Big BeerCast Month

Posted by on Oct 2, 2011 in Beer Duty | 5 Comments

On the 1st of December 2010, the UK Government published a Review of Alcohol Taxation [pdf], the stated aim of which was to address the consumption of cheap, “super-strength” lagers. By raising the duty on beer over a certain percentage – 7.5% – the Government hopes to make these drinks too expensive for problem drinkers. From midnight on the 1st of October this year, as the law changed, duty rose on all beers over this alcohol by volume.

We wrote out thoughts about this back in December, and then again in March when the budget wrote this proposal into law. In short, we’re against. Rather than re-hash those two old posts (although it is tempting), here are our major concerns/objections…

– Beer over 7.5% constitutes less than 0.5% of UK alcohol sales (according to the British Beer & Pub Association), suggesting it’s hardly at the cutting edge of the issue

– The 7.5% level seems to have been plucked out of the air – or worse, copied from cider duty regime – where although all ciders over 7.5% pay increased duty, those with a certain apple juice content are exempt, protecting ‘traditional producers’

– Brewers under 60,000 hectolitres* qualify for Small Breweries Relief – up to 50% reduction in duty. Yet the Government felt that this was outside the scope of the review, meaning all breweries will have to pay the increase

– ‘Problem drinkers’ at home stock up on cheap supermarket deals – involving beer universally under 7.5%. This week in Scotland, legislation came in to tackle this – until the supermarkets dodged it, of course

– ‘High-priced, premium beers produced at higher strengths…[have]…consumers who are not price sensitive because they choose these beers specifically for their taste and already pay a high price.’ {paragraph 4.7} Awesome. Thanks.

Cheap, strong alcohol will always be available – those who are addicted to the drug will either find it elsewhere or find other ways of paying the prices. Large producers who can shoulder the duty will do so – smaller producers will be hit harder. Ok – let’s put our cards on the table straight away. We’re not going to stop buying strong IPA’s just because they are 50p a bottle more. But the ‘those who can pay, will pay’ argument has always irked me immensely.

When the similar duty level was imposed on ciders over 7.5% – creating the new bracket of ‘strong cider’, Strongbow Super was re-branded Strongbow Black** – and reduced in strength to – guess what percentage? Yep, 7.5%. How long before we see a reduction in abv from the ‘strong lagers’?. Our worry is recipe alteration may well be the fate of traditional strong beers – or worse, the brewers will simply stop making them.

So with this in mind, for the entirety of October, we’ll be featuring nothing under 7.5%. Strong beer can be – and is – drunk responsibly by thousands of people, all over the UK. Let’s show others out there that it’s worth drinking – even if you now have to pay more for the privilege. The fact that this is the start of Cask Ale week is an unfortunate irony (as strong cask ales might be even harder to find soon).

We begin Big BeerCast month with one of Scotland’s all-time classics, small in bottle, but mighty on flavour – stay tuned…

*For our American friends, this is an arbitrary scale invented by EU Bureaucrats – one hectolitre roughly equates to the amount of wheatbeer drunk by each German at Oktoberfest, per sitting

**Following ABInBev’s lead on what constitutes quality


  1. Owen
    October 3, 2011

    The “supermarkets” haven’t dodged it — all businesses in England have.

    Wine bought by the case isn’t exactly the problem the legislation was aimed at anyway.

  2. Richard
    October 3, 2011

    Precisely – I just don’t think that many ‘problem drinkers’ go for strong beer these days anyway – other than the Special Brew toting characters, and they don’t buy it from Tesco. The Saturday night fighters and pukers get minced before they head out – on cider, twenty cans of Fosters, cheap vodka etc etc. These are the ‘problem drinks’. The fact that alcohol legislation always seems to be piecemeal and arbitrary in formation creates these opportunities for avoidance. The brewers can’t wriggle out of it so easily, unfortunately – they either have to pay up or change the recipe.

  3. Brother Barley
    October 5, 2011

    Our thoughts are with our UK brethren (and sistren). While we have our own legislative battles to fight here, this “strong beer tax” is utterly ludicrous. It reminds me of the debate we had in Alabama when trying to change the laws to allow beer stronger than 6% ABV to be sold in the state. If I recall correctly, one legislator said that if the so-called “Gourmet Beer Bill” passed, the streets would be littered with the bodies of teenagers (I’m paraphrasing). And, of course, after the law passed, drunk driving accidents actually decreased.

    It never ceases to amaze me how often governments attempt to solve a problem by addressing the entirely wrong issues. The “strong beer tax” looks wonderful during an election cycle, but it fixes nothing and only frustrates thoughtful British Aleheads who clearly are NOT the problem when it comes to problem drinking in the UK. Stay strong!

    Brother Barley

  4. broadfordbrewer
    October 18, 2011

    Well put Brother Barley. The facts followed by the common sense. I couldn’t agree more with your comment on “those who can pay, will pay”. I fear that the whole policy was rigged towards this in the first place. The policy makers would know only too well that beer lovers will find the money and this just amounts to abusive legislation on an already strained tax payer! Quite unbelievable really, but they are getting away with it all the same.
    (P.s. thanks for the link).

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