ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Small beer

Here's a question: How many beers can you name that are 2.8% ABV or under?

You know, real, proper beers.

Young Georgie's budget this week was broadly unsurprising - a decent stab at keeping things ticking over and generally balancing the books during hard times, but what the fuck is that 2.8% beer thing all about?!?

Time was when the standard budget rhetoric would be 'an extra penny on a pint of beer', and we'd all moan about it a bit and pay it because it was accepted as just something that happened.

But these groovy, modern Chancellors do things a bit differently - hence the new policy of duty being raised on beers above 7.5%, of which there are quite a few, and slashed for beers below 2.8%, of which there are, well, hmm... I don't know - maybe some tinned supermarket own brand lager which is probably piss-cheap anyway? (Maybe super-weak milds and boys' bitters are the norm in Tatton, but I suspect not, even if the only pub in the constituency I've visited was the Wetherspoons in Wilmslow several years ago.)

I'm pretty sure anything below 1% is already exempt from duty, because it counts as low alcohol beer which is in it's own, unloved category.

It's an odd one, because it's not like there are many beers at all that will actually become significantly cheaper as a result of this legislation (which may possibly have been the point!) especially not real ales. 

In fact, I can think of only two:
If memory serves, Brakspear's brewed a 2.5% session beer a few years back to prove that they could pack in a lot of flavour at that strength, but it was never widely available and disappeared without trace before I got to try it.

And our controversial friends at Brewdog responded to Portman Group criticism of their high strength beers by bringing out 'Nanny State' at 1.1% - I like extremely hoppy beers but this was so ridiculously astringent and lacking in supporting body so as to be almost undrinkable. (Incidentally, neither of these were available at the Wilmslow Spoons either!)

So, unless Osborne really wants to encourage us to drink the super-weak, super-cheap supermarket-branded tinned products of unknown origin (usually called things like 'Challenge Lager' or 'Crown Bitter'. it's hard to see where this one is coming from. 

Maybe Britain's microbrewers, already benefiting from a reduction in duty for low-volume producers from a previous budget, will be inspired to launch new low-strength but flavoursome ales. I certainly hope so!

At the 'high strength' end of the market, the increase in duty smacks a little of putting all your tins of Special Brew in one basket.

We all know the rationale here - 9% 'superstrength' lagers are very cheap, consumed by tramps and teens wanting to get pissed, and 'binge drinking' is a blight on our society on a par with paedophiles and asylum seekers. Apparently.

But the problem is that there are a great many excellent beers which just happen to be over 7.5%, and which are clearly aimed an altogether more discerning clientele. Such beers are already many times more expensive than the likes of Tenants Super too.

Oh well, I guess the extra duty I'll pay next time I drink Hardcore IPA or Arrogant Bastard will be offset by the saving I'll make on all these new 2.7% beers when they're eventually launched...

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