Category Archives: Beer

The health cost of the government’s failure to implement minimum pricing of alcohol policy

alcohol
A doctor friend described to me the ‘minimum pricing of alcohol policy’ as ‘one of the few genuinely good public health ideas of recent years’. As with most policies that are good for public health but bad for big business it was quietly dropped. The coalition government instead opted to bring in a ban on ‘below cost’ selling of alcohol.

A study published in the BMJ has, for anyone that had any doubt, put to rest any suggestion that the banning of selling below cost alcohol has any serious public health benefit and, significantly, has clearly restated the case for the introduction of minimum pricing of alcohol (as our progressive neighbours in Scotland have done – awaiting a legal challenge from the Scotch Whisky Association).

The BMJ study concludes with an unequivocal statement:

“The ban on below cost selling, implemented in the England in May 2014, is estimated to have small effects on consumption and health harm. The previously announced policy of a minimum unit price, if set at expected levels between 40p and 50p per unit, is estimated to have an approximately 40-50 times greater effect.”

The implemented policy of banning the selling of below cost alcohol was found to reduce harmful drinkers’ mean annual consumption by just 0.08%, around 3 units per year. Put another way that is just over one pint, per year, drunk less by harmful consumers of alcohol.

In contrast, the study found that a minimum pricing of alcohol set at around 45p per unit would reduce harmful drinker’s consumption of alcohol by 137 units per year. In terms of pints that is approximately 60 pints less a year.

We have known for a while now that the minimum pricing of alcohol disproportionately impacts on those of us who consume the most alcohol (in the study a harmful drinker was defined as the 5.3% of the population over 16 who on average consumer 58 units per week for females, 80 units for males).

According to the study 2.2 million of us Brits are harmful drinkers (17.3% – 7.2 million are ‘hazardous’ and 61.5% – 22.5 million – are ‘moderate’).

The study found that 30.5% of harmful drinker’s alcohol would be effected by a minimum price of 45p per unit while just 19.5% and 12.5% respectively for hazardous and moderate drinker’s alcohol would be effected.

But this policy analysis isn’t just about reducing the amount people drink for an abstract notion of it being ‘better for our health’. The study connects it closely to alcohol related deaths stating:

“Below cost selling would save an estimated 14 deaths and 500 admissions to hospital annually, compared with 624 deaths and 23 700 admissions for a 45p minimum unit price”

In short and written another way, the coalition’s decision to delay the introduction of a minimum price of alcohol is costing Brits 610 needless deaths a year and a whopping 23,200 hospital admissions.

Something worth bearing in mind next time you go into an overworked hospital.

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The NHS and the blaming of rape victims

 

This poster was produced in 2006 and serves as one of many examples of institutionalized forms of ‘victim blaming’.

victim blaming

I was slightly horrified to see this poster re-circulating on social media this morning. It is yet another example of ‘victim blaming’ – the suggestion that a victim of rape was somehow at fault because of her behaviour. 

This poster becomes that bit more shocking when you spot that it is produced, published and distributed by our own government.

‘Victim blaming’ is one of those myths that I spend so much of my time trying to counter. Simply, a rape is never the victims fault – the blame always ultimately rests with those who put their penis inside someone without that other persons consent. 

Simple.

Or, in the words of the NHS (in a separate campaign to the ‘Know your limits’ campaign):

“If you have been sexually assaulted, remember that it wasn’t your fault. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing, where you were or whether you had been drinking. A sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator.”

If the NHS did want to draw some connections between alcohol consumption and sexual assault though without slipping down this dangerous road of victim blaming, they could have made the exact same poster with the words:

“approximately one-half of all sexual assaults are committed by men who have been drinking alcohol.”

One study on alcohol and sexual assault concluded it’s literature review saying:

“Depending on the sample studied and the measures used, the estimates for alcohol use among perpetrators have ranged from 34 to 74 percent”. 

The same study estimates that at least 20 percent of American men report having perpetrated sexual assault and 5 percent report having committed rape. The obvious conclusion to this is that 10% of American men have committed sexual assault after they have been drinking.

This issue is a serious one that involves facing up to taboos as well as a very well funded drinks industry. Our safety, not just of girls, but all of us depends on tackling this. I don’t think it is hyperbole to say we are in midst of an unspoken epidemic.

Sadly this contribution from the NHS to the debate adds little but does reinforce an incredibly negative persistent perception that the victim is somehow to blame for being raped.

 

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Craft brewery ‘Brewdog’ issues formal apology to Portman Group for ‘not giving a shit’

Brewdog
The on-going spat between the craft brewery ‘Brewdog’ and the Portman Group (named with no irony after the Guinness offices in Portman Square where it held its first meeting), has today taken another tantalising twist.

Responding to a comically dull press release from the Portman Group which once again accuses the brewery of breaking the advertising standards, Brewdog have released their own statement apologising to the Portman Group for ‘not giving a shit’.

In their comically curt response the brewery summarises their feeling to the Portman Group saying:

“Unfortunately, the Portman Group is a gloomy gaggle of killjoy jobsworths, funded by navel-gazing international drinks giants. Their raison d’être is to provide a diversion for the true evils of this industry, perpetrated by the gigantic faceless brands that pay their wages.” 

They continued:

“While the Portman Group lives out its days deliberating whether a joke on a bottle of beer is responsible or irresponsible use of humour, at BrewDog we will just get on with brewing awesome beer and treating our customers like adults.”

As if to illustrate a point the Portman Group’s Executive Director. Henry Ashworth, specifically addresses the issue of humour in the press release saying:

“The Code rules do not exist to prevent humorous or innovative brand marketing but to make sure that humour is used responsibly.”

Before following it up with possible the most humourless sentence ever constructed in the English language:

“We urge producers to exercise due diligence and consult our Code Advisory Team if they are in any doubt.”

