Camra and others always seem to exaggerate the amount of tax that's included in the price of a pint. Being a sad accountant who's dealt with beer duty returns, I've done the maths a few times on hysterical press releases and concluded that they must be adding estimates for employers NI deductions or something to get anywhere near the figures quoted.


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