Curmudgeon has always applied the policy of "never apologise, never explain" to his column in "Opening Times". Any criticisms or comments on the letters page go unanswered. The only exceptions would be if someone calls him a liar or questions his personal integrity. But those constraints don't apply on the Net!

The First Anniversary of the Smoking Ban (August 2008)

The Smoking Ban and Community Pubs (June 2007)

The Smoking Ban in Ireland (September 2006)

The Threat to Pubs from a Smoking Ban (November 2004)

Standards of Pub Food (October 2004)

Political Bias on the Curmudgeon Website (May 2001)

Late-Night Disorder in Pubs (August 2000)

Peanuts and Real Ale Don't Mix (August 2000)

Police Sticker Pubgoers (June 2000)

Drugs, the Alcohol Industry and Censorship (June 2000)

Bottle-Conditioned Beers (May 2000)

Attitudes Towards Alcohol and Cannabis (January 2000)

Parallels Between the Anti-Smoking and Anti-Alcohol Campaigns (October 1999)

In the August 2008 "Opening Times", Brian Begg-Roberston wrote:

Curmudgeon would do well to accept defeat with grace in the matter of the smoking ban as it is becoming tiresome in the extreme seeing the nicotine addicted minority continue in their hopeless campaign to force their habit, and the potentially fatal consequences thereof, on to others (Opening Times, July 2008).

It has always been my understanding that the pub industry was given the chance to clean its own act up and failed to do so. Your right to light up seems, in my opinion, to pale into insignificance against the right of bar staff and non-smoking customers not to share the stink, the dirt and the lung cancer that goes hand in hand with the habit. Legislation was noth inevitable and long overdue.

I would have more sympathy with the smokers if they didn't seem to think that their habit somehow elevates them against all the norms of behaviour that most of us accept naturally. I think I can assume that most OT readers who smoke would refrain from dropping crisp packets and beer bottles on to the pavement, yet as a general rule they will drop their discarded cancer sticks in the street, flick their ash anywhere and allow trails of carcinogenic fumes to drift across children and adults alike. More power to the councils who are handing out heavy on the spot fines to such people.

It is an absolute delight for both my wife and I to return from a night drinking and not to stink of stale smoke any more.

Curmudgeon replies:

Well, that torrent of rancid bile really says more than I ever could about the intolerant, bigoted attitudes of antismokers, doesn't it? It sounds as though it was written in green ink on a spittle-flecked sheet of lined paper torn from an exercise book…

Oh, and you do realise I'm a non-smoker, don't you?

In June 2007, Dave Hallows wrote by e-mail:

I was in a North Manchester pub and there was heaps of praise for your piercing piece on the smoking ban in your column. From behind the bar, they said it was 'on the money' and typified the pending plight of land-locked pubs and treat of falling trade in the winter months.

It was the best article on the subject that they have seen.

Your cheque is in the post!

Curmudgeon replies:

Thanks, always good to get a bit of praise. I think I know my pubs, and have a pretty good idea on what the effect of the smoking ban will be on community locals. Most will lose trade, a fair number will close, although in many cases not without struggling on for maybe a year or two.

Sunday 1 July was truly a black day for the English pub.

In the March 2007 issue of "Opening Times", David Thornhill, Chair of Nottinghamshire Transport 2000, wrote:

Thanks to Curmudgeon in the January issue of OT for introducing the subject of ‘beer miles’.

It is curious how seemingly disparate groups often have much in common and in Nottingham the local Transport 2000 group is working with Nottingham CAMRA on this issue of ‘beer miles’, as it could be a very useful campaigning tool.

Alas Curmudgeon does seem to get somewhat confused towards the end of his piece however, although asking the difficult questions is important. Allow me to respond.

“... all beer festivals predominantly feature beers from no more than 20 or 30 miles around.” To this question you can couple the question of is drinking a guest beer from two hundred miles away ethical?

I do not see this as a problem. Nobody is suggesting that we stop eating bananas because they do not grow in Salford! There will always be a place for food/drink that is well-travelled. However, I would suggest Tesco or whoever offers a CHOICE of, say, apples, with a wide selection of British grown apples available alongside those from South Africa. It is no different with beer and one of the joys of beer is the variety, but give the consumer a choice.