This is the latest slightly comic spat between Brewdog and the Portman Group. In 2008 BrewDog called for The Portman Group to be scrapped (with some equally strong rhetoric) while the Portman Group has made repeated accusations against various Brewdog beers (The beer ‘Speedballs’ apparently mocked drug addiction – an accusation that led Brewdog to then initiate defamation action for, ‘Tokyo stout’ – then Britain’s strongest beer’ – encouraged binge drinking etc etc).

For the passive onlooker this is a spat that just keeps giving. Portman Group keep chipping away in mono-corporate talk that does nothing other than give Brewdog further publicity. Brewdog on the other hand keep chipping away with their wonderful diarrhoea of anti-corporate adjectives sounding increasingly like a half-pissed Noam Chomsky.

The contrast between the two is something this blogger plans to dwell on over a carefully selected independent craft beer.

Cheers.

 

*Hat tip to my my mate Russ for putting me onto this latest spat. 

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Do I want to hire a “beer wench”? No thanks.

beer
Wench: “a young woman who is a servant” (Online dictionary).

Or, as the Urban Dictionary puts it: “a dirty pirate hooker.”

Wench is a word you would think most businesses would try to avoid using. Most, you would hope, would be aware of both its literal (servant) and implied (prostitute) meaning.

But it is exactly this word that the tactfully titled website www.beerbitches.co.uk uses to describe the girls you can “hire” for their Oktoberfest themed parties. “Beer wenches for all occasions” they promise.

Nice huh.

Well one such occasion that has deemed it appropriate to hire some “Bavarian wenches” is the London Oktoberfest. The event which advertises itself as an opportunity to “let the entire family experience Bavarian culture” also has working the doors “hot Bavarian wenches”.

Apparently they see no antagonism in ethos there.

Interestingly, in the “family friendly” Oktoberfest they make no mention of the girls official title – beer bitches (definition of bitch given as “a malicious, spiteful, or coarse woman”). I wonder why?

To be abundantly clear, I take no issue with the girls working for beer bitches – if they want to make a bit of money and manage to have some fun at the same time then good on them. What I take issue with are companies like “Beer bitches” and the overt sexism they exude that helps perpetuate sexism both within the beer industry and in society as a whole.

The Every Day Sexism project has chronicled experiences of ordinary men and women who suffer sexist comments or actions through the day. One of these testimonies published in the Daily Telegraph reads:

I was on the bus telling my friend about the housework I have to do when I get home (I’m a young carer) and the man a couple of seats behind me said: “She’s perfect wench material.”

Another from the Telegraph reads:

“In one day I’ve been called a “frigid bitch” and a “dirty whore”.”

To think that you can run a business called “Beer bitches” that hires “wenches” specifically for men (they state they are for “Gents Events”) and that this might not be reinforcing some deep-rooted sexism within our society is extraordinary. But, that is essentially what Lisa Shepley who tweets from @Beerwenches suggests:

To clarify – feminism is not, and cannot, be understood as not condemning a woman for doing something she enjoys if you think it is negatively impacting on women in general. However, I think there is a reasonable argument to be made that says feminism entails an effort to tackle sexist language and imagery in society even if this is perpetuated by a woman.

I hope Lisa responds to this post. I would of course be more than happy to make space for a right of reply article if she wishes to write one.

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Interview: Rorie Scott, the Manager of Stroud’s ‘Bisley House’

“when it is good and if it’s right for us and our customers, we like to choose local.”

Bisley House 2Stroud’s ‘Bisley House’ has just reopened as a family friendly bar/restaurant. Steve Hynd recently caught up with the Manager of The Bisley House, Rorie Scott, to find out how the first few weeks of business have been going.

Can you tell us a little about Bisley House and what your vision for the future is?

Bisley House is Stroud’s oldest Ale House. We’ve changed it though from being a rundown brewery owned boozer to a family friendly bar-restaurant.  

Feedback from our customers told us that Stroud needed a great place to eat out, and this is our focus for the Bisley House in the coming months. Our food focuses on Mediterranean flavours and is already developing a bit of a reputation.

But Bisley House also has a long standing history as a great drinking place and we wanted to keep this. That’s why we stock a selection of local beers and European wines.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became the Manager of The Bisley House?

The Bisley House is a family run business, owned by my Mum, renovated with the direction of top Project Manager,,,my Dad, and is managed day to day by myself and my wife Ania.

We’ve been contemplating the move from my 10 year career as a snowsports coach to get settled back in Stroud. Quite simply, it was an offer and opportunity I couldn’t refuse.

When a customer walks though your door for the first time – what’s the impression you hope they will get?

The new look Bisley House is much brighter and cleaner than how people might remember it. Returning locals marvel at the work done, while new visitors compliment us on it clean and modern look. Also, the “meet and greet” from myself and the team is genuine and friendly. The service is relaxed and not over fussy.

We want people to feel relaxed and at home at Bisley House.

You put a lot of emphasis on local products – why is this so important to you?

There are several reasons for this. The easiest answer is the environmental aspect. It’s simply much better for our world if we use products that haven’t travelled too far. Secondly, the service tends to be better. Small and local businesses tend to look after each other. To give an example, if we miss our order day with Stroud Brewery, they deliver anyway or we can pick it up.

Last but not least, our customers like it. It’s not always possible, or affordable, to use local products though. Local isn’t always the best quality either. But when it is good and if it’s right for us and our customers, we like to choose local.

You put a lot of emphasis on your selection of drinks – do you see yourself as competition to the local pubs?

Competition is such a strong word. There’s no doubting though that we are a great place to come for a drink. We serve 2 local ales from Stroud Brewery, with a guest ale on the way. We use Cotswold Lager and Cotswold Cider and no less than 11 wines by the glass. The beer garden has served us well these first 2 weeks since opening. Long may the English summer continue!

Lastly, what’s your favourite dish/drink at Bisley House? 

My favourite of the moment is Leon, our chef’s, Chickpea and Pancetta stew. It’s been on our specials board a couple of times but we’d like to make it a permanent addition to our autumn lunch menu.

To drink, the Cotswold Brewing Company’s 5% Cider has been a lovely summer tipple.

