As I See It

Why Holyrood should drink to alcohol-free beer

Terry smiling headThose of us old enough to remember some of the early versions of alcohol free beers will know that they were enough to put any drinker off for the rest of their life.

Of course, in the 70s and 80s it was not really the done thing to go out and drink such stuff any way. Being seen with a can of Kestrel in those days was enough to get you a bad reputation. Such was the culture.

We live in a peculiar age when some see the need to drink until they cannot stand up, while a growing number are finding they can have an enjoyable night out without having to get bladdered. Aided by tougher drink-driving laws and health campaigns, non-alcoholic or low strength beers and wines are becoming quite fashionable.

The new alcohol-free beer launched by West brewery on Glasgow Green (pictured below), not only helps slay the old cliche about the city’s hardened drinkers, it represents another move that should be fully embraced by the Scottish government in its attempts to change the drinking habits of far too many.

The government passed legislation four years ago to impose a minimum unit price on alcohol, a move being fought in the courts by the drinks industry, led by the Scotch Whisky Association.

The MUP legislation is deeply flawed because it is badly targeted – hitting the responsible while not affecting many of the irresponsible whom it aims to tackle. The evidence that raising the price will actually cut consumption is flaky. Anyone who buys a round will testify to alcohol already leaving a large hole in the wallet.

Even so, the price has not deterred drinkers who are not going to leave drinks on the bar because they cost a few pence more. Raising the price will not deter determined drinkers or, for that matter, those who simply enjoy a glass or two.

I have argued for years, and in many columns in various publications, in favour of two solutions:

First: encourage drinkers to go to the pub. This may seem an odd solution, but the pub (in the main) is a controlled environment.

What happens just now is that those going out for the night are drinking themselves silly at home on cheap supermarket booze before hitting the streets. At home it is easy to down a half bottle of vodka with no one intervening. By the time they get to their destination they are already half-cut.

Nix West alcohol free beerPubs, by contrast, serve drinks in controlled measures, and responsible bar staff will tell customers when they have had enough, even arranging taxis to take them home. An active campaign to drive more people into pubs would also save the pubs which have been closing at an alarming rate.

Second: encourage – or even force – all drinks establishments to serve jugs of water and non-alcoholic beers and wines. There are still too many that do not offer alcohol-free alternatives, while bragging about their range of stronger beers.

As a footnote, this is where there should be a price differential. In fact, if there is no alcohol in the drink, there should be no duty. Sellers of non-alcoholic drinks at alcohol prices are being a bit cheeky. I have even paid more for a Becks Blue than a proper Becks beer. Brewers should also be encouraged to produce more lower-strength beers.

Some brewers and distillers have been rapped over the knuckles for having only a superficial commitment to their claim to be supporting responsible drinking. Others, however, are recognising the growing popularity of non-alcoholic beers. AB InBev’s new “global smart-drinking goals” aim to help consumers make informed drinking choices and cut the harmful use of alcohol by the end of 2025.

West will have done its homework before launching its new alcohol-free beer. If it tastes as good as its PR company is telling us, then it may be part of a welcome revolution.



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