Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - May 2009

* Shock News for Drinkers *

The government campaign to highlight the calorie content of drinks is pointless and patronising

IN THEIR latest statement of the bleeding obvious, the government have launched a publicity campaign to inform people of the number of calories in alcoholic drinks. Obviously they think nobody has ever heard of a beer gut. Apparently ministers are concerned that the average wine drinker now consumes around 2,000 calories from alcohol alone each month, something that hardly seems worth worrying about given that figure is less than a thirtieth of the typical monthly intake.

Although such scares are easy to dismiss, the problem is that they add to the steady drip feed of negative perceptions of alcohol. Committed drinkers won’t be too bothered, but those who are keen to “do the right thing” and follow official advice may be swayed, even though they probably don’t drink enough in the first place for it to be a problem. It is yet another small step towards the denormalisation of alcohol in society. It may also backfire by encouraging some people, figure-conscious young women in particular, to skip on eating properly so they can still enjoy a boozy night out.

* Pale and Interesting? *

There is much to be said for subtle beers

I WAS RECENTLY taken to task for describing Greene King IPA is a “weak, bland beer”. This was in the specific context of arguing that selling it in Wetherspoon’s at 99p a pint wasn’t going to cause chaos on the streets. However, in a sense it’s true – at 3.6% ABV it is down towards the bottom end of the strength range of “ordinary bitters” (although there’s nothing wrong with beers of moderate strength) and, while many might describe its flavour as “subtle” it cannot be claimed to offer an in-your-face taste explosion.

Having said that, it can be a good beer when looked after properly, and it shouldn’t be forgotten that a few years ago it won the standard bitter class in CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain contest. The problem is that, like many widely-distributed beers, it often finds its way into pubs where it isn’t looked after very well and this inevitably colours public perceptions. If you try it in its East Anglian heartland you will come across some very palatable pints. It also has a distinctive bitter-sweet character, almost with a hint of sourness, something that seems much more at home in Suffolk than in the North-West.

* Open All Day? *

Pubs claiming to be open all day are often nothing of the kind

A fair number of pubs advertise the fact that they are “Open All Day”. Despite this, I’ve often seen them with their doors closed well after noon. Since 24-hour drinking is now theoreti­cally possible, the claim is questionable anyway. But, if it means anything, it should mean that they are open all the hours that were permitted before the liberalisation of licensing laws, which around here should mean they throw open their doors promptly at 11 am Monday to Saturday. A pub that does not open until noon is not “Open All Day”. “Open All Afternoon” would be a more accurate slogan.  

Given that the opening hours of pubs vary far more widely than those of shops, it is a continuing disgrace that so few display their hours outside. Even if you were passing and didn’t go in on that occasion, knowing when a pub was open could save you a wasted journey on another day, or encourage you to visit if it was open when others in the area weren’t. It’s especially important if pubs close on particular days of the week, or don’t open some lunchtimes.

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