Visit: http://www.bisleyhousecafe.co.uk/
Follow: www.twitter.com/BisleyHouseCafe
Like: www.facebook.com/BisleyHouseCafe

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Beers of Israel and Palestine…

During my time in Israel/Palestine I got to taste some wonderful beers. Israel especially has a impressive and growing craft-beer scene.

You can read some of my comments on two of the widely produced (and consumed) beers in Israel/Palestine – Goldstar and Taybeh – in this CNN article by Orlando Crowcroft.

You can also have a read of my visit to Taybeh Brewery in the West Bank – here.

Cheers.

Steve

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An Open Letter To All Breweries About Branding

This is a letter from the wonderful Melissa Cole to all those in the beer industry.

Dear Brewers, Brewsters, Marketing People and Art Departments,

I love our industry, I really do. I feel blessed every day to work in, what is undoubtedly, the warmest, most welcoming and fun business in the known cosmos.

But I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with you… in fact, I’ve got a whole skeleton’s worth… and it’s about the sexist imagery some of you use to promote your beers.

Just in case you haven’t noticed, in the last few days there’s been a bit of a furore about the issue of rape, some bloke called Julian, a mahoosively ill-informed American politician and some loud-mouthed idiot who has remarkably managed to manipulate a whole section of society into voting for him.

I’m not, for a single moment, saying that pump clips or bottle labels incite rape – that would be equally bone-headed – but you only have to look at the enormous backlash such idiotic comments have evoked to see that sexism has no place in modern society – so why do you still indulge in it?

As business people can you honestly not see that it does PRECISELY NOTHING to encourage intelligent people into drinking beer? And I’m not just speaking for women here, a brief comment on Twitter, and the resulting responses, shows that many men find it equally disturbing.

And just in case you’re wondering whether this is merely an intellectual objection, I’d like to give you an example of why branding and sexism is a real issue. At the Great British Beer Festival this year I was happily minding my own business, waiting for a mate to return to the bar, when I was approached by a man who asked me what I thought of the pump clip next to me.

It was a nonsense ‘slap & tickle’ style image and I said I thought it was stupid. Cue said ‘gentleman’ launching into a full-scale rant at me that started with: ‘Yeah, I know who you are. You’re that joyless cow who complains about this all the bloody time. It’s harmless fun, what’s your f*cking problem.’

And much as I enjoy a spirited debate from time to time (for those of you who know me, feel free to snigger), I walked away. Why? Well, as a wise man once said to me: “Don’t argue with idiots, they’ve had way more practice.”

But I was targeted, in a very aggressive manner, by someone who wanted to use my stance on sexist marketing as a big stick to beat me with for being a woman in the beer industry – is this something you want to encourage or that you want your brand associated with?

And if that one anecdote, and sadly I have a number of them, doesn’t do it for you, perhaps I could draw your attention to the fact that research by Molson Coors shows that 42% of women are put off beer by the macho marketing…

From a professional standpoint I also get more than a bit ticked off when I seek to engage with you about this issues quietly and politely in the background (I’m looking at YOU Marstons) ignoring my efforts is pretty rude to be honest, so I’m going to say it publicly instead!

Some of your range of seasonal pump clips for the Wychwood and Jennings brands are depressing at best and, at worst, simply puerile. Are you honestly proud that your products have joined the beer equivalent of the rogue’s gallery over at Pumpclip Parade? (BTW, kudos to Jeff Pickthall for running this site.)

If smaller companies like Hart Brewing, which has previously been a particularly bad offender, has recognised that it needs to change its ways, how come one of the largest regional brewers in the country seems incapable of doing so?

And can we just take a moment to look at the Slater’s range and the frankly pathetic out-dated, out-moded and tragic pump clip for the equally tragically-named Top Totty that hit the headlines earlier in the year after being banned from the Strangers Bar in the House of Commons?

All else aside, from a purely aesthetic point of view, how can a successful and genuinely good brewery not see how appalling cheap, nasty and tacky it looks against the rest of the brands?

These are sadly just a small selection of the awful dross out there which is damaging our industry’s image and making life difficult for women to get into beer, let alone those of us who are already in, what I’ve said before and will say again, is a truly wonderful business.

You may think I’m making a fuss about nothing but, I’m a firm believer that any aspect of society that fosters intolerance is created of thousands of elements, none of which are too small to challenge, and this element should, most certainly, be called time on.

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In praise of the Euston Tap

The EustonTap

“Why did you chose here – we are stood on a main road”. My partner was once again spot on with her observation. We were indeed on the edge of one of London’s busiest roads, Euston Road to be precise. Significantly however, we were not just standing, but holding a drink and no ordinary drink at that.

I went on the defensive, “the thing is” I started in a reassuring tone, “it’s not just about the beer, there are some other very good reasons why one might frequent the Euston Tap that has nothing to do with beer”.  She looked at me as if I was bullshitting again. I sipped my pint and tried to justify taking my non-beer drinking partner to the best beer drinking pub in London.

Few people would choose to drink at the Euston Tap for its location – that much I will concede. During the two hours we were stood outside I counted well over 10 sirens scream pass. Combine this with a healthy dose of London’s finest air pollution and I will confess there are nicer places to enjoy a pint.

A few punters might be interested that the bar is housed in a Grade II listed building, one of the few relics from the original Euston station built in the 1830s. A few, but let’s be honest, not that many and I suspect not my partner.

The reason, I (and one or two others) chose to frequent the Euston Tap is simple – an unrivalled selection of varying quality beers.  When I visited they had 19 beers on tap (8 cask ales always on rotation) – a feat which, to my knowledge, is unmatched anywhere in the capital.

I went for Mallinson’s ‘Danger Hops’ – a hard headed pale ale with a sweet nose followed by an (exceptionally) long hoppy finish. I mention this purely to illustrate how the bar can open up your world of beer drinking….when else would I sample and ale from a micro-brewery in Huddersfield?

