Point Break – Duty on High Strength Beers


Updated 14/10/11

Please sign this petition  – ‘Drop the October Beer Tax’.

N.B. Please enjoy this post responsibly.  The UK Chief Blogging Officers (CBOs) recommend that men should not regularly read more than 3–4 blog posts a day and women should not regularly read more than 2–3 blog posts a day.  ‘Regularly’ means reading every day or most days of the week.  You should also take a break for 48 hours after a heavy session to let your body recover.

The High Strength Beer Duty (HSBD) was introduced on 1st October 2011  (i.e. beer exceeding 7.5% abv (alcohol by volume) which is either produced in or exported into the UK), has got most of us that have an interest in beer and the welfare of the brewing industry riled.  I’m no exception.  It’s not a blogging line when I say I was chatting to a friend about this in the pub the other day.  It was a conversation which touched on many of the negative connotations  associated  with beer and beer drinkers.  No, not the connotations we see banded about to draw social divides between beer drinkers but the general bad press and overarching opinion of the government down, that drinking is fundamentally flawed (except from the tax revenue of course!).   You may have seen the blogs which focus on the brewers perspective, those working in independent retailers, and from a largely unified blogging fraternity including a Twitter ‘hash-tag’ collective (#7point5) over on Beersay and a piece for The Independent written by Will Hawkes.  Before getting on with life after 7.5, I wanted to add something hopefully a little different and from the heart of someone who can’t quite believe they have been taxed yet again.  If you feel the same, then write it down.  If you don’t like reading someone else’s rantings, then this probably isn’t for you.

It would be remiss of me to write what I’m about to write without acknowledging the valid points made by health professionals, social commentators and most importantly family members and circles of friends who are devastated by the undeniable effects of drinking alcohol too frequently and ultimately becoming dependent.  It can and does destroy lives.  However, it is so often the case that alcohol is only one of the contributing factors to the situation a ‘problem drinker’ may find themselves in.  Life is complex.  Furthermore, a problem drinker can mean so many different things.  Parts of the mass media and politicians, in general, would have us believe that our streets are lost and we are gripped by anti-social behaviour stemming from the consumption of cheap booze.  We see the footage on any given satellite, cable or free-view channel through one of the many extreme A&E/police/ambulance documentaries, and while there is no doubt in my mind that alcohol is a direct cause of the human and financial cost which burdens the tax payer, it is also my opinion that the governments reduction of the argument to the most simplistic form will reap  simplistic returns.  Quite simply, trying to disrupt the supply i.e. the ability to buy, and availability of, a product to meet the needs of a ‘problem drinker’ is far from understanding the issue.  There are many ways by which people who are dependent on any given substance will meet their needs.   See the governments full rationale for new duty measures here.  However, in summary and from the same document.

Policy objective:

The purpose of the measure is to tackle problem drinking by encouraging the industry to produce, and drinkers to consume, lower strength beers.

The new high strength beer duty is intended to impact on those “super strength” lagers associated with problem drinking. The reduced rate for lower strength beer will help to give responsible drinkers a wider choice of products.”

I am a man of 33 years and consider myself to be ‘doing ok’ and therefore a useful commodity to any government in power.  There are many like me.  Oh and I am a beer enthusiast.  Yet, despite my attempts to lead a “responible” life, my choice to buy alcohol of varying abv is being compromised by what appears to be a naive policy decision which is generally thought to be levelled at park bench or ‘shopping precinct’ drinkers.  Well guess what, these guys don’t drink every type or brand of alcoholic drink available in todays diverse market. Shocked? I’m not.   We have good reason to believe that these people are only buying mass-produced, cheap, high abv, low quality drinks from supermarkets, off-licences and some public houses.  They certainly do not find themselves enjoying a 330ml bottle of Russian Imperial Stout priced at £5, a bumper 750ml bottle of  India Pale Ale costing £8.99 or indeed a 500ml bottle of Barley Wine retailing at £10.99.  They might like to, but they cannot afford it, so they choose what the market has to offer them.   What is the governments solution to the problem drinker who has loopy-juice on tap? It is to sanction them along with the people who are so far removed from this chaotic world that you would need to recommission NASA’s ‘Endeavour’ to have any chance of reaching them. While we are all potentially only one pay check away from falling on hard times, it does not seem reasonable or logical to take a comedy sized brush and paint every Tom, Dick and Harry with tar and start a pillow fight.

