Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Show your working.

Personally, I think it pretty likely that some pubs have closed since 2006/7 due to factors related to the smoking ban. That said, it's also clear that there's a downward trend in pub numbers that's been going on for a lot longer than that. This trend has been fairly steady since before 1980.

In other news: Of late we've seen the gap between prices charged in the on and off trade widen. I suspect that a lot of this might be due to those dang supermarkets.
Anyway, here's two nice graphs on the same x-axis.

Sources: IFS analysis based on prices and earnings data from Office for National Statistics / British Beer and Pub Association / I've jammed them together

I was prompted to post this following a comment on the previous post.

I'm not claiming that correlation proves anything - and anyway, the longer-term trend looks well established before the marked on/off trade price divergence really opens up. I guess it just goes to show that it's all a bit complicated really. I suspect that reversing the smoking ban (if such a thing were possible) would make f*ck all difference going forward.
Now, minimum pricing ...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Pub Closures and Hitch-hikers

You don't see so many of them around nowadays do you? Standing there, waiting, their cruddy signs cornering the eye, scruffy yet appealing. Pubs, that is. Some people blame the smoking ban, but we all know that's not all there is to it. How would that explain the missing hitch-hiker? Health & Safety? It's all connected. Everything is. Even if we pretend that we're not. Even though we were told there's no such thing as society. Individuals and families driving and (separately) drinking. We know that we miss it. Even if we won't face up to what it is.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And on the other hand, there's a fist.

Woolpack Dave had this to say recently:
"What remains as the overall problem is a continuing belief by the majority of the population that alcohol is causing many major problems in our society. This belief permits the government to tax alcohol at increasing rates, and the increase is something we should worry about, but the only way to prevent further increases is to look at why there is such widespread belief about the problems of alcohol harm." 1

He's right of course, if the majority believe this, their elected representatives will want to be seen to be doing something about it.

In an attempt to get this straight in my own head I'll try to break this down.

In the first place, "alcohol" doesn't cause any problems. It just sits there. It needs to get into a human before anything interesting happens. Alcohol (Ethanol, Ethyl alcohol) is toxic - it has well known toxic effects. 2

Take the brain for starters. The effects of alcohol on the brain are fairly well understood nowadays, but we need to be clear about the kind of alcohol exposure we're talking about. We can consider 3 main periods of alcohol exposure: Fetal, Juvenile and Adult.

Research suggests that the fetus should be protected from levels of alcohol that cause no particular problems for adults. Otherwise, we may see a range of physical, learning, and behavioral effects in the developing brain (none good). Some of these learning and behavioural disorders will be associated with significant costs for the individual and wider society.

Juveniles show some paradoxical responses to alcohol. They may be less obviously "intoxicated" in response to a particular alcohol dose that an adult, yet have at least as much loss of judgement and memory. Given that many young people are rather less risk-averse than we (adults) might wish - this is a wicked combination. Also, young people are developing behaviours that may stay with them throughout their lives. It's a concern that habitual alcohol use may develop, leading to chronic high exposure later.

How do adults drink? Some not at all, some sporadically, some steadily. Some in happy social groups, some in noisy gangs. Some savour alcoholic beverages in calm solitude. Some belt down a couple of bottles of cheap booze to escape dull lives, to shut out the hideous emptiness of existence, or the carping inner voice of guilt and failure. Some become prey to melancholy, some prone to violence.

At worst, drinking can cause terrible damage, to the liver, brain, heart and family. To deny this is to beg to be marginalised in the debate. It seems to me that alcohol consumption - the drinking of alcoholic beverages - does create problems, has costs. But many of us like our chosen drinks - we like the taste - we like the effects. We're relaxed, friendlier, funnier. We like the social benefits, the pubs, clubs, opportunities for meeting and interacting with our neighbours - and strangers. We even like the craft element of some of our drinks - some drinks even approach art. These are the benefits.

The new puritans, who choose only to see things in black and white, can only see "binge" and and abstinence. Self-denial or hoggish wallowing. For them, a world of cheerful moderation with episodes of saturnalian indulgence is unimaginable.

If alcohol consumption has some negative health and social impacts, can it be a good thing? The puritans say no. If we value the positives of drinking, should we deny the costs? We mustn't be backed into an over-simplified position in response to the simplistic arguments of the new-puritans. Drinking, like reality, is complex. A lot of people (if not all of us) find it hard to hold apparently contradictory ideas, but as Mayor Quimby said,
"It can be two things." 3

1. hardknott.blogspot.com/2009/12/contradicting-thought-processes

2. MSDS for ethyl alcohol

3. The Quimby File

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Another day in paradise.

Transits, as I believe I've said before, have got rubbish traction when unloaded. Round here the snow's been falling, thawing, freezing, falling again. We live up a bit of a hill. Put all these things together and getting the van out from, and back to, our house has been a bit irksome. The beer requires regular attention, so I have to go and nurture it, or clean something, every day.

The malt delivery came today, so I had to be there for that. I amused myself while waiting by washing a few casks. The Fawcetts truck turned up, a bit later than I expected (I'm not complaining - I was glad to see it), so we pulled all our malt off and stacked it. Then it had to carried it into the malt store (and stacked with the last few bags of the last lot on top).

So it's a bit late by the time I bung a couple of 9s into the back of the van and zoom off sashaying (chasséing?) through the slush to the Swan where I can unload a "West Coast Blond" (4.4%) and a "Black Flag" (8.8%). Yes it's out there... woo-hoo.

And then home, barely made it up the hill. Hells teeth. No beer in the house. Again

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

That'll learn me.

So, we finally got a chance to move the "big stout" out of the 18s it's been sitting in for six weeks or so, cosy-ing up to the whiskey soaked toasted oak chips. We've been looking forward to trying it. We've got quite good at what we call stout. Some black malt, roasted barley, you name it, we shovel it in, but I thought we'd better go easy with this one. I lost my nerve - I admit it.

It's turned out to have a quite restrained "aroma". It smells like beer. Well, maybe there's a touch of dried fruit and even a little bit of incense hiding in there. Taste-wise, there's raisin and black treacle (definitely) and some bitter burnt pepper (is it?). It finishes up with a warm spicy alcohol thing. I can't spot anything I recognise as oak at all. (What is that incense thing? Sandalwood? Is it the oak doing that?)

Anyway, it's very, very dark red-brown, it's 8.8% abv and it's called "Black Flag". Oh, and it's liable to make you drunk. So enjoy responsibly...

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


While changing around our fementer coolers, I managed (don't ask) to let some dirty water out of the cooling loop into FV2 , full of our West Coast Blond which I was going to rack tomorrow. Accordingly, I've had to dump the contents of FV2 to the drain. So if anyone wants WCB, and we haven't confirmed your order - you can have it, but not until the 16th Dec at the earliest (i.e. we'll be making some more tomorrow). Becky says this is coming off my wages.