“... supporting brewing foreign brands under licence in UK rather than trucking the authentic product halfway across Europe.”

I worry Curmudgeon is a secret Stella drinker! Within the context of 'beer miles' I'm not sure this is a valid question. How many drinkers know where their beer is brewed and I suspect many believe their Stella is hand crafted in Belgium. They are being conned. CAMRA should be campaigning vigorously against this deceit of marketing ‘brands’ backed by multi-million pound advertising budgets.

Drinkers need to be better informed about the origins and authenticity of their pint of beer so they can make informed choices and it is important that pubs offer ‘choice’. For every Stella drinker that is prompted to question what he is drinking and is directed towards a locally brewed real ale then CAMRA really is getting somewhere.

With the current media interest in Climate Change, never has there been a better time for CAMRA to use 'beer miles' to support their local breweries and to question the dominance of the mega-corporations. Yes, there will be some difficult questions along the way, but this campaign could work!

Curmudgeon replies:

I’m not confused at all, thank you – the point of the piece was to expose the fundamental contradiction between reducing “beer miles” and the desire to sample a wide range of unusual and exotic beers. Indeed it seems to be your argument that is a little confused.

I don’t believe drinkers of Stella Artois are under any illusions that they are drinking an authentic Belgian product, and frankly few of them would be bothered anyway. It is pie-in-the-sky to believe that CAMRA can confront the likes of Stella head-on, and surely its objective should be to encourage the more discerning drinkers to try more interesting and characterful products. “It’s all a giant con” really will not wash nowadays.

There will always be major international beer brands, and surely it makes environmental sense to brew them locally as close to the point of sale as possible. Nobody has a problem with nominally Japanese Hondas and Toyotas being manufactured in the UK. But if CAMRA bangs on about “beer miles” while at the same time saying it’s better to drink Czech-brewed Budweiser Budvar than Welsh-brewed Stella, then it is giving out a wildly inconsistent message.

No, I am not a secret Stella Artois drinker, but from time to time I do enjoy authentic imported Continental lagers, especially from Germany.

Personally I see the development of international trade as a major positive which enriches people’s lives by allowing them to buy a wider variety of products of all kinds, and increases overall prosperity by encouraging countries and regions to specialise in what they are good at. I am sceptical about the direr predictions of the global warming lobby and don’t feel a single twinge of guilt in drinking imported beers.

I regard “beer miles” as a somewhat spurious concept that falls flat on its face when confronted with the reality of what CAMRA members actually do. It is getting dangerously near to “do as I say, not as I do.” Of course there should be choice, the more the better, but in general increased choice will lead to increased beer miles. The beer miles of the average pint of real ale are far more now than they were when CAMRA was founded.

The point must also be made that Transport 2000 is a body funded by public transport operators which campaigns in favour of greater restrictions on private car travel, and therefore any comments made by its representatives must be taken with a large pinch of salt as they have a political axe to grind.

In the September 2006 issue of "Opening Times", Michael Ginley wrote:

Curmudgeon somewhat understates the situation in Eire after their smoking ban of 2004. There have probably been rather more than the 400 pub closures he mentions whilst of those that remain, many are now part-time operations opening only for limited periods in the evening and, in rural areas, into the early hours of the morning. Some bars which are still listed as such are really just off-licenses these days whilst there has been an explosion in the number of shebeens – illegal drinking dens.

Those pubs which were already operating a food service have drifted a lot closer to being licensed restaurants over the last two years. In some areas these places swarm with unruly kids, especially at lunch times.

What remains a bit unclear is the extent to which the smoking ban is being ignored. It certainly is in all the shebeens and especially in rural areas, the ashtrays come out at the start of every lock-in. Village pubs also have informal arrangements for smokers which are not strictly in accordance with the ban on smoking in “enclosed spaces”. Sometimes, part-covered areas out the back are referred to as “the beer garden” when the only plant to be seen might be one shrivelled succulent, sharing its soil with dozens of fag ends.

