Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - May 2007

* Degrees of Danger *

Claims that alcohol is more dangerous than many illegal drugs are ludicrous and disingenuous

MILLIONS of moderate, responsible drinkers will have been dumbfounded by a recent report by the Academy of Medical Sciences claiming that alcohol was more dangerous than Class A drugs such as cocaine and LSD. Now it cannot be denied that excessive drinking does cause long-term health problems for many people, and is often a factor in domestic and town-centre violence. But there are two crucial points that this report ignores.

The first is that alcohol is far more widely used in society than any illegal drug, and so it is hardly surprising that the scale of problems is more even if proportionately they are far lower. If the majority of adults were regularly using LSD, there would be hundreds of thousands of frazzled ďacid casualtiesĒ and a vastly higher incidence of mental illness.

The second point is that the vast majority of people manage to cope with alcohol without it leading to drunken violence or cirrhosis of the liver, and this is the crucial reason why it is legal when many other drugs arenít. It is absurd to suggest that it would be possible for most people to control their intake of heroin or crack cocaine while still maintaining a normal healthy life. Alcohol is also, unlike the vast majority of illegal drugs, actively beneficial to health at modest consumption levels.

This is yet another example of the growing tide of alarmism about the dangers of alcohol which is supporting a quasi-Prohibitionist agenda. Over the coming years it is highly likely that such misleading scare stories will be used to justify ever tighter curbs on the moderate drinkers who cause no problem either to themselves or to others.

* A Vicious Circle *

Offering keg alongside cask is a false choice that is likely to harm the better product

IN THE EARLY days of the real ale campaign, it was a badge of honour for independent breweries to be able to say they sold real ale in all their tied houses. This was certainly the case for Holts and Hydes, and for a number of years Robinsons had the distinction of having just a solitary keg-only pub. However, in the past few years a growing handful of their pubs have been losing their real ale.

One can maybe understand it in the case of a disco pub or Irish pub where the customers prefer other products, but the argument that some pubs simply lack the turnover doesnít stand up. You only need to sell two nine-gallon casks a week to be able to keep one real ale in good condition, a mere twenty pints a day. If a pub canít achieve that it calls into question whether it is viable at all. And the quality argument isnít that convincing either Ė if most licensees can manage to look after their beer, the small minority who canít should either be educated or removed.

Surely a major factor is that cask and keg beers are now regarded as completely separate products rather than superior and inferior versions of the same thing. In how many of these pubs was smooth beer put on alongside cask, and the cask ended up in a vicious circle of variable quality pushing some drinkers towards smooth, thus reducing the cask turnover and making the quality even more unreliable?

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