As if this isn’t impressive enough they have an additional 150 bottled beers from around the world in stock at any one time. Even the most seasoned of beer drinkers would struggle to not find something new here. Every time I have visited they have had at least one beer on tap that I have not tasted before.

As I said however, this compelling beer argument is not enough to attract the likes of my partner.

There is more to the Euston Tap though. It is a combination of little quirks which gives the place some character. What other bar would only have one toilet? What other pub marks all of its (constantly rotating) beers up on chalk boards above the bar? What other bar staff will take the time (regardless of the length of queue) and talk you through the beer they have on tap? Few, if any I would suggest.

Clutching at straws? Maybe.

This article is a virtual clink of glasses from me to the Euston Tap. A bar that dares to do it differently, that has broken out of the “next to a train station and all we sell is Carlsberg conformity”. I and other London based beer lover will continue to flock there. Whether or not it has done enough to attract non beer drinkers like my partner remains to be seen – I got a sneaky feeling it hadn’t.

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2000 Trees 2012 – bringing you the best new and underground music, despite the weather

‘Happy Campers’ – Photo by James Popel

Stood with my hood up, rocking the full waterproof image and ankle deep in mud I met Claire, a happy camper at Gloucestershire’s 2000 Trees festival. From under her waterproof cape she wipes off the water running down her face and comments, “to the untrained eye, this mud might look as bad as Glastonbury in 2007, but it really isn’t you know. You can glide through this mud without worrying about losing your wellies”.  Looking around, it was clear that the mud and rain wasn’t dampening spirits. I asked Claire if she was having a good time and she responds with a wink and a smile, “the best”.

I spent the last weekend at Upcote Farm, the home of 2000 Trees, trying to pin down exactly what makes this festival not just good, but bloody epic – despite the weather.

2000 Trees has become an integral part of the alternative festival scene and has consistently attracted me back. Founded in 2007 and selling just over 1,000 tickets it has grown in the last six years to four stages and attracting just under 5,000 festival goers.

At the heart of the festival is an ethos to do it differently, to not succumb to the same old festival formula. In their own words, “as cheesy as it may sound 2000trees genuinely started with six mates sat around a campfire complaining about the state of UK Festivals…and their ever spiralling ticket prices, poor facilities and pursuit of profit at all costs”.

This ethos of ‘doing it differently’ transcends the baseless words of small festival rhetoric into an exciting reality that can be seen penetrating every corner of the festival.

The food is varied but it is nearly all local, sustainably sourced or organic. This commitment to great local food and drink permeates right through to the bars who stock Cotswold Lager. Their policies on using bio-fuels and their great recycling record have meant that they have won “A Greener Festival” award for their on-going commitment to environmental sustainability. Last but certainly not least is their commitment to booking the best new and underground music Britain has to offer.

2012 alone boasted a diverse line up varying from Lucy Rose to Pulled Apart by Horses. In addition, there was a continued emphasis placed on the local music scene in and around Gloucestershire. Local independent labels such as ‘I Started The Fire Records’ were strongly represented throughout the weekend and enjoy a close working relationship with festival.

These artists join the likes of Frank Turner, Bombay Bicycle Club, King Blues and many more that have graced the small stages in the festival’s short six year history.  Personally however the highlight of the whole weekend came in the form of a band that was completely new to me, the Bristol based trio ‘The Cadbury Sisters’. The three sisters blend a three part harmony with ease to create a melancholic but beautiful mix of contemporary folk.

The festival’s commitment to bringing the best of new and underground British music, all of which has been personally scouted by the event organisers, has resulted in the festival becoming a firm favourite with the artists as well as the punters.

As Chris T-T (Xtra Mile) commented to me, “The best bit was the family feeling that Xtra Mile artists had through the weekend; especially with Lockey and Marwood playing almost every year, Trees feels like the label’s home festival”.

Pushed for a ‘worst part of 2000 Trees’ Chris T-T commented, “The worst bit was the plastic hexagons they laid down to help people get across the site; they had tiny holes in, so as you squelched on them jets of mud spunked up through the holes, right up your legs”.

I think most festival organisers would take that if that was the worst criticism thrown at them.

Late on Saturday night, by chance, I bumped into Claire as we were both walking down the hill back to the main arena and we talked some more about the festival and what we thought made a good festival epic. It was one of those pleasant festival conversations you have with complete strangers. As I walked away I wished her a good weekend.  As an afterthought she shouted after me and said, “Isn’t everyone having fun though”. I responded honestly, “yeah, they are”. She then did my job for me summarising perhaps all that you need to know about 2000 Trees and said, “perhaps that’s what makes 2000 Trees epic?”.

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From the West Country to the West Bank – an interview with Steve Hynd, in Jayyus, Occupied Palestinian Territory

I was interviewed by Eugene Grant (of Dead Letter Drop fame). Have a read!

“Have I seen awful things? Completely.” Only a few weeks ago, Steve Hynd was observing a protest near Jayyus – a small village in the West Bank, Israel – when the army fired tear gas canisters directly at the crowd as they were running away. One of the three inch-long steel canisters struck a protestor – standing a few feet away from him – in the neck.

For Hynd, the words ‘police tactics’ are a complete misnomer. “Why would you have soldiers stewarding a protest?.” He says such tactics constitute not so much a policing strategy as “an aggressive attack on protest”. Since then, he’s stopped using the term Israeli Defence Force (IDF) – the military wing of the country’s security forces. The phrase, he says, suggests the force is there for defensive purposes, “but I’ve seen it overwhelmingly used for acts of aggression… when you say ‘army’ people understand that armies can be aggressive.”

You can read the full interview here.

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A revolution is brewing in Palestine

Nestled in amongst beautiful rolling hills you find a small micro-brewery with a revolutionary spirit. The Brewery was established with the intention of supporting the local economy and to use only the finest natural ingredients. This, for those of you who know me, could easily describe Stroud Brewery, my former employer.

Today however, I am describing the only micro-brewery in Palestine – Taybeh Brewery. It is based in the village of Taybeh (aptly meaning ‘delicious’) just outside of Ramallah, the de facto administrative capital of the West Bank.

