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Thursday, 25 May 2017

Study shows 'hair of the dog' works

Not available on prescription
In the Woody Allen film Sleeper, a health food shop owner is cryogenically frozen. After he is revived 200 years later, his doctors have this conversation:
Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called "wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk."
Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.
Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or ... hot fudge?
Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy ... precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
Dr. Melik: Incredible!
In an example of life imitating art, researchers at the University of Greenwich have discovered that two pints of beer are better at relieving pain than painkillers such as paracetamol. If your blood alcohol content is raised to around 0.08%, your pain theshold is raised slightly, thus noticeably reducing the intensity of the pain.

According to the researchers, "Findings suggest that alcohol is an effective analgesic that delivers clinically-relevant reductions in ratings of pain intensity, which could explain alcohol misuse in those with persistent pain, despite its potential consequences for long-term health."

Predictably, the report on these findings in The Independent was obliged to conclude with a warning about the health risks of excessive consumption of alcohol, along with a reminder that the official recommended safe limit is 14 units. If it were discovered that, say, beefburgers had certain health benefits, would they end every item with a warning that excessive consumption of them could lead to obesity and other health problems? I seriously doubt it, but - tediously - they insist on doing it every time alcohol is mentioned.

Anyway, it's now official: hair of the dog works at a level of about two pints. Best not exceed the dose or, tragically, you might have to apply the cure again the following day.

A packet of paracetamols costs around a tenth of the price of two pints but won't work as well, and are undeniably less enjoyable to take. You pays your money ...

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

We've been here before - and will again

Although music is an important part of my life - it's one of the reasons for this blog - I'm not too surprised that, until last night, I'd never heard of Ariana Grande; after all, I am not what might be called her target demographic. I can of course relate to the enthusiasm of going to a concert by a favourite performer, and for those young girls, the evening should have left them feeling good and providing them with fond memories for the rest of their lives, even if in time they had grown out of the music. With 22 dead and 59 injured, last night will certainly stay forever with those young women and children for the worst of reasons.

Like the Bataclan massacre 18 months ago in Paris, the murderers deliberately targeted people who were out enjoying themselves. I have no doubt that this evil attack was in retaliation for our actions in the Middle East. Yesterday's victims cannot be held responsible for the deaths, injuries and major political and social disruption caused by Western governments and Russia through proxy wars, invasions, and policies of regime change, but on the other hand, the civilian victims of our interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, etc, aren't to blame either.

Defiant statements that terrorism will not change our way of life and our values cannot disguise the fact that we are particularly vulnerable to such terror attacks, as the IRA proved a generation ago. Nowadays it's even easier: if you have the stomach for it, just drive a car at high speed into a crowd.

The sad fact is that, unless we fundamentally alter our approach to international affairs and stop trying to be the world's police force, there will be more attacks like this, with more innocent deaths followed by more essentially similar defiant statements. We're in a vicious cycle and I see no signs that we are making any efforts to get out of it. British prime ministers love putting on their serious face and posing for the world's press next to the American president in front of the White House: Tony Blair loved it, and as we saw recently, so does Theresa May. While strutting on the world's stage and talking about taking 'difficult decisions', they can continue pretending that Britain is still a world power.

The major powers have been meddling in the Middle East for a hundred years now since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, and the region is in about the worst mess it has ever been in as a result of all that interference. We need to recognise that we cannot do any good there, especially as nowadays you can have the most advanced, well-trained and well-equipped armed forces on the planet, only to find they are incapable of preventing a deranged individual from planting a home-made bomb or driving into a crowd. The fortune we spend on defence did nothing to protect those young concert-goers yesterday.

I can't imagine the grief that some families are suffering today, or the frantic worry of those who don't yet know what's happened to their loved ones. My thoughts are split between them and the sickening certainty that, in the predictable absence of any serious soul-searching about our role in the world, we will be going through all this again in the not too distant future.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Quaffing All Over The World

I'm posting this information as a service for beer drinkers planning to go abroad. Deutsche Bank has compiled a chart showing how much it costs in 2017 to buy either a pint or a half litre of beer in a local pub in an expat area of the city concerned.

The dearest is Oslo at $9.90 (£7.59), London is $6.40 (£4.90) and the cheapest listed is Prague at $1.30 (£1.00). I find it interesting that in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, both capital cities of countries with large Muslim populations (indeed, Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country), the prices in sterling work out at £3.15 and £3.22 respectively - considerably less than London.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Voting for a pint

Now here's a curious thing: pubs offering a free drink to people who have registered to vote since the announcement of the General Election on 18 April. The "Vote This Year Get A Free Beer" campaign was begun by Joby Andrews who owns three pubs in the Bristol area. Quite a few pubs have signed up, not just in Bristol.

People who register on-line will receive an e-mail confirming their registration. If they produce this in participating pubs, they'll get a free drink. The only two places offering this locally that I'm aware of are both in Liverpool: Ma Boyles in Water Street, and Constellations in Greenland Street.

As I understand it, this is not illegal as it is not rewarding for people for voting a particular way, but simply for being on the electoral roll. It's probably worth it for a free pint and not getting an £80 fine. The thing is: you've only got three days.

Monday, 15 May 2017

CAMRA's manifesto

The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has stated that, as a consequence of leaving the EU, it's probable that people's spending power will decline in real terms as inflation rises and real wages fall. Logically, people will have less spare cash to spend in the pub.

