Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - August 2007

* A Pint of the Usual *

Most drinkers actually want beers they have heard of before

I WAS READING recently how the regular customers of a free house on Tyneside had petitioned the licensee to be a bit less adventurous in his choice of beers. They were fed up of going in and being confronted with a range of obscure beers that they had never tasted before, and if they came across something they liked wanted the chance to be able to enjoy it again a few times.

While there undoubtedly is a market for pubs offering an ever-changing range of new and unfamiliar beers, it is a mistake to assume that is a formula that is ever going to have more than niche appeal. Even though they might like to try something new from time to time, the vast majority of drinkers are looking for familiar beers that they know they can rely on and can drink on a regular basis from month to month. They don't want a visit to the pub to be like a game of lucky dip.

But that doesn't mean that pubgoers have to be subjected to a diet of Pedigree, London Pride and Old Speckled Hen. Rather than relying on the unpredictable trade from festivals and beer exhibition pubs, micro-breweries should be aiming to get their beers as regular, permanent fixtures on the bars of local pubs – as indeed some are succeeding in doing. The proliferation of pub companies of all shapes and sizes means there are more opportunities than ever before for independent producers to get their foot in the door. And the far-sighted free house licensee will realise that if he wants his pub to be part of the local community rather than just a mecca for beer spotters he will offer a couple of permanent beers that regulars can drink.

* Boozed Up Babies? *

Unnecessary caution over drinking in pregnancy is part of the wider war against alcohol

UNTIL very recently it was generally advised that expectant mothers could safely enjoy a couple of drinks twice a week without posing any risk to the health of their unborn children. However, the government have now changed this to recommend total abstinence from alcohol. While there is a recognised condition known as “foetal alcohol syndrome”, this only occurs in the babies of alcoholic mothers and has no connection whatsoever with the kind of light drinking being discussed here.

The government have admitted that no new evidence has come to light, and basically what they are doing is adopting the precautionary principle of avoiding even the faintest potential risk. Far from making any difference to the health of infants, all this advice is likely to do is to make expectant mothers unnecessarily feel guilty about enjoying even a very occasional glass of beer or wine. It is also yet another example of the creeping prohibitionism in our society.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, when Britain was enjoying rapid population growth, it was common for expectant mothers to drink up to a gallon of beer a day as ordinary water wasn't safe. And during the post-war baby boom they were advised to drink bottled Guinness as a tonic. Even women trying for a baby are now being advised to abstain from alcohol entirely. Yet apparently about half of all babies are conceived with the assistance of alcohol, so if would-be mothers took that advice to heart the birthrate would fall off a cliff.

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