At the Great British Beer Festival today, CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, has welcomed the Government's decision to introduce a 50% excise duty reduction on beers at or below 2.8% ABV from October 2011 in a move that will allow consumers to enjoy a lower priced and lower strength pint in their local.
CAMRA predicts the introduction of low strength beers - dubbed the 'People's Pints' - in pubs could be a huge boost to the licensed trade in light of new consumer research - out today - showing how 1 in 2 regular pub goers would like to see more pubs selling a low strength beer option.
Building on the success of a campaign which CAMRA has been leading since 2009, further new research has shown how pub goers would like to see more pubs selling low strength beers due to factors such as the ability to help regulate drinking levels, their more refreshing taste, their low calorie content, and their lower cost.
Last weekend saw the CAMRA-run Great British Beer Festival, which showcases 300 of the UK's finest real ales. Therefore you would expect CAMRA would be keen to showcase these "People's Pints" at its grandest event.
I'm a real ale drinker myself, and while I've been to the Great British Beer Festival in several times in the past, I didn't make it this year, so I don't have a guide in front of me. Handily though, their website provides a complete list of all the beers available. I went through it, and discovered that not a single beer available at the Great British Beer Festival was below 2.8% ABV.
The lowest ABV beer available was Bateman's Dark Mild, 3% ABV (FYI, it's a Cyclops-style dark mild, black in colour with a roasted smell and taste). Once you get up to 3.4% ABV there was a good selection available.
I can't find the June 2011 CAMRA Omnibus Survey where the statistic comes from, but let's trust that it's true that 1 in 2 regular pub goers say they want these less alcoholic beers. However what people say they'll do and what people actually do are not the same thing. I strongly suspect that breweries know that only beers above 3% ABV will find a market.
One possibility is that 3% ABV is the flavour cut-off point. Anything below this tastes bland, and there is a minimum level of alcohol content required as a base to bring out those delicious, complex flavours. However, CAMRA's own press release contradicts this:
On the eve of the Great British Beer Festival CAMRA conducted a taste test to find out whether beer experts could differentiate between a low and mid strength real ale. In a tasting consisting of real ales from 2% to 3.5% ABV, even a panel of experienced drinkers did not manage to correctly differentiate the products.
Who am I to argue with the panel of experienced drinkers?
This therefore suggests a different rationale - real ale drinkers don't just drink for the flavour, they drink to get drunk. To be clear, I'm no puritan - indeed this explanation would correlate with my own experience of real ale drinking.
There's plenty of evidence to suggest that this is what's going on too. Looking at the other end of the ABV spectrum available at the Great British Beer Festival, we find:
Black Sheep Riggwelter (5.9% ABV)
Raw Grey Ghost IPA (5.9% ABV)
Titanic Nine Tenths Below (5.9% ABV)
Thornbridge's Jaipur IPA (5.9% ABV) and Raven (6.6% ABV)
Acorn Gorlovka (6% ABV)
Flowerpots IPA (6% ABV)
Peerless Full Whack (6% ABV)
Spectrum Old Stoatwobbler (6% ABV)
Twickenham's Daisy Cutter (6.1% ABV)
Greene King's Abbot Reserve (6.5% ABV), Old Crafty Hen (6.5% ABV) and Very Special IPA (7.5% ABV)
Elland 1872 Porter (6.5% ABV)
Brains' Strong Ale (6.5% ABV, "exclusively available at the GBBF")
Arbor's Yakima Valley American IPA (7% ABV)
Inveralmond Blackfriar (7% ABV)
All Gates Mad Monk (7.1% ABV)
Brodies' Superior London Porter (7.1% ABV)
Yates' Yule Be Sorry (7.6% ABV)
All are more than double the 2.8% ABV CAMRA say they promote. And those are just the casks. For that extra-special headache, there's always a bottle of O'Hanlon's Brewer's Special Reserve 2010 (12.9% ABV).
Finally, here's a photo from that you'll see on all the pages their website:
CAMRA need to drop the pretence. They should acknowledge that their members like getting drunk.