There has been an impact on the tourist trade, officially described as “slight” the last I heard but admitted in some areas to have been “catastrophic”. Killarney, rural Galway and east Donegal licensees are said to be struggling most.

Amusingly in a way, the moment the Irish smoking ban went in, word started turning up in the technical press of the positive benefits of smoking, notwithstanding the now proven dangers. Amongst others, a very light smoking habit is now known to be enough to keep one serious respiratory complaint at bay whilst work is going on to try to establish the extent to which smoking counteracts alcohol-induced liver disease.

All this is known to our MPs and the process whereby the UK might be saddled with an Eire-style smoking ban is not yet complete. That is, we might yet get a workable compromise here.

Curmudgeon replies:

It makes a change to be accused of pulling my punches, but I feel I have to be careful what I say on this issue to avoid being accused of "harping on" about it.

Your description of what has happened in Ireland sounds only too realistic and is in line with what I predicted in my article. If and when we get a similar ban in England and Wales the results will be much the same - the overall licensed trade will decline, and traditional "drink and chat" locals will suffer most.

In recent years we have seen a number of the small traditional pubs in Stockport close and I'm sure the smoking ban will account for many more. The idea that there is some huge reserve army of committed non-smokers waiting to emerge from the woodwork once the ban is in place is risible.

I genuinely fear that in ten years' time it will be virtually impossible to find the kind of wet-led, community-focused pub that was typical not so long ago.

In the October 2004 issue of "Opening Times", Jim Flynn wrote:

Having just returned from a holiday in Ireland, I am writing to correct the views expressed in your Curmudgeon column in last months “Opening Times”.

I found going into pubs in Ireland a really positive experience. Gone were the clouds of smoke, the smell of smoke in the air and afterwards on your clothes, and most of all the threat to health. Smoking, unlike responsible drinking, harms not just those who choose to partake but also those who don’t.

I am not what Curmudgeon stereotyped as an “anti-smoking zealot”, but I am one of the majority of British drinkers who want to be able to enjoy a pint without suffering the discomfort of the smoke of others. Rather than a step to alcohol prohibition, the banning of smoking could be the saving of the public house in the country in the long term.

Curmudgeon replies:

Hello again, Jim. Funny how you’re the only one who chooses to object when I comment on the adverse effects of a smoking ban in pubs (see earlier reply)

It doesn’t look like you actually bothered to read my column, in which I pointed out that the smoking ban in Ireland had led to a decline in pub takings of 16% in Dublin and 25% or more in rural areas. The smoke-free pub you enjoyed this year may not be there next year. In the UK, the British Beer and Pub Association reckon it would lead to the closure of about 5,000 pubs – which would tend to be the smaller, traditional, wet-led locals that CAMRA fights to preserve, not dining pubs and style bars.

Anyone who isn’t an anti-smoking zealot will support a solution that will allow pubs to cater for smokers, non-smokers who wish to socialise with smokers, and those who prefer to drink in a smoke-free environment. If you wish to see a complete smoking ban, regardless of what a swathe of destruction it will produce, then in my book you are an anti-smoking zealot.

Smoking is still a legal activity, you know, and many people, particularly cigar and pipe smokers, positively enjoy it. Smokers are not by any means all hopeless addicts who long to give up. To seek to prevent them from engaging in that activity in a social setting, even if it does not involve any non-smokers except those who have made a positive decision to be there, strikes me as a distinctly intolerant point of view.

In the September 2004 issue of "Opening Times", Dennis Jones wrote:

Curmudgeon makes several valid points in his rant against pub grub but he must be challenged on a couple of them.

Too English? In the last 12 months, without leaving Greater Manchester, I’ve eaten French, Italian, Indian, Caribbean and Spanish – all in normal pubs. Perhaps Curmudgeon should get out more.

Separate dining rooms? If my partner and I go out à deux, we’ll eat in the main pub. If we go out with our friends (say, six to twelve of us) then a separate room is very useful.

Children’s portions? A great idea except that the person in the kitchen has no idea whether the child is three or thirteen. On several occasions my three-year old granddaughter has left more then she’s eaten.