I know that my knowledge on this subject is limited and that there are far reaching socio-political and economic factors which I can’t possibly know about to be able to comment on, but from where I’m standing, the tax hike on beer (yes just beer) that is brewed to an abv equal to, or above 7.5% is ludicrous.  There appears to be  some monumental legislative skimming-across both the route cause of, and the solutions to, the problems associated with alcohol misuse.  Maybe, even in the cash-strapped times our country finds itself in, we and our government should be more interested in addressing this ethically rather than apathetically. For the government to dress this up as positive action on alcohol misuse while they basically ‘look the other way’ is double-standards.  You cannot help a ‘problem drinker’ by limiting the availability of one contributing factor to their problems.  Real solutions may be expensive and extremely complicated, but this is purely a dismal attempt by the government to appear to be putting a ‘democratic’ foot down in response to this hot topic!

And breathe… and to lighten things up with yet another tenuous film link (a habit of mine).. . for Johnny Utah read:  ‘Craft Brewer’ or ‘Craft Drinker’ and I’ll let you use your imagination for the rest:

Johnny Utah:  Okay. I get it. This is where you tell me that ‘locals rule’, and that Yuppie insects like me shouldn’t be surfing the break, right?

Bunker Weiss: [smiling] Nope.

Surf Gang: That would be a waste of time…

Lupton “Warchild” Pittman: We’re just gonna f@ck you up!”

P.s. to those at the HM Treasury and anyone else who contributed to this legislation.  It may come as a shock to you that I can also buy enough ‘low’ or ‘mid-strength’ beer with the same budget and still be a problem drinker, or If I was to be a tad more cynical about this, then what’s stopping me buying any number of cheap alternatives to alcohol to help me forget my troubled life?

P.p.s. I’m not clever enough or close enough to the industry to understand what this change in duty really means to breweries in general, and specifically those breweries who have grafted for a piece of the market based on innovation and in creating beers that excite enthusiasts as well as enticing new ‘real ale’, ‘craft beer’ drinkers.  As far as I can see this change in duty is a clear message that beer brewers can still be creative, but with both hands tied behind their back.  Oh and us ‘responsible-drinkers’, and I use the term loosely, I guess we should just politely look at the floor and be grateful.  In part, I do believe that the governments intention is to use high strength beer duty to impact on those “super strength” lagers associated with problem drinking.  However, once again, the government seem to have turned up with their wrecking-ball to pick-the-lock.

Joking aside and in absolute seriousness:  Drink Aware.

I’m not the only person talking about this, check these out too:

Beersay – #7point5

Hardknott – Low abv, low duty, low IQ

Magic Rock Brew Co – New tax on high strength beers

Ghost Drinker – 1 week till judgement day

Beer Merchants – Today my job changed

Beersay – 7point5

Will Hawkes (The Independent) – Beer, the bitter taste of bad legislation

The Beer Boy (Zak Avery) – Higher strength beer duty, my view

The Beercast – Big beer month

Pdtnc – An open letter to my MP/MEPS on beer tax

It’s Just the Beer Talking (Jeff Pickthall) – Clutching at straws for a silver lining

Real Ale Reviews – High Strength Beer Idiotry

Moor Beer –  You can make a difference

Moor Beer – The rudest 4 letters hsbd

Gadds Beer Shop – Brewing betrayed

James Clay – High abv

Buntingford Brewery – http://blog.buntingfordbrewery.co.uk/?p=202

Wort ‘n’ All (The BlackIsle Boy) – High Strength Beer Rant

Taste Sensations (Dave Lozman) – Octoberfest? Octobertax Hike More Like It!


12 thoughts on “Point Break – Duty on High Strength Beers

  1. ‘Nail on the head’ is your line about “trying to disrupt the supply” its not worthy of me going on a rant about the wider aspect of that line, needless to say there are a whole host of other ‘supply routes’ that could be controlled and taxed that would benefit the government and society / tighten the purse strings of criminality and give the police a break.

    Good read.

  2. Pingback: An open letter to my MP & MEPs on beer tax « Probably Due To Network Congestion

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