This may seem an unusual place to stumble across a brewery. When you think of a micro-brewery, Palestine is not the first place to spring to mind. To suggest that brewing might not ‘belong’ in the middle-east is an idea that head brewer Nadim Khoury has evidently heard one too many times; It is near to impossible to leave the brewery without picking up the fact that beer was first brewed in the Middle-East up to 5,000 years ago.

Nadim is a man who is hard to dislike – when he strides into his brewery you can feel his passion, warmth and enthusiasm rush towards you. His big bushy moustache has no chance of hiding his beaming smile as he asks you if you would like a beer – you just know that he wouldn’t mind one himself. Nadim is clearly very proud of his brewery and so he should be. The story he has to tell is truly remarkable.

In 1994 just after the signing of the Oslo Accords, Nadim and his brother David invested some 1.2 million US Dollars into the brewery (all the equipment had to be specially imported). Nadim started this brewery with no more than some home-brew experience. Nadim set up the brewery in his home village of Taybeh determined to support the ‘new’ emerging Palestinian economy. He described people’s attitudes at the time by saying, “people thought I was crazy”. I smiled and he cackled a crazy man’s laugh and started to walk away muttering, “really crazy”.

There are a few very good reasons why anyone other than Nadim might think twice before setting up a brewery in Palestine. Indeed, it has to be noted that Nadim is currently the only person to have taken on the task (with considerable success I might add). He has had to overcome large cultural and religious issues as well as the small issue of living and working under military occupation. I was eager to find out the source of his success.

“It was crucial to get Arafat on board with our vision” Nadim says gleaming at a picture of him shaking hands with Arafat. “With Arafat on board I knew that I could make this work”. The subtext that is never spoken here is clear – with the endorsement of Arafat, overly zealous locals who might have otherwise taken an objection to a brewery opening remained quiet. Today, the majority of people who drink Taybeh beer are Muslims – not Christians, secularists or Jews. I suspect that’s one lingering stereotype that Nadim is happy to have broken.

Taybeh however is a Christian village. I asked Nadim what relations are like with his immediate neighbouring ‘Muslim villages’ and he responded positively highlighting the importance of the brewery to all of the surrounding local economy. “In the 2 days that people from all over the world come here for our ‘Oktoberfest’ local traders sell more of their produce than in all of the rest of year”. Quite a claim – I can see why the locals might have a soft spot for the brewery.

The brewery attracts a wide spread of support from the significant Palestinian Christian population right through to the droves of internationals that make their secular pilgrimage to this site. Israeli activists have also been known to show their support of the brewery.

Life has not always been easy for Nadim or the brewery though. On a number of occasions the brewery has been on the brink of closure due to a terrible mix of dropping demand (during the second intifada for example) and continued restrictions on movement of people and produce (he has to drive the beer for hours to a checkpoint in the south of the West Bank to ‘export’ his beer to Israel). At this point he shows me a cask that he has cut in half – he uses it to illustrate to IDF soldiers what the inside of a cask looks like. Now, whenever his beer passes a checkpoint it has to be weighed (more that 3 kilograms either way and it does not get pass). I don’t think any other brewery in the world faces these sorts of challenges.

As if this story is not remarkable enough, another twist to the tale walks through the door – Nadim’s daughter and now the first ever female Palestinian brewer. She is articulate and shares her father’s passion for brewing. I talk with her about the beer industry in the UK and how it is so dominated by men and ask what challenges she faces here in the West Bank. She answers sincerely saying “some of the older customers prefer to deal with my father but most have got used to it by now”. Another stereotype being chipped away at?

As we leave (with a handful of bottles) I over hear the rest of family (all who have various roles within the business) chatting. One of them is being interviewed by a reporter about a film she produced highlighting the issue of domestic violence in Palestine. Nothing surprises me now. This brewery is breaking down boundaries built up by prejudice. At the same time it is building and laying the foundations for the future. At the heart of whatever the future holds for this region there has to be a stable economy. Taybeh Brewery is busy laying the foundations for this future.

As I wait for a taxi to take me back to the reality of the rest of the occupied territories, I consider how, for me at least, I cannot think of more appropriate way support local people than to raise a glass of Taybeh beer. When people ask what you can do help resist the occupation and help people survive, I reckon this has to be one of the easier asks. Click here and have a beer – cheers!

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I was wrong – Why we need a legally binding minimum price for alcohol

I have blogged before about the level of harm alcohol does to our society. On that occasion, I went on to argue against minimum pricing of alcohol, suggesting it was a bad piece of social policy as it disadvantaged the majority to help the minority in an incredibly ineffective way. I was wrong; alcohol abuse is affecting us all. Through broken relationships or broken livers, whether it is bankrupt pubs or bankrupt governments – alcohol is costing us all!

In 2010 we saw over a million alcohol related admissions to hospital. It is costing the NHS an estimated £2.7bn every year. We all pay the price of alcohol misuse. Equally, around 25% of the population engages in hazardous drinking. A lot of us are damaging our health by drinking too much. In other words, the problem we have at the moment is not just affecting a small group of drinkers – it is increasingly affecting us all.

Secondly, I have realised that putting a minimum price per unit of alcohol does not significantly affect those who do not over consume. In other words the criticism that is ‘affects the majority to help the minority’ does not stand up to scrutiny. If you are in the 75% of UK population that enjoys a drink, you will only pay a small amount extra per year’s worth of drinking. While those who drink too much on a regular basis will stump up a much larger bill. As a piece of social policy it directly acts to disincentives the behaviour we are worried about – consuming alcohol in large quantities.

Setting a basic 50p per unit price for alcohol would mean a can of beer would cost at least £1, a pint of beer would cost at least £1.50, a bottle of wine would cost at least £4.50 and a 70cl bottle of spirits would cost at least £14. This is hardly a big expense for someone drinking less than 3 units a day (as per Government recommended guidelines).