But what I dislike most about pub meals in some places isn’t even mentioned by Curmudgeon. This is what I’ve dubbed ‘pretentious adjectival diarrhoea’. You’ve seen the sort of thing I mean. ‘Oven backed haricots in a sauce of sun-drenched love apples served on a lightly crisped bed of browned ciabatta.’ Beans on toast to thee and me.

Nothing’s grilled anymore, it’s flame seared. We don’t have gravy, it’s all jus and underdone vegetables are foisted on us as ‘al dente’.

I recently went to a pub a couple of miles south west of Stockport centre (I daren’t be more specific!) where the description of each dish had so much waffle that the full menu was spread over four separate blackboards, each one in a different area. It took so long to locate and read all four that by the time I’d finished reading the fourth I’d forgotten what was on the first.

There are great pubs all over the place, offering delicious and imaginative food at reasonable prices. All you have to do is find them!

Curmudgeon replies:

Thanks for some thoughtful comments, Dennis.

You suggest that I should get out more – but in fact it’s because I do get out a lot, and am often looking to eat in unfamiliar pubs, that I get to see just how variable and often poor pub food is.

Yes, there is plenty of good food in pubs, but it can be hard to find in strange areas, and even pubs that do well in some respects often fall down over some of the basics such as menu presentation or not serving quality snacks alongside full meals. I have also had terrible food in atmospheric pubs serving good beer.

Your example of the menus spread over four blackboards clearly illustrates one of the points I was making. How is a disabled person meant to cope with that? I’m sure most of the items don't change from week to week and could easily be included on a printed menu.

I try to avoid the kind of establishments that come up with pretentious descriptions for food, but I certainly know what you mean. This is another example of pubs masquerading as restaurants.

It is interesting that a flexible, informal approach to pub food seems to be much more often achieved in the South of England (and particularly the South-West) than the North.

While “foreign” dishes can often be found in pubs, it’s amazing how often they are inappropriately accompanied by traditional English spuds and two veg – something I recently saw with Thai-style Fish Cakes. And Pizza & Chips – for God’s sake!

Another problem with pub food that I have seen from time to time (including one recently) is “missing menu syndrome”. This is where a pub prominently advertises that food is available, but when you go inside there is nobody eating and no menus to be seen. Generally a menu is forthcoming if you ask behind the bar, but if they want to attract food customers you’d think they would make it more obvious, even just by putting a prominent stack of menus on the end of the bar. I have more than once seen people take a look round and walk out under these circumstances.

In an e-mail message on 23 May 2001, Peter Black ( wrote:


Now that the General Election is upon us, I see C has revealed his true colours in his latest column.

I have not seen such a right wing rant for a very long time. Even if anyone shared his views, which I think is unlikely given their extreme nature, I do wonder if it is appropriate for a beer magazine to promote such a blatant political pitch?

Does anyone else agree?

(And yes, I am a Labour Party member, but while I will argue until I'm blue in the face about politics, I would not seek to beer to push my own political prejudices).

Anyway, since I've just moved to Cheadle in C's area, hopefully I'll soon get to meet the great man!

Curmudgeon replies:

Well, that certainly provoked a reaction!

For anyone who missed it, the offending piece was Don't Make the Same Mistake Again! - which I described as "my predictably rancorous and partisan thoughts about the General Election".

A rant, unashamedly, but I would suggest a libertarian rant rather than a rightwing rant - there's nothing about asylum seekers, crime and punishment, Europe etc. - and I think it's hard to deny that Tony Blair's government hasn't exactly advanced the cause of lifestyle freedom very much, while Jack Straw has been one of the most authoritarian Home Secretaries for years.

The "Opening Times" column is unashamedly written from a small-c conservative standpoint, but it definitely is not Conservative in a party political sense. And I think Ann Widdecombe is a dreadful woman!

The point of the website is very much to say what is outside the scope of the "Opening Times" column, although that has made the occasional political point in the past.

If you haven't come across it before, this article (or the second item of the two) will further annoy you.

However, in a couple of weeks' time the election will be over, Tony Blair will be safely installed back in Downing Street and the article will be relegated to an obscure link at the bottom of the page. So I wouldn't worry about it too much.

