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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 27th Nov 2015 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Comparing the European beer scene, the Licensing Act ten years on, and a food tour in Tel Aviv
Authors: Glynn Davis, Paul Chase and Ann Elliott

Comparing the European beer scene by Glynn Davis

When friends and acquaintances heard of an impending business trip I was to make to Munich their response was invariably: “You’re going for the beer?” Such is this city’s standing in the beer world that it is inextricably linked with the consumption of lager – chiefly as a result of Oktoberfest. This was not my primary reason for visiting but while in the city during November for the fifth successive year it was only sensible to explore. But it quickly dawned on me that I was simply retracing my steps of previous years and making a pilgrimage to the same beer houses as before.

This is not to say that I’m lacking in imagination in where to go for a beer but is down to the fact that the city lacks a throughput of new pubs and bars hitting the market. Very few things change on the beer scene in central Munich. From the Löwenbräu Keller to Ayingers Speis und Trunk and Schneider Weisses Bräuhaus, these are all well worth a visit when in town and have their own ambience and beer selections – albeit chiefly revolving around Hells, Dunkel and Weiss beers with the odd esoteric brew in the mix like the majestic Tap 5 from Schneider Weiss (a hoppy wheat beer).

It’s fair to say Munich is pretty conservative (so rather averse to radical cultural upheavals unlike say Berlin) and that Germany is somewhat hamstrung in beer terms by its Reinheitsgebot (purity laws that limit the ingredients in beer). Yes, it helps maintain standards, but it also stifles innovation. While there are stirrings of new breweries on the outskirts of the city, there is no evidence of their wares in any of the venues in the central area. Having travelled to a number of European cities this year, I find it interesting to look back as 2015 draws to a close and consider how these metropolitan areas compare in terms of embracing craft beer.

Barcelona is home to a pretty healthy craft beer scene with a number of bars and bottle shops catering for locals and tourists alike. The wellbeing of beer in the city is exemplified by the success of its well-respected Barcelona Beer Festival. In contrast, Madrid has a more limited offer with Fabrica Maravillas the only brewpub in town – and according to its owners predominantly frequented by visitors to the city rather than the locals who’d rather drink the big branded lagers.

Even less interesting is Lisbon where you are hard pushed to find any beer focused bars in the city centre. This is in contrast to Rome where the Italians have a growing interest in craft beer, with new bars cropping up across the city, most notably Open Baladin, which has put a marker in the ground for the beer bar of the future in terms of its cutting edge design and varied mix of beers from local breweries and renowned international producers.

Italy is interesting in that it combines a rich wine heritage with a full embrace of beer. Often the interest in beer is inversely proportional to the depth of a country’s wine history. The Italians to their credit are keen to have it both ways.

Without a wine history of note, the UK, and London specifically, is undoubtedly in a prime position to embrace beer – if my simple thesis rings true. And compared with any other city I’ve visited this year – with maybe the exception of San Francisco – it has absolutely gone full steam ahead to expand its reach with beer. There are now over 80 breweries operating within the capital that have combined to return the city to being a serious producer of beer on the global scene.

Visitors to London can not only enjoy some of the best bars and pubs in the world, but also have access to a range of beers from these local producers as well as from some of the best quality brewers across the world. On any given night of the week there is some meet-the-brewer event or beer launch likely to be taking place that will be open to all comers.

There has never been a better time to be a drinker of beer in the capital and travelling to other major overseas cities further highlights this situation. Travel broadens the horizons for sure but arguably – with some exceptions of course – there is no real reason to have to go abroad to experience a terrifically broad range of world-class beers.

With the brewing industry having undergone a rapid revolution in London, the reality is that places like Munich do not now hold quite the same beguiling spell to some (more adventurous) beer drinkers that they once did.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

The Licensing Act ten years on by Paul Chase

The Licensing Act 2003 went “live” at midnight on 24 November 2005. Initially it enjoyed cross-party support and even qualified support from the Association of Chief Police Officers. The only stumbling block to its progress through Parliament was an amendment in the Lords, which came to be known as the “Morris dancing exemption” – their lordships were concerned that traditional English folk dancing might be caught by the new definition of regulated entertainment – and thus Morris dancing and the like was solemnly exempted from the regulations; everyone kept a straight face. It was in the time-lapse between the Bill passing into law and it coming into effect that we saw the development of what was arguably the most extraordinary moral panic of modern times.

