March 2015

Goodbye to the 19th Hole

Nobody should delude themselves that cutting the drink-drive limit wouldn’t lead to wholesale pub closures

IN DECEMBER last year, the Scottish government cut the drink-driving limit in Scotland from 80mg to 50mg, which means that an average man can legally have no more than one pint of ordinary-strength beer. This seemed to be nodded through by all political parties with little opposition, but the effects have not been exactly surprising.

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said the law change would lead to a “complete change to drinking habits” and would be “bigger than the smoking ban. “Rural pubs especially are at risk because people travel to them,” he said. “This definitely will be a difficult situation for many. It’s having a marked effect. “It stops people having a glass of wine with a meal or a pint with a meal. People are not taking the chance. It’s a game-changer. This is a very strict ban by anyone’s standards. We have lost three pubs a week since the smoking ban and this, for many, is worse.” It’s reported that many pubgoers, faced with being limited to just a single drink, have decided not to bother at all.

Greene King, who have a substantial pub estate in Scotland, recorded a noticeable drop in sales over the Christmas and New Year period compared with the previous year. Bars in golf clubs, which have a much wider social base in Scotland than south of the border, are especially feeling the pinch. These are perfect examples of where the primary purpose of people’s car journeys is something else, but they take the opportunity to combine it with a drink in the bar. Realistically, golfers aren’t going to take their set of clubs on the bus.

Fortunately, the UK government have said that they have no plans to follow suit in England. But no-one should delude themselves that it wouldn’t have a severe effect on the licensed trade, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that it is much more an anti-drink and specifically anti-pub measure than a road safety one.

Variety Isn’t Everything

Drinkers may prefer continuity over constant change

THE LATEST version of Pete Brown’s Cask Report was published last autumn, and again it recorded a story of success in a declining market, with cask beer continuing to gain absolute volume, not just market share, and having reversed the proportion of the ale market it enjoys vis-a-vis keg since 2006. It’s the drinkers of traditional keg ales, not cask, who are literally a dying breed.

However, it has some interesting things to say about drinkers’ expectations of how rapidly beers are changed and rotated on the bar and how, maybe surprisingly, drinkers tend to be less adventurous in their tastes than publicans think they are. Drinkers were happiest with an average of 4.9 beers over a four-week period, versus an average of seven amongst publicans. Drinkers also wanted to see guest beers available for more than a week, whereas publicans wanted to change them over more often. Many said that if they enjoyed a beer they would appreciate the opportunity to try it more than once, which is why many pub-owning breweries tend to produce seasonal beers for a period of two or three months.

I’m all in favour of trying new and unfamiliar beers, but sometimes it’s good to see an old favourite on the bar, particularly if you just want a dependable pint to wash down your lunch. And, from the breweries’ point of view, surely it will help their long-term prospects if they can build up a reputation for specific beers and get repeat business rather than an endless series of one-off specials. Thornbridge Jaipur is a good example of a beer that many people will immediately order if they see it. It would seem from the Cask Report that Britain’s drinkers agree.


  1. The one-pint limit is a tricky one. Strictly speaking, though, it shouldn't be. Let me share a few thoughts on that sensitive issue. I've been driving cars for nearly 33 years, and only once was I over the limit. Why? Because I never drink, not a drop, when I'm about to steer a vehicle, any vehicle for that matter. I managed to abide by that rule, even throughout my active years in the army. Am I partial to beer at all? You bet I am. Real ale is my favourite. Oh, and I've survived many wild drunken nights in different countries. But I don't drive when under the influence. Once, sometimes even twice a month, I book a B&B or a quiet hotel somewhere in the country, yes, out in the sticks, and I enjoy drinking without compunction. Whenever I feel like going out of a Friday night, and I do have money for drinks, then I can damn well afford a taxi home, too. It's the price of freedom, carelessness and fun. Picture this: you've had a skinful and somebody hits your car. It's not your fault, but the law is going to punish you. If a human being is hurt, your life is basically over. Why risk all that? When I get drunk on a whim, I stay the night. OK, some very remote islands might allow their inhabitants to drive about in a drunken state, preaching the law of the land or whatever. If there is next to no traffic, let them be. This modern day and age requires planning, at times, if you want to enjoy yourself without regrets. Minding your intake of alcohol is one of those issues. In a nutshell: when I get behind the wheel, my blood alcohol level is at 0.0. Consider this: why is it that the Czech Republic, famous for its breweries and beer-guzzling people, has a strict 0.0 limit? It works for them, it works for me. It should work for any sensible person.

  2. That does sound very much like the argument that "I practice celibacy, so I have no chance of catching AIDS. I don't see why anyone else has a problem." And you fail to take account of the slow rate at which alcohol is metabolised. Even at present, many people are convicted for being over the limit well into the following day. A 0.0% limit would effectively mean that anyone who drives (i.e. most British adults) would be extremely wary of having more than a single small drink unless they were confident they wouldn't need to drive for the next 48 hours or more.

    I'm not familiar with the Czech Republic, but I'd be very surprised if, in practice, there weren't loads of people regularly driving around with blood-alcohol levels well above 0.0. The Czech Republic has 485 vehicles per capita, compared to 519 in the UK, so I'd expect their pattern of car usage to be fairly similar. If they were avoiding drink on "school nights", they wouldn't be drinking so much in the first place.

    And, whatever your personal views, it is impossible to deny that cutting the limit would not, in practice, lead to widespread pub closures, just as the smoking ban did. If you want thousands of pubs to close, fine, I'll draw my own conclusions.


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