CAMRA is asking candidates to pledge that the pub and beer industry be protected and promoted throughout the Leave negotiations, and suggests extending duty cuts on lower strength beers, and reducing duty charged on beer sold in pubs and clubs. CAMRA is also urging our negotiators to ensure that any potential adverse effects on pubs and breweries are avoided during EU exit negotiations.

Personally I think they are whistling in the wind, and if Mark Carney is correct, you don't have to be Mystic Meg to predict that pubs are going to have a difficult time in the near future.

Colin Valentine, CAMRA's National Chair has suggested that the General Election and upcoming negotiations to leave the EU will give us a unique chance to change some of the tax rules that have significantly increased the price of a pint in the pub, but I see no political will to introduce the measures that would be required. Furthermore, the negotiations will cover a multitude of issues, and pubs and beer will be nowhere near the top of the list, assuming they feature on it at all.

Still you can't blame a campaign for trying, and CAMRA has prepared an on-line tool where any member of the public, not just members, can lobby their local candidates to pledge support for pubs, and also where all candidates can commit themselves to the pledge. The link for both voters and candidates is here. CAMRA's General Election manifesto can be seen and downloaded here.

P.S. 16.5.17: I've just heard on BBC Radio news that prices are now rising faster than wages. It looks as though Mr Carney got it right.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Labouring the pint

It's encouraging to see one political party taking pubs and communities seriously. Labour's leaked manifesto includes plans to:
  • Set up a national pub review to investigate why they're closing.
  • Set up a task force to consider the sustainability of pubs in the long term.
  • Give greater protection to pubs.
  • Give communities a greater say in the future shape of town centres, which would obviously affect town centre pubs.
  • Switch business rates from RPI to CPI and providing a better appeals system.
  • Review the entire business rates system in the long term.
A review of business rates is long overdue, seeing that pubs pay 2.8% of the business rates levied, even though they account for a mere 0.5% of turnover.

According to the Morning Advertiser, the pub trade newspaper, these proposals are broadly welcomed by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, the British Institute of Innkeeping and the British Beer & Pub Association.

It seems to me that some thought has gone into these suggestions. Most politicians that I've seen asked about pubs just waffle on about "foaming pints" in the "great British pub", or in John Major's case, "warm pints": we must make sure he never serves at a CAMRA beer festival.

Well, they've got to get themselves elected first, but if they manage that, let's hope these considered proposals don't lose their momentum.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Craft breweries - take cover

I see in the Morning Advertiser that Carlsberg has announced that it intends to acquire a craft brewery in the UK. This is hardly surprising news, and quite a few beer writers and bloggers have suggested that craft breweries would become targets for takeover as the popularity of their beers grew. The fate of Meantime, taken over by SABMiller, and then sold on a short while later (as I wrote here), should make any small brewery think twice before agreeing to being bought out. They should also remember Sharp's, taken over by Molson Coors who subsequently moved all the production of bottled Doom Bar hundreds of miles north, while still putting 'Rock, Cornwall' on the labels. As I wrote in December 2015, "Selling out to a big beer corporation must be a temptation for the owners of a highly successful small brewery, but the problem is that you are instantly converted from a company to a brand, and brands are no more than commodities to bought and sold like any other."

I suppose if you've had enough and don't care what happens to your brewery after you've been paid the asking price, then fair enough, although your customers may not be so sanguine, otherwise you have to be very careful and yet could still come unstuck.

Those of us who remember the domination of the beer market in the UK by the Big Six (Whitbread, Scottish and Newcastle, Bass Charrington, Allied Breweries, Courage Imperial and Watneys) will be only too aware of the promises that followed brewery takeovers to keep the beer local, brewed to local tastes, etc, etc. In nearly all cases, these pledges were broken within a few years - months, sometimes - and a sizeable proportion of British beer ended being brewed in huge beer factories. Whitbread, who had the cheek to run an advertising campaign to try to persuade us that Trophy Bitter was brewed differently around the country to suit local tastes, were the worst culprits. The swathe they cut through the British brewing scene was mocked as the  'Whitbread Tour of Destruction', depicted on rock tour-style T-shirts and posters that listed all the breweries they'd taken over and closed.

The situation today isn't an exact parallel: in the Big Six days, takeovers were usually to acquire the target brewery's pub estate, which isn't a consideration now. I suspect that Carlsberg, despite their advertising campaigns, must know that their products lack any credibility: what better way to gain instant cred than buying an established, successful and well-regarded craft brewery?

It's becoming increasingly the case that well-regarded small breweries can provide an instant, off-the-peg solution for any mega-corporations who want to enter markets that their existing products could never reach. I don't see this just as a craft problem; the takeover of Sharp's shows that real ale breweries can go the same way. I'm not sure that ordinary drinkers can do much about it; let's just hope we don't sleepwalk into a repeat of the relentless cycle of takeovers that we saw in the 1960s and 1970s.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Beer Street, Southport

The Tap & Bottles in Cambridge Walks, Southport, are running their second Beer Street festival based around their pub and extending along the arcade. Described as Southport's only cask ale and craft beer festival, it will have more than 75 beers in one location. Opening times: Friday 19th May 1.00pm to 11.00pm; Saturday 20th midday to 11.00pm; Sunday 21st midday to 7.00pm.

The Cambridge Arcade runs between Lord Street and Chapel Street in Southport town centre; the Lord Street entrance is next to the Atkinson arts centre. The buses on Lord Street and Southport railway station on Chapel Street are all just a few minutes' walk away. To find out more about Southport Beer Street, go to the website here, where a beer list should be available soon.