As we plough into the middle of May – already – this year is flying past quicker than ever. That could be down to the frigid beginnings; the unrelenting Arctic blasts didn’t abate until mid-April, and as we emerged blinking into the fine, misty rain like so many disaster movie survivors, it was to discover Easter had already happened and it was almost time to start thinking about the Christmas shopping. Still, plenty of drinking to be done before now and the spice-laden, pudding-esque festive ales appear – so how is 2013 shaping up, beerwise?
At the moment, although buoyed by being fresh in the memory, the biggest story of the year could well end up being the Government’s decision to scrap the beer duty escalator. Following the petition gaining the amount of signatures required to force a Commons debate, I honestly thought it would be an admirable attempt, but one that would ultimately prove futile. The ‘debate’ itself did nothing to change my mind, as MP after MP stood up and said how crippling the taxes were, only to be batted back by the Treasury spokesman’s unyielding forward defensive.
However, only a matter of weeks later, and the Budget appeared, rumours swirling that Chancellor George Osborne would, in actual fact, be abolishing the escalator. Surely not? Well, that’s exactly what happened, and I found myself in the unusual position of getting my beer-related news from Nick Robinson on the BBC. Chalk one up for old media. Looking back, this was Osborne’s crowd-pleaser – recovering from the ‘pasty tax’ fiasco, cutting the price of beer was presumably next on the list (in third: mandatory rugby league in schools).
The sheer amount of back-slappery that followed was inevitable, although you’d have to be supremely churlish not to have at least a half-smile reading the press-releases, blog posts and tweets. Beer championing MP’s awarded the freedom of St Albans. Bar staff grimacing at cheeky punters asking for their ‘1p discount’. And total silence from Fraserburgh, as BrewDog decided to let everyone quietly forget that they were in support of raised duty for beer (but opposed to raised duty for high-strength beer, which is obviously a different matter and hugely unfair).
The issue that will fill the duty void appears to be Minimum Pricing – although it’s not exactly a new thing. The Supermarkets will be rubbing their hands – or, they would have been had the idea not been left out of the recent Queen’s speech to the opening of Parliament. Although the Scottish Government recently won a case to push Minimum Pricing through, the whisky-led opponents still have the freedom to appeal – which they will – and the whole shebang will inevitably end up at the European Court of Justice.
Anyway, forgetting about legislation – in the autumn of last year it was announced that Britain had cruised through the 1,000 brewery mark. Six months on, more are opening, more varied beers are appearing on our bar and pub counters, and choice has, in our lifetimes, seemingly never been better. Where will it end? Are we at or approaching saturation? The number of weekly pub closures fluctuates wildly – sometimes it’s in the teens, other times, the twenties or higher. Will we soon have to start counting brewery closures?
And what of the beers themselves? 2010 was the year of the Black IPA; 2011, ‘craft’ lager appeared as brewers took on the big boys. Last year, everyone was brewing saisons (and still are). It might be tough to pick a trend from only eighteen weeks of drinking, but at the moment 2013 looks to be the year where adding a duty-friendly low-abv beer to the roster really took off. Will ‘craft-session’ continue to be the mark of 2013? Or will our brewers head off in another direction? Will sours rear their puckering head?
Whatever happens in the remaining months of the year, and wherever your drinking loyalties lie, the huge amount of options we have now can only be beneficial if you’re after well-made, interesting, British beer. However the year ends up being pigeonholed, we hope it will continue to be as interesting and rewarding as ever.