This small increase however would result in:

  1. Over 1,600 fewer hospital admissions in the first year alone and 97,900 fewer in 10 years time.
  2. 406 less deaths in the first year and 3,393 fewer in 10 years time
  3. 10,000 fewer violent crimes
  4. A saving of £66 million in reduced health costs and £49.6 million in reduced crime costs in the first year alone

Minimum pricing would cost responsible drinkers just a few pence per week and have a huge benefit to wider society. This is why I was wrong and why I now support minimum pricing of alcohol (at a much higher rate than most organisations advocate).

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The Government’s decision to implement a breathtaking 7.2% increase in beer duty is outrageous

Community pubs like the royal oak in bath may be a thing of the past if the beer tax continues to rise

The Government’s decision to implement a breathtaking 7.2% increase in beer duty is outrageous. This takes the average duty and VAT on a pint in a local pub to over £1. We now have the second highest rate of beer tax in Europe! It is simply not acceptable. The “beer escalator” commits the Government to increasing beer tax above inflation and to the wrong policy path.

Take Bath as a case in point, nearly 2,000 people depend on Beer and pubs for work and the industry contributes over £22.7 million to the local economy every year. If it continues to shrink in the manner it currently is, local economies such as Bath’s will be severely hit. At a time of recession, this tax seems to be the opposite of what the struggling industry needs.

Equally, this extra tax will do nothing to stop the irresponsible drinker but do everything to hit the responsible pub goer. It will add on 10p to every pint in the pub, while the Government’s much talked about minimum pricing of alcohol will cap supermarket booze at a price that wouldn’t deter the stingiest of consumers. It is ludicrous to allow cheap supermarket booze, whilst taxing pub goers “for health reasons” at the same time. These measures penalise the majority of responsible pub goers whilst failing to tackle the heart of the problem which remains the question of why people consume such vast amounts of alcohol (often at home not in pubs).

At a time when 37 pubs are closing down every week in the UK, we need to be supporting these centres of our community, not putting them out of business. Where do Cameron and Osborne expect the big society to meet…the local Scout hut?

SIBA chairman Keith Bott said, “This is a real kick in the teeth to the local brewing sector, one of the few British success stories of recent years. Local brewers are just the kind of business this government says it wants to see prosper: they create jobs for local people and contribute to the local and wider British economy by using home-grown ingredients. Yet the current beer taxation regime is killing off our main route to market – the British pub.”

He continued, “The Treasury claimed before the Budget that their beer duty escalator is ‘baked in’. We say it is half baked! Continuing to increase taxes on draught beer, drunk in the socially responsible environment of the pub, will serve only to increase purchases of cheap vodka for unsupervised home consumption. We fail to see how this policy can help tackle binge drinking.”

The Government’s claim to being a “pub friendly government” seems to be slipping further and further out of sight.

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Good Beer, we have to declare our love

Do you know what Green King IPA tastes like? How about Abbot Ale? 6x? If you have ever drunk an ale before, the chance are you are familiar with these house hold names.  How about Stroud Brewery’s Woolpack, or Uley’s Pig Ear, or the Old Rock from Nailsworth brewery? Probably not all three if any of them.  Therefore, this blog entry is to encourage the residents of these valleys that I so love (Gloucestershire) to get out there and drink some of the fine nectar that is produced here.  If you are a lager drinker skip to the last sentence.

It is easy to take for granted the great pubs and breweries we have in Gloucestershire, but it must be noted that not too long ago this wide choice did not exist.  Gloucestershire experienced a “collapse” in its brewing heritage.  Thirty years ago you would of had a choice of Whitbread or Whitbread as they dominated the beer industry here in our fair valleys.  Although we have a long history of brewing in Gloucestershire, until fairly recently, this had all but disappeared.  It wasn’t until the collapse of Whitbread and the birth of Uley brewery in the mid-1980’s that brewing started to have fresh life blown into it’s sales. Today we have a choice of a wide-range of breweries offering a good selection of fine local ales.

Today, this is still celebrated through the collection of “Gloucestershire’s Craft Brewers“.  It has to be noted however; a minority of the public appreciates this.  Most people, even you beer lovers out there, do not know about the microbreweries on your own doorstep, let alone appreciate the process in which beer is made. It is my belief that if people saw with there own eyes the process being undertaken in their local town and villages they would be much more likely to consume these beers in the future (thus strengthening local economies).  Personally, I am extremely proud to have good quality local brews that represent local culture and history.  This will only last however, if there is demanded for it over the taps…this bits up top you – the drinker.

My suggestion to you therefore, would be to start frequenting pubs that offer you an interesting selection of beer (so yes, I am afraid that means avoiding the Green King tied houses), and start sampling what they have to offer.  If the free house (or tied house with guest beers) does not have anything you like, tell them about a beer you have had recently and ask if they can get it in.

Equally, local ale does not have to be kept to the pubs.  Most breweries’ sell directly to the public.  Stroud Brewery for example, will sell you bottled conditioned ale all the time, and you can put in orders the week before (to pick up on a Friday) for anything from 2.5 litters right up to a firkin (72 pints).  If you are going to a party, why buy a 12 pack (9 pints ish) from Tesco’s for 14.99 when you can get 5 litres (9 pints ish) of local organic ale for £15?

Lastly, I strongly recommend you go and have a look round a microbrewery.  Most of the people you find working in places like this are people who are in there for the love (believe me you do not make your millions by brewing, nor do you get critical acclaim).  If you asked them, I am sure they would be more than happy to talk you through how it all works.  By the time you get your head round the whole process you might think that £3 a pint actually represents a bargain.

If you want to know where to drink in Gloucestshire have a look at here for a list of pubs who have committed to stocking at least one local beer (in Gloucestershire) or pick up the latest copy of the Good beer guide.  If you trust me, leave your postcode in the comments box and I’ll try and respond with some pubs that I think are ace with say 10 miles of where your based (as long as your from Gloucestershire).

If you are a lager drinker, don’t feel left out…you can try tasty lagers such as Cotswolds larger.