In an e-mail message on 12 August 2000, Charles Wimpenny( wrote:

With reference to your article in August's edition of Opening Times: I fully agree with all the sentiments you raise, although I feel that the current position of breweries, sorry I'll rephrase that, pub management companies, are also to blame for the antisocial behaviour which is growing throughout the nation's drinking outlets.

Many drinking establishments which are welcoming and support a mixed clientele throughout the daytime become the centres of disarray once darkness falls. I feel that to a degree the blame must fall on the shoulders of corporate management which is obsessed with drinkers aged 18 -24 and the culture which is associated with what this group regard as a 'good time'. It appears that undue pressure is put on pub managers to pander to this group at the expense of encouraging a more diverse clientele.

This results in your hospitable pub where you may enjoy the pleasures of conversation in the daytime being totally usurped by flashing lights, discos, large screen football and the worst of all, karaoke during the evenings. At the same time little regard is given to the rest of their potential customers, or indeed the public at large who often suffer the outfall from these 'customers' once they hit the streets at just after 11 p.m. While the 'leisure' industry continues to have a total disregard for the majority of their potential customers in the alleged interests of their shareholders, how can we expect any improvements?

In contrast I have just returned from several days' holiday in the Netherlands and what a difference. Small brown cafes with welcoming proprietors and customers who are willing to make everyone welcome and the art of convivial conversation is still alive; while discos, karaoke, etc. are definitely not on. We have certainly lost a lot in this country at the expense of corporate advancement. Change is long overdue.

Yours disgusted,

Charles E. Wimpenny.

Curmudgeon replies:

Spot on! Couldn't agree more. The efforts of pub-owners to segregate young drinkers into specific "yoof" outlets is a major additional factor in stimulating disorder.

In my limited experience of drinking in Continental countries there are no "megapubs" whatsoever on the British model (Munich beer halls may be big, but are totally different) and in general the culture of young people going out and getting arseholed is totally absent.

In an e-mail message on 15 August 2000, "Jules J-Omega"
( wrote:

I would be grateful if you could use your website to propagate this, my newly-articulated petition, that all should kindly refrain from eating roasted peanuts in my presence while I am drinking Real Ale.

It's not as if I didn't enjoy a roast peanut or two myself - indeed, I consume the damn things in preposterous quantites, and long ago realised that they pass straight through the alimentary system almost unaltered, and having imparted virtually no nutrition.

But they are one of a small number of foodstuffs and flavourings, of which I don't want any redolence when I embark on that most exciting of all gustatory pursuits, the tasting of good live beer. I don't want to arrive at the pub with my palate besmirched with the flavour of peppermint, chocolate, garlic, beef or yeast extract, antiseptic mouthwash, or, above all, roast peanuts.

Of course, some of these flavours are offered, as adjuncts to the drinks, in most pubs. It strikes me as unfortunate that crisps, with flavours sufficiently pungent to obliterate all subleties in the beer, are so favoured among fellow drinkers, but it comes as no great surprise. I am of the opinion that a majority of beer drinkers do not greatly like the taste of the beer, and go to various unconscious lengths to minimise the experience of the flavours - drinking from the bottle, drinking chilled beers, and choosing keg beers and lagers, all reduce the intrusion of flavour into the drinking experience. Please discuss !

Well, let them eat their be-barbecued and en-garlicked crisps if they wish, these cause me no great distress. But roasted peanuts are in a different league. First, the wide-radiussed aura of smell, in all its putrid and fecal pervasiveness, truly offends the nose, and hence the palate. But, second, I find truly distressing the frenzied and jaw-slithering mastication, from which the eater strives in vain to extract some sort of digestive satisfaction, and which usually proceeds in conjunction with unrepressed vocalisations on, schlump, pressing topics, krrrup, of the, ulp-mmm, ulp, day. My repressed instinct at this point would be to seize the eater by the nose and throw him or her into the street, with the dogs and vagrants, while they commit this revoltingly antisocial act.

Now, I am much too well behaved, and scared of conflict, to do any such thing, but I do believe I am approaching the point where, when my generosity with regard to beer-buying is abused by the request "oh, get some peanuts too, I'm feeling hungry", that I shall politely decline, with a terse statement of my objections, plus the offer of crisps instead. So, should we have the fortune to meet and converse over a pint of something flavoursome, please - I entreat you - don't even THINK of eating roasted peanuts.

