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28-07-2015, 15:07
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From time to time, especially towards the end of an evening in the pub, it’s interesting to speculate about what might be the result of certain changes to legislation or social customs. Often these aren’t things that aren’t realistically going to happen, or that we don’t support, but they can be useful in testing the validity of commonplace ideas.
These are three that have occurred to me in recent months:
1. Cut the price of on-trade beer
We’re often told that cheap supermarket beer is killing the pub. So let us assume that, somehow, the on-trade price could be cut so that nothing was over £2 a pint. This would greatly reduce the differential between on and off-trades. I’m sure it would increase the amount of bottom-end, price-conscious customers. But I can’t see it would make much difference to middle-class pubgoing.
The amount of beer I drink in pubs is constrained variously by health concerns (yes really), a wish to avoid hangovers, to be still functioning later in the day or the following morning, and the drink-drive legislation. Slashing the price would make virtually no difference. Certainly, in general, it wouldn’t remotely take us back to the glory days of the late 70s. Plus, if it encouraged more scrotes and deadlegs to drink in pubs, it could make them less appealing for more responsible customers. It would not be a magic bullet.
2. Let local groups run failed pubs
Rather than selling them off to developers, pub operators with pubs they consider to be unviable could lease them out to local community groups at a peppercorn rent. There are plenty of campaigns to “save the Canard & Conundrum”, so maybe the pubcos could call their bluff and say that provided they came up with a credible organisation and could put a few thousand pounds on the table, the pub was theirs to run. If they failed, then the title would revert to the pubco to do as they wished.
This would completely take the wind out of the sails of the anti-pubco campaigners. But I suspect the take-up would be very low. Realistically, despite the claims, few closed pubs really are viable, and the campaigners generally expect someone else to run it at a loss rather than take it on themselves. This would prove the point, one way or the other.
3. Make all beer the same strength
The vast majority of spirits are either 40% ABV or 37.5%, which realistically is neither here nor there. Most table wine falls within a limited strength range which is basically that between bitter and best bitter Yet beer ranges from 2.8% to over 10%.
I see this as a good thing, but what if pretty much all commercially available beer was at the same strength, say 4.0%? Brewers would have to differentiate their beers by colour, body and flavour, rather than strength. It would set them an interesting challenge and be a test of their craft. Indeed, going back a few years, the vast majority of beer in Germany was within the range of 4.8% to 5.2%, yet they still showed a huge variety. Maybe strength differentiation is an easy way out.
Oh, and just to reiterate, I’m not advocating any of these policies, just speculating as to what the effect would be. Any thoughts?

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