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Drunk leafleting

Running the leaflet gauntlet in Stroud town centre

I have recently embarked out onto the town centre of Stroud on a Saturday night to do some leafleting for the Green Party.  The idea being, I would catch groups of people in-between bars and clubs and ask them if they would like a leaflet or a chat.  Opinion is divided about whether this is a good idea or just asking to be bottled.  I would appreciate your feedback!

The response I got in town was mixed.  About half the people I approached told me to “please go away for I am out on a jolly tonight” (or words to that effect).  The other half however, was genuinely really pleased that I had bothered and was really receptive.  The sorts of people who are out on a Saturday night are not the same ones who get our leaflets during the day in Stroud (go into Stroud on a Saturday morning and it’s a bit like running a gauntlet with all the leafleters).  Some people had never considered voting before, while others had very strong views on certain issues.  Overwhelmingly however people were supportive of what the Greens stood for.  Those who stopped to talk had real passion about political issues.

I left the town centre with a sense of optimism; if these opinions I encountered could be translated into votes, the chance for progressive politics to grow in this country is massive.  The Warehouse proudly claims it gets over 1000 people through its doors every Saturday, if half of these guys voted on their beliefs the Greens would instantly be 500 votes better off.  If half of Stroud town centre (1000-2000) all voted, the Greens would be well on their way to seriously challenging this seat.  Thus, this is a rallying cry…if you are the sort of person who goes out on a Saturday night into Stroud, please vote, and please vote for what you believe in.

If thousands of people in Stroud were this receptive, just think of the possibility for Gloucester, Cheltenham or even Bristol?

As a final thought, just think how funny it would be to have a few old boy Tories on the Streets of Stroud trying “to win over the young”.  Now that would be a sight worth seeing!

If you fancy coming along this Saturday just join the facebook group and get in touch

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Taking politics to the pubs…

collecting signatures for the closure of Guantanamo Bay

With less than two months to go before the General Election, I find it shocking to discover that 57% of 17-25 year olds are not registered to vote.  This is a fundamental failing of our democratic system. Check that you are registered here

For me, as a young person I find this worrying.  It is my future that politicians are juggling with and yet my friends seem disenfranchised.  This is different from saying disinterested.  Go to any pub, on a Friday or Saturday night and you will find (as well as the highly publicised “yobs”) young people engaging and debating. Young people care!  Anyone who says differently is probably not going out and talking to us.

I have decided to dedicate the next 2-3 months in the lead up to the election to get young people in Stroud engaged, specifically with progressive politics.  I have started with social networking Facebook groups such as the “Green MP for Stroud” group.  I want to encourage young people to register to vote and to be active.  I want to take politics to the pubs…

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Real ale and big business

Stroud Brewery's bottled organic selection, it's worth fighting for! Photo thanks to Stroud Brewery

The Campaign for Real Ales (CAMRA) launched back in July 2009 a “super-complaint” to the office of fair trading (OFT), stating that there is a need to “reform beer tie arrangements to prevent large companies exploiting tie arrangements that prevent tied publicans from buying beer on the open market at fair prices”.  They argued that anti-competitive practices are inflating pub beer prices by around 50 pence a pint, restricting consumer choice and leading to chronic underinvestment in the nation’s pubs.  I have blogged before about how 39 pubs a closing every week in the UK.  If what CAMRA alleges is true then we need reform of an entire sector. 

The appeal has been put on ice by the OFT until August 1st.  OFT, stated that they needed more time to hear evidence from large pub owning companies. Mike Benner, CAMRA chief executive welcomes the investigation however considering it an opportunity for all parties to get involved and submit any evidence they have of uncompetitive behaviour. 

Mr. Benner goes on to argue quite effectively why we need such an investigation; he states: “It is enshrined in EU law that consumers must get a fair share of the benefits arising from exclusive purchasing deals such as the ‘beer tie’, but this is often not the case. We hope that the OFT will act to deliver a fair share for Britain’s 14 million regular pub goers. Reform of the ‘beer tie’ along with a framework of support from Government is urgently required to save the pub from extinction.” 

We will now have to wait and see until the summer what comes out of this process.  All we can do is ensure all those involved in the industry (not just the large companies who are set to lose out) are made aware of this review.  The future of one of Britain’s greatest treasures relies on it – the pub!

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Bill Bailey – alcohol is no joke

So Bill Bailey says that ‘alcohol is no joke’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/video/2010/jan/14/alcohol-comedians-no-joke )

The problem is, it is actually quite funny (not the people being hit by cars/stabbing people in the face/ending up with STI’s) but the good light-hearted time you have when you are “merry”.  For as long as government and campaigners paint a picture of alcohol that does not fit in with “normal people’s” perception, the negative side of alcohol consumption will seem like something distant and alien.

It was a bit like FRANK (the governments drugs advice agency) advert (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/video/2008/dec/04/advertising-drugsandalcohol ) that has David Mitchell doing a voice over of a dog discovering cocaine.  Exceptionally funny (that’s a given because it’s David Mitchell), but equally almost guaranteed not to stop anyone from trying Cocaine. 

By painting a realistic picture of alcohol consumption (most people have a lovely trouble free time but some people have a horrible time or make themselves really ill), they fear being painted as not strict enough.  ‘Soft on alcohol’ (cue moral panic).

How can we ever get over this situation when all drug usage (including alcohol) is surrounded by such political hysteria (“I once tried cannabis as a young student”). 

The way the government approaches this issue just makes me want a pint!

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Booze Britain – The new Beer Barron!

When did it end up like this? Thanks to Bistrosavage (flickr)

Today the Barron’s report on how to tackle the UK’s drinking problem (which one?) was released with much media fanfare. Kevin Barron (the Chair of the Health select committee) proposes in this report two main policy idea’s on how to tackle “Booze Britain”. Idea Number One, he suggests a minimum charge of a 50p per unit of alcohol. Idea Number 2, he suggests a reversal of the 24 hour licensing that came into effect in 2003.

