Watering down our locals
Last week, the Local Government Association called for tax breaks on weaker varieties of beer to be extended to other drinks like cider and wine. Anything that reduces the tax burden on drinkers should be welcomed. And some pub patrons, like drivers, might appreciate the option of a weaker drink if it means they can enjoy two or three pints of something without falling foul of drink-drive laws.
But all this meddling in our habits is still rather annoying. This isn't really about consumer choice at all, which is surely handled better by shop and pub owners paying attention to their customers' needs rather than by government tweaking tax rates. If there really is 'growing demand for greater choice in alcohol-free and weaker drinks', then let customers ask for them and let proprietors respond. This call to change tax rates is really about council hacks trying to reinvent the pub according to their own tastes rather than the wishes of the people who actually go there.
There are good reasons why low-alcohol and alcohol-free drinks have never taken off - they just don't taste as good and they don't provide the main thing that people want from a pub: the ability to get inebriated to one extent or another, whether it is just a relaxing drink or two after work or a fully fledged drinking session. Yet the political class seems deaf to such pleasures, a point illustrated back in 2004 when Hazel Blears, then a minister at the Home Office, railed against 'young people, mainly between 18 and 25, who are going out specifically to get as drunk as they can', demanding instead a 'continental cafe-bar culture'.
It may come as a shock to our buttoned-up, low-fat, salad-munching wonks and politicos, but people actually enjoy getting drunk with their friends. Alcohol lubricates many an awkward social situation, making it easier for strangers to talk to each other. That's why so many conferences and events end with a drinks reception - after a hard day of serious conversation, it's an opportunity to unwind and take the edge of our inhibitions in order to get to know new people.
If you want some nice food with a glass of wine or some posh fizzy wine, there are now many, many gastropubs to go to. There is no problem with choice in that regard. There is a problem of declining choice, however, thanks to government slowly ruining the good old fashioned boozer, thanks to smoking bans, excessive taxes and other proposals like 'late-night levies'. Please, just leave our boozers alone.