- Jules

Curmudgeon replies:

There's really no answer to that! Can't get enough of the things myself, but I must agree that their tendency to pass unaltered through the digestive tract can be unwelcome at times...

In an e-mail message on 11 June 2000, Steve Lyden-Brown ( wrote:

Rory Knight Bruce of "The Daily Telegraph" wrote an article on 24 April entitled "Does Nobody Care About The Countryside Anymore ?", in which he referred to the practice of UK Police Forces in making clandestine visits to public house car parks for the purpose of attaching devices in the form of stickers to cars parked therein.

It is thought that these devices are being used for identification purposes.

I have asked him to provide more information on this worrying development, but in the meantime if anybody else is aware of this practice could they please let me know by e-mail or ringing 01582 467263?

I have advised other bodies such as the British Institute of Innkeeping and CAMRA etc.

Thank you,

Steve Lyden-Brown.

Curmudgeon replies:

Thanks for letting us know. This is clearly an abuse of police powers that we need to keep an eye out for. Would they not be better employed trying to catch burglars?

In the June 2000 issue of "Opening Times", Kim Rampley wrote:

Regarding two items in May's "OT":

With regard to the extension of licensing hours, I have to say that I am in two minds over this. Whereas I welcomed the afternoon opening in 1988 - clearly, pubs closed on a hot summer's day at 4 pm in, say, Knutsford or Chester, was a nonsense, for locals, shoppers and tourists alike - on the other hand, I always found the hour or so at evening opening time (5 pm in Liverpool) had a very good atmosphere in city centre pubs. This atmosphere has largely gone now.

I agree with Curmudgeon (May 2000) that certain drugs pose a threat to the alcohol industry: as I said in a previous letter, cannabis users seem at a distinct advantage when compared with those arrested for drunkenness offences. (surely you mean "disadvantage") However, not all "prohibitionists" are necessarily a bad thing. I recall when at university, Mary Whitehouse railing against certain films and TV programmes. She was dismissed at the time - especially by the BBC - as a crank and in a minority of one. How wrong they were: she has had a huge groundswell of popular support. I happen to believe she should have criticised violent scenes far more than sexual ones, but she had a point to make and that too many films etc. are too explicit. I know I shall be called prudish or not politically correct but I don't care; I intend to stick by my principles come what may. Do any readers agree?

Curmudgeon replies:

Interesting letter, Kim, although I'm not sure what Mary Whitehouse has to do with pubs and beer. I certainly agree that, in the days of afternoon closing, the "early doors" evening session had a special atmosphere that has been lost nowadays.

I've always felt rather ambivalent on the subject of censorship, so I don't tend to pontificate about it. It's interesting how we have become far more liberal on some things - such as swearing and the frank depiction of sex in films and TV - but far more censorious on others, such as smoking, drink-driving, pistol shooting and eating red meat. On balance, I think we are overall far more trammelled and regulated now than we were in the late Sixties, and the so-called freedoms we are gaining are confined to a small range of politically correct activities. I see far more things being banned than legalised.

Internet newsgroup posting from Mike McGuigan ( on 5 May 2000:

I read your piece on BCAs and I can see what you’re getting at when it comes to some poor examples.

However, to take one example you criticise (K&B), I have drunk lots of their BCA beers & never had a bad one & enjoyed both the beers & the fact that they do brew & condition in a traditional & authentic way (no filtration, warm-conditioning time to allow natural carbonation etc).

As to strength & BCing having any value I have enjoyed a few BCAs in the 4-5%abv region - e.g. Coniston Bluebird, Butts Blackguard, K&B Festive etc.

One point that has not been mentioned is that yeast being present in a bottle gives a taste & mouthfeel not present in filtered beer, and one that in general I enjoy (along with a more subtle, fine-bead carbonation, rather than the rough fizz that force-CO2 can give)

As to the question of BCAs suitability/flexibility/handling - well OK, it can be a problem (a picnic in the wilderness after a run, would be a cloudy affair!) but in my experience BCAs settle in about 24hrs & contrary to your suggestion, I've never noticed much time spent on the loo after a mildly cloudy one.

