Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - January 2006

* No Fibbing *

Look out for genuine imported beers in preference to inferior home-grown copies

EVER SINCE lager has been sold in Britain, brewers have produced versions of foreign beers in this country and sought to create the impression that they are exactly the same as the genuine article. Thus we have such delights as Carlsberg brewed in Northampton and Kronenbourg from Moss Side. In practice, these beers have rarely been a patch on the originals, or even in many cases tasted anything like the same, but it has always been the brewers’ view that most consumers simply wanted something cool, wet and alcoholic to pour down their throats and weren’t much bothered where it came from.

For many drinkers, this is still the case, but a growing number are becoming concerned about authenticity and are unhappy about the idea of a beer with a German name being produced in Manchester. Research has shown that over 40% of beer drinkers now fall into this category. In response to this trend, a body has been set up called “NoFIBS”, standing for “National Organisation for Imported Beers”. This is an alliance of importers of genuine foreign beers who are keen to promote their products over inferior home-produced copies. The chairman is the importer of Budweiser Budvar, which of course is one of the best examples of how you will get an immensely better product by choosing the genuine article from the Czech Republic rather than its insipid American namesake brewed in West London.

All but the most downmarket wines make it crystal clear where they are produced, and the same is true of most premium-brand spirits. It would be unthinkable to have a Côtes du Rhone made in Australia, or a Glenlivet distilled in Japan. If brewers really want beer to be regarded as a serious, high-quality product, rather than just the disposable alcoholic equivalent of Coke and Pepsi, then in the future they will have to pay much more attention to authenticity of source. This is especially important as, with an ageing population and growing concerns about excessive drinking, the trend in the drinks market is inevitably going to be “less but better”.

While Heineken may not be the most exciting beer in the world, it is significant that a couple of years ago they phased out brewing under licence in the UK, and now all Heineken sold here is a genuine import from the Netherlands. That is a clear sign of which way the wind is blowing. If you are buying foreign beers for drinking at home over the holiday season, it is well worth making sure you are getting something that really does come from where you think it does from the label, rather than being manufactured in some mega-plant in this country. Your tastebuds will certainly appreciate the difference.

* The Right Turn? *

Conservative opposition to licensing reform is short-sighted, unprincipled opportunism

HISTORICALLY, the Conservatives have generally been more sympathetic to the licensed trade – and thus by implication the pubgoer – than Labour, having been the party that did away with afternoon closing in the 1980s and, in the late 1950s, implemented the only post-war cut in beer duty. Recently, of course, there has been a reversal of these positions, with Labour pressing ahead with the liberalisation of licensing hours, and the Conservatives somewhat cynically opposing it. However, this flies in the face of their long-standing principles, and what may appeal in the short term to elderly readers of the Daily Mail is hardly going to help them develop an image as a party in tune with modern Britain.

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