Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - July 2011
The campaigns against alcohol and tobacco are two fronts in the same war
EARLIER this year, ASH Scotland and Alcohol Focus Scotland held a joint conference in Glasgow “to consider the progress of alcohol and tobacco control and explore what each sector might learn from the other.” This underlines the point that I have made in the past that the tactics used in the campaign against tobacco are increasingly being brought into play in the campaign against alcohol.. You may argue that the two are very different issues, but if the neo-Prohibitionists regard them as two sides of the same coin there is nothing you can do about it.
It is also instructive that, as has been the practice of the tobacco control lobby for many years, no industry representatives were allowed to attend or have a voice. Not just the likes of Diageo and Heineken, nobody. Even if you run the most low-carbon, organic, Fairtrade, recycling-friendly micro brewery in the world, as far as the anti-drink lobby are concerned you’re still engaged in a “toxic trade” and they’re not interested in any kind of dialogue or accommodation with you.
Why do so many pubs fail to provide such a basic item as beermats?
I WAS SURPRISED and disappointed recently to walk into one of my favourite local pubs – which in many respects is very traditional – and find they had decided to dispense with beer mats. It’s not going to make me take my custom elsewhere, but it’s another niggly little reason to feel the pubgoing experience is less than ideal.
It has baffled me for years why a growing number of pubs refuse to provide mats. Especially with the now-universal adoption of brim measure glasses, they perform a useful role in soaking up spilt and overflowing beer, stopping it staining tables and running off the edge to spoil your clothes. I’m convinced it comes from the same misguided school of “trying not to look like an old-fashioned boozer” that has led to the widespread ripping out of bench seating.
Given that so many commercial organisations and campaigns produce promotional mats, the argument doesn’t wash that pubs find them difficult to get hold of. Indeed, if they thought they were worth having it wouldn’t be a huge expense to obtain their own. No pub would refuse to provide table napkins on cost-saving grounds, so why should mats be any different?
Is history in danger of repeating itself over lighter, paler beers?
OLDER READERS will remember how, in the 1980s, Samuel Smiths introduced a beer called Tadcaster Bitter which was paler, hoppier and a little less strong than their standard Old Brewery Bitter. When well kept, it could be very good, but unfortunately it wasn’t well promoted and Sams’ conservative customers tended to stick with OBB. So Tadcaster Bitter began to suffer from a vicious circle of slow turnover leading to poor quality which further deterred people from drinking it, and after a year or so it was withdrawn.
I do worry that the same fate is likely to overtake the recently-introduced Holts IPA, which occupies a similar position in relation to Holts Bitter. This too is a good beer, with a pronounced hoppiness that to many brings back memories of the Holts Bitter of old. It has appeared in a number of Holts’ high-profile pubs, but unfortunately in my experience it seems to suffer in the same way from slow turnover, and I have had a few lacklustre pints in pubs where the Bitter is reliably good. If you think it will be a lottery whether you get a pint that has been festering in the lines for hours, you may well decide it’s best to avoid ordering that beer in the first place.