As to the question of quality, yes I’ve had some really dodgy bottles in the past, but in my experience they do seem to be getting rarer. I’m assuming that this is brewers/bottlers realising that it really isn’t as easy as pouring cask beer by hand into bottles & hoping for the best & instead to consider brewing/bottling hygiene, yeast choice, viability, vitality & quantity, primings, oxygen uptake, beer quality & gravity etc, etc.

While it's true that hand-bottling can make OK (even great) beer, IMO it will almost always be inconsistent (sometimes wonderful, sometimes undrinkable, & tending to have much less safe shelf-life). Perhaps an obvious exception is trad hand-bottled farm-lambics, but IMO they too show bottle-variation.

I’ve also had some fairly bland BCAs & I tend to avoid them afterwards, (I've also had some really bland & worse *premium* non-BCAs) but on the whole IMO the scene seems to be improving with some very good examples produced in most sectors of the industry (eg small micros - Butts; bigger micro - Hopback; regionals K&B, Youngs, Fullers) (BTW are there any nationals brewing BCA's in UK now?)

As to market acceptance, I (sadly) think you're probably right & that BCA will never win - the same I feel is true of cask beer in the long run. IMO real beers (be they Brit or imported) will be an important niche market for the drinker & landlord who can notice & care for the difference between it & the mass-produced.

At the start of the piece you mention Shep's making Spitfire a non-BC beer, I vaguely remember reading somewhere that they had decided to reverse the decision?


Curmudgeon replies:

Thanks for a very thoughtful and constructive response. The only points I would make that I wasn't criticising K & B in general, merely their version of White Shield, and that, although different people react in different ways, it's a well-documented fact that cloudy, yeasty beer does tend to have unfortunate after-effects.

In the January 2000 issue of "Opening Times", Kim Rampley wrote:

I agree fully with Curmudgeon (OT, December) that social drinkers are being more and more ostracised by self-appointed health advisers. I have never seen anyone getting drunk and being silly at a CAMRA festival - in Stockport or anywhere else, nor for that matter in GBG-listed pubs, this in over 25 years of reading said volume.

However, I disagree that cannabis users are looked down upon. "Smoking a bit of weed" or whatever it is called nowadays seems to be thought of as a bit of a laugh - even if caught by the police one is only likely to be cautioned whilst cells may be full of people in trouble for drinks "offences".

Seems to me all this dates back to the 70s when interest in CAMRA and real ale was seen to be fuddy-duddy whereas drug taking was the in thing to do.

One possible side effect of the "prohibitionists" might be sadly that brewers could get away with over the odds prices and increases. A worrying trend and, methinks, one which should be countered strongly.

Curmudgeon replies:

It's nice to find someone agreeing with me, but I'm afraid to say, Kim, that you've written a rather muddle-headed letter that suggests you might have been partaking of the dreaded "weed" yourself.

The standard of behaviour in GBG-listed pubs and at beer festivals is generally good, and much better than in young people's style bars, but over the years I've seen my fair share of people getting very drunk and acting in a silly if usually harmless manner. But the anti-alcohol concerns being expressed are not really to do with drunkenness, but about the supposed danger to health and the suggestion that drinking alcohol is a sign of weakness and lack of self control.

You are also rather wide of the mark about cannabis. While it is widely tolerated in society, it is almost entirely smoked in private amongst consenting adults. If you lit up a joint in any reputable pub, you would be asked to put it out, and if you refused, told to leave. If you went for a job with any major employer and admitted to a fondness for a "bit of weed", you would immediately be shown the door. If it was with a bus or train operator, even in a non safety critical role, you would probably have a boot up your backside too. Cannabis use is not publicly acceptable by the "responsible, respectable and ambitious", even though some of them may use it in private. My concern is that the same attitude will increasingly be taken towards anyone who owns up to occasionally drinking more than the three to four units of alcohol per day permitted by the health police.

