Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - September 2010

* A Charter for Killjoys *

Seemingly minor changes to licensing law have the potential to cause serious problems for pubs

HIDDEN within the small print of the Coalition’s licensing reform plans are two proposals that have the potential to cause serious problems for the pub trade. It is planned to drop the “proximity rule” that requires objectors to licences to live reasonably close to the premises in question, and also to formally add the “promotion of public health” to licensing objectives.

So this will give some miseryguts in Stockton the right to object to a pub licence in Stockport simply because it’s a pub and therefore in his mind a source of moral degeneracy.

And how on earth is a pub supposed to “promote public health”? While it may create a lot of human happiness, and thus improve people’s state of mind, it can’t really be said that a pub, especially a wet-led one, promotes health, especially when two pints at a sitting is now officially regarded as “hazardous drinking.” Does any other type of business have such a pious aspiration loaded on to it? Are butchers required by law to promote healthy eating, or car dealers to promote road safety?

In combination, these two measures could open the way for alliances of public objectors, ideologically motivated by a general dislike of pubs, drinking and people enjoying themselves. Indeed, the germ of such an organised force already exists in the form of an innocent-sounding body called Licensing Aid, set up by the temperance-funded Institute of Alcohol Studies.

As with many other such things, in the short term this may seem as though it’s nothing much to be worried about, but in the long run it must have the potential to come back and bite pubs with a vengeance. While it is described as “rebalancing” the licensing laws, in reality it is tipping them very steeply against the pub trade. And the more pubs become sanitised temples of health, the more their customers will turn to the arms of Tesco and informal social gatherings on private premises.

* Flat-Track Bully *

Beer quality is not just for Friday nights

SOMEONE was recently singing the praises of a particular local pub. It seemed to be very much on the up, and the beer had certainly impressed on a Friday night Stagger. However, I had later called in at a quieter time and had a couple of pints that were both indifferent verging on poor. Beer quality is not something just for busy times, but needs to be maintained throughout the week. It is one thing to tap a cask and serve it quickly when the pub is heaving, but something else to have a sensible policy of stock rotation to match demand and to understand the rituals of hard and soft pegging so that the beer will still be in good nick when trade is much thinner, which nowadays is most of the week. The fact that a pub is quiet is no excuse for lacklustre beer.

Many years ago, there was a local pub – now long since closed – that was notorious for this. On Friday nights it might have a range of fresh, tasty beers, but by Tuesday it was offering ten different varieties of Sarson’s Best. The truest test of whether a pub genuinely knows how to keep beer well is to try it out not on Friday or Saturday night but early doors on a Monday or Tuesday evening. And you have to wonder how many highly-regarded pubs get their reputation purely from the times when the beer is gushing through the pumps.

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