Firstly, let’s get it on the record, that I, steve4319 think that Britain has a serious alcohol problem. We can see hundreds of drink drive related deaths per year, billions of pounds spent annually by the NHS on alcohol related illnesses and this is without mentioning the personal horror stories that many have witnessed from alcohol abuse and dependency (note they are two separate things but are often confused). Something has to be done. Yet, this piece of social policy seems about as sensible as downing a tequila slammer just after “bottle rocketing” some stellar (believe me it doesn’t end well).

Let’s take the proposed 50p minimum charge for a unit of alcohol. This would mean that you could still get 1 pound pints, 50p shots of vodka and (if so wished) a 50p shot put into the top of a pint of larger (yes this is common practice in Weatherspoons up and down the country). Essentially, it would not tackle those slightly disgusting scenes of fully grown men vomiting on each other’s shoes in the early hours in town centers. It would not stop the cat fights that break out between inebriated girls. Most importantly, it would not put a dent in the business plan of J.D Weatherspoons of “buy cheap, sell cheap”.

What it would do is hit the supermarket drunks. It would hit those who buy bottles of wine (it would mean each bottle would be at least 4-5 pounds), those who buy crates of beer (your looking about 24 quid a case) and the bottles of spirits (for a 70 cl bottle expect to pay at least 14 pounds) – assuming I have done my math’s right! When I use the phrase supermarket drunks, you imagine a homeless guy with a can of special brew…think again. The supermarkets are being hit by a respectable wave of middle classes consuming incredible amounts of alcohol. It is a hidden face of alcohol abuse in the UK. Your doctor, your teacher and the nice man in the bank are probably going home every other evening and consuming a bottle of wine (each). OK, they do not end up urinating on war memorials but they are still doing serious damage to themselves.

So, I hear you cry…surely if this 50p a unit idea helps tackle this, it must be a good idea. I will explain why it is not on two levels. Firstly, this catch all policy disadvantages the majority to help the minority. As a rule of thumb that is not a good piece of social policy. It depends though, how much it disadvantages some in relation to helping others. In this case, due to the middle class nature of those it intends to help, it would not significantly help those it is aimed at. On the other-hand, it will hit the poorest section of our society that spends literally a few pounds a week on alcohol. It will not affect all you who appreciate a good 2001 Rioja, but it will affect those who appreciate the 2.99 specials!

Secondly, I wish to question whether it is up to the state to moderate self-harming practices (which is different to public issues such as town centers on Friday nights). Most ordinary people would not advocate complete prohibition (enjoy it in moderation blah blah), but feel as though alcohol can, and should be enjoyed in moderation. In a free society should this balance not be left to the individual to reach? While 3 pints of beer is considered (including by Her Majesty’s government) to be “binge drinking”, I would personally consider it a good night down the pub! On the other-hand we can see that 3 pints would leave some people on the floor. I think that alcohol consumption should be like other aspects of adult life where we learn (through experience and advice) how to live as functioning people. In the past I have drunk too much too often, now I only occasionally drink too much – job done. This however, has to be accompanied by sufficient support mechanisms (provided by the state) to help those in need with serious problems (that represent the minority). This idea of the state trying to force people to drink less through economic sanctions is surely mislead.

There is then the issue of the reversing of the 24 hour licensing law! I still feel that one of the main problems with drinking is the associated problems (the vomiting on each other’s shoes scenario, the street fights etc). The staging of club dispensing is a good thing in terms of public order. There is nothing more terrifying than looking down a high street (sober enough to remember it) at 2-3 AM on a Saturday morning. It makes the police lives easier if they can focus on a hand-full of establishments at a time. Equally, the strict licensing times do not tackle the core of the problem, why people are drinking themselves unconscious every Friday and Saturday night (and causing all the health implications).

The idea of not being thrown out of a pub at 11 is a great idea. We no longer live in an era when we have our supper at 6:30 and are in bed by 11. I think by opening later, the bars and clubs are simply reflecting this. To suggest that by limiting the amount of time people have to drink that they will drink less is ludicrous. We can see the real problems starting when people are restricted in the amount of time they have to drink (the “downing culture”). Indeed, we can see through examples across Europe, that it is not the opening hours that are the issue; it’s the “way” we drink.

I am not pretending to hold a solution to this one. Our drinking culture is a complex one. I will however, state that I can see alcohol as part of a functioning society. The idea of going down the pub with your mates is a healthy one that should be supported. We have been enjoying a good tipple for centuries. I do not want to see this being disadvantaged because of an over-zealous government trying (but failing) to help the minority. Here are some initial observations that might highlight why we have such a problem in this country…feel free to add any I have missed:

 • The round system – our stingy nature means that if you buy one drink, you basically commit yourself to four (or five or six) to get your “money’s worth”. Also, the rounds get purchased at the rate of the fastest drinker. Due to the Brits inability just to chat, we have to have a distraction (a drink to slurp). The moment your glass is empty you have to utter those magic words “another drink anyone”. If you say no – you lose!
 • The pint culture – by the very nature of drinking 568 ml of beer in a sitting (compared to the 250 or 330 norms in most of Europe).
 • The 7:30 culture – we start a lot earlier than most of Europe, and now we no longer stop much earlier. We are effectively drinking for 7-10 hours often!
• The strange green thing on the top shelf moment – thanks to advertising and a serious commitment to getting off our faces we regularly think it is a good thing to buy a “round” of those bright green things that taste like a strange mixture of toothpaste and apples.

The Brits are famous for it…we always have been. But how do we try and enjoy it rather than abuse it?

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Gloucestershire Ale Trail

For those of you who have expressed an interest. I would like to draw your attention to the Gloucestershire Ale Trail web-site (http://www.glosaletrail.org.uk/). Apart from telling you where your nearest micro-brewery is, it also tells you where you can enjoy their beers!

Or, you can check out CAMRA’s initative of locAle.  This accredits any pub that stocks beer that is brewed within a 25 mile radius. http://www.camra.org.uk/page.aspx?o=281521

Enjoy!

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