I've never been a cannabis user myself and don't have any strong views on the subject, but I don't see any evidence that it's any more harmful than alcohol and feel that, on balance, we should probably be moving towards legalisation. But before that is done it will be essential to carry out in-depth studies into the effect of cannabis on driving and put in place effective laws to stop the roads being flooded with cannabis-impaired drivers. Inattention rather than aggression is the main cause of road accidents, and that is likely to be greatly increased by cannabis, which tends to reduce you to a kind of dozy stupor - in Noel Gallagher's disgracefully politically incorrect phrase, it "mongs you out".

Unlike cannabis, alcohol is still legal, and people in the cells for drink-related offences are normally there because they have been drunk and disorderly, not for drinking alcohol per se - the two things are not directly comparable.

On the subject of prices, currently we have intense competition in the beer market which is driving prices down, particularly in the off-trade, but also in city-centre pubs. In the past, temperance concerns allowed brewers to maintain cosy monopolies, but I don't see any prospect of that returning. The main danger is that spurious health concerns will lead to an increase in alcohol taxation, but even that is highly unlikely at the moment as UK taxes are so far above the European average. But, as I said in my original article, we are facing a form of prohibition that is subtle rather than head-on.

In the October 1999 issue of "Opening Times", Jim Flynn wrote:

Curmudgeon has labelled all those who are anti-smoking as totalitarian, part of the "nanny knows best" brigade, and puritan. It is very sad to see this column lower itself to cheap insults which prove nothing except that the writer hasn't really thought through a justifiable argument. When I go for a pint or indeed out to any social event, I don't wish to come back smelling of cigarette smoke and having shortened my life. Many of your readers will not forget seeing Roy Castle bravely dying of lung cancer. As a non-smoker he was dying because his job as a musician took him to smoky clubs. How many thousands of non-smoking pub regulars and bar staff are risking a similar awful fate?

Smoking kills even those who are sensible enough not to smoke, and advertising cigarettes is obscene. Meanwhile, the pub trade needs to listen to its potential customers and staff. Unless you clean up your act, the 75% who don't smoke will go elsewhere and you will soon find your staff suing you.

Curmudgeon replies:

Thanks for that, Jim. I thought my original column was a rather neat piece of argument and certainly did not descend to "cheap insults". You, on the other hand, have shamelessly indulged in shroud-waving over Roy Castle, which does you no credit.

The key argument was one of freedom of speech. The advertising ban will cover all forms of publicity including direct mail. Tobacco products will remain legal - and a lucrative source of government revenue - but it will be impossible for manufacturers to tell consumers anything at all about them. That is a strange and inconsistent policy, which may even work against the interests of consumers by withholding information that could encourage them to switch to lower-tar brands. I don't disagree, though, that due to the dangerous nature of tobacco products, advertising must be very strictly regulated, and I certainly see no place for sports sponsorship by tobacco manufacturers. But of course Bernie Ecclestone bought off the government to get an extension for grand prix racing!

To quote from one of the sites referenced elsewhere on this page, "The anti-alcohol killjoys are only one face of a multi-faceted puritanical threat to our liberty. With respect to pornography and, especially, smoking the puritans have already had considerable success. This is ominous for drinkers, even for those who have no interest in porn and for those who don't smoke. For, if the puritans win on one front, this not only frees their resources for other battles, but it also sets a precedent to which they can appeal for further repressive measures. A specific consequence is that if, e.g., the freedom to smoke gets suppressed, then the freedom to drink will come under stronger attack. A general consequence is that if you value the freedoms to do the things you enjoy, you had better defend the freedoms of others to do the things they enjoy too".

There is certainly ample evidence that anti-smoking organisations such as ASH have swapped campaigning techniques and even key personnel with their anti-drink equivalents such as Action on Alcohol Abuse.

Though possibly, Jim, as a member of the Labour Party, which seems to be intent on banning everything (something you don't admit to in your letter), you aren't really much interested in freedom in the first place.

It is interesting that today (Sunday 10 October), the government has announced that it is delaying the implementation of some aspects of the advertising ban, specifically including direct mail. This is the latest in a long line of examples of announcing ill-considered policies in haste and then having to rethink them once the practical difficulties became clear.

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