Last orders…?

cider glasses

Cider glasses by Miss604

This week, the government announced a cunning plan to reduce binge drink and related social problems: make alcohol more expensive. Now that truly is cunning, almost worthy of Baldrick himself. As someone who is partial to the odd tipple, I have to admit I find this plan absolutely ridiculous: The price of good quality cider is already high, reflecting the cost of manufacturing, and to artificially raise the price even more can only damage the industry. Furthermore, raising the price per unit of alcohol will adversely affect spirits and stronger drinks such as cider (coincidentally my favourite tipples!). Grmph.

Appreciated, there are big social problems, many drink related, but simply restricting availability is not the way forward; remember prohibition in the USA and how well that worked out, creating far more and varied social problems than those the initiative was meant to solve? As far as alcohol related social problems go, there are two main issues as I see it. Firstly, supermarkets selling unbelievably cheap alcohol as a loss leader to encourage people into the stores, taking a considerable portion of the market from pubs. Secondly, the rise of the soulless chain pubs and the focussing of these in city centres, creating modern day gin alleys.

Taking the first point, it is incredulous that supermarkets can sell bottles of lager for as little as 35p each. But then, the industrial scale of manufacture of such ‘beers’ and other drinks/potions and the chemical ridden processes involved mean that the concoctions of alcohol, water and additives are dirt cheap to make. Much ‘cider’ for example has never been near an apple. Pubs have lowered their prices, diversified their drinks range and gone promotion crazy to try and hold their own against this competition.

Turning to pubs, I grew up and live in the sticks where the local pub is the hub of the community. Yes, the drink flows freely but there is some level of shared responsibility amongst what is best described as a community of regulars; pretty much self policing with an occasional word to the youngsters (or older customers!) from the landlord as needed. Compare this to the situation in towns and cities where the chain pubs aka drinking holes dominate and the bar staff rarely know anyone present. Furthermore, the insistence by the licensing authorities that these pubs are gathered in town and city centres so as to make policing easier (by means of an obvious police presence in a small area and extensive use of CCTV) has further taken business away from more traditional pubs that used to be found scattered throughout our conurbations. Not to mention the powder keg that is the end of the night when hundreds of drunk folk tumble out and squabble for the same taxis and kebabs.

So, my vote is not to try social engineering using such a blunt instrument as artificial price fixing. Instead, lets try to get back to the concept of community pubs serving fine quality drinks at market value. Remove the licenses from the booze warehouses that are the chain pubs; anywhere where bouncers are needed on the door is not the sort of place I want to have a drink nor do I want to buy lurid coloured, cheap chemical concoctions. A combination of reasonably priced quality drinks served by a landlord who knows his customers (and when they’ve had enough) to customers who know each other, it being their community. And in an environment that is conducive to social interaction.

Just some thoughts from someone who enjoys a drink but has become seriously middle aged all of a sudden…