The labelling of the new licensing regime by the Daily Mail as the “24-hour drinking act” was instrumental in persuading politicians, bishops, police chiefs, newspaper editors, a variety of self-appointed, socially-accredited experts and other assorted “right-thinking people” that this would lead to a binge-drinking epidemic, a crime wave, and in particular an increase in rape and other assaults. And that our hospitals would be flooded with so many casualties that the new act would “bankrupt the NHS”. Ever since this claim, a crisis isn’t a proper crisis unless it threatens to do that.

In reality we have seen crime and disorder fall, and as a sub-set of that we have seen alcohol-related crime and disorder fall. The other falls – in the overall level of drinking and in problem drinking and teeny drinking have been well documented. I don’t suggest that these improvements have happened because of the new licensing regime, but certainly they don’t support the proposition that the sky would fall in and society as we know it would crumble as a result of licensing reform. Some would argue that we haven’t seen the creation of a continental cafe-bar culture either – but this was never more than a piece of New Labour spin.

In fact neither the worst fears nor the best hopes attached to this reform were realised. The lesson for politicians is the expectation that a reform to the way in which we regulate how the retail distribution system handles a product would automatically read-across to a cultural change in terms of how consumers would use that product, was unrealistic. Regulation is only a part of the mix; drinking cultures are much more complex than was supposed.

All of that having been said, I do think the Licensing Act 2003 has been a qualified success, despite the legislative repentance that followed as a result of the initial moral panic. It was sensible to separate the licensing of persons from the licensing of premises. It was right to enable licensing hours to be responsive to local needs and consumer demand. Getting rid of nationally prescribed “permitted hours” was a welcome departure from the paternalism of the past. Although the trade was initially suspicious of moving licensing from courts to councils – and in the process discovering that they loved magistrates after all – it was broadly a positive move. If there is to be a further reform of the licensing system I would like to see licensing continue to be administered by council licensing authorities, but for contested applications to be heard in the courts with a proper judicial procedure, in the event that objections cannot be mediated away.

The Licensing Act 2003 did enable some welcome changes to the drinking culture, particularly in city centres. Under the Licensing Act 1964, the city centre night-time economy had become a youth leisure ghetto. If you could only sell alcohol after 11pm if it was ancillary to the combination of music, dancing and the availability of food, in practice this meant nightclubs and late-night bars with a loud disco. The demographic this appealed to was obvious. What is equally obvious is that we all behave better when we are in the company of people older or younger than ourselves. When the new licensing regime swept away these outdated restrictions it enabled the creation of a much more diverse night-time economy that attracted a much wider demographic. The political and media perception of the city centre drinking culture is still rooted in mass volume, vertical drinking establishments, but this is not the way the late-night drinking culture has evolved.

The Licensing Act 2003 did ignite a debate about alcohol and society. The nexus of that debate has now moved beyond crime and disorder and into the realm of health impacts. What is lacking in this whole debate is honest statistics. We don’t even have a nationally agreed definition of alcohol-related crime; the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions and the impact of alcohol on A&E departments have been grotesquely exaggerated by a new public health movement that sees alcohol as an “industry of addiction”. The debate about alcohol and society is more polarised than ever before. That is perhaps the worst unintended consequence of the Licensing Act 2003.
Paul Chase is a director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on on-trade health and alcohol policy

A food tour in Tel Aviv by Ann Elliott

Last weekend I went on a long awaited food tour of Tel Aviv. I have always wanted to go but hostilities last year meant easyJet cancelled the flights and gave me a refund. There is probably never a good time to go from a security perspective so the moment Expedia had a 24-hour flash sale I booked it. Flights and a hotel for three nights cost £606 for two, versus the flights being £505 each last year so a good deal. I felt perfectly safe all the time – in fact safer than I did in Euston last week.

I went because I love the food of Ottolenghi, Honey & Co, Palomar, Comptoir Libanais and Ceru. Food where the emphasis is on fresh food cooked from scratch and an inventive use of high quality ingredients especially beautiful and different vegetables. I wanted to taste them in their “almost” home territory. Russel Joffe and Amir Chen were brilliant at giving me advice on where to go and Russel recommended a driver who took us to Jerusalem. I couldn’t have done it without them. The trip involved a lot of walking; finding places in out of the way streets with no discernible street names and eating. As we visited 12 restaurants whilst we were there, the exercise was useful.

Tel Aviv is not cheap but it is fantastic. It’s a building site with a lot of old crumbling buildings and graffiti ridden ones but it has such character with wonderful century old neighbourhoods and the sea on your doorstep. It’s easy to get around and to navigate and it’s possible to walk almost everywhere. The beachfront walk from Tel Aviv to the gorgeous old town of Jaffa is a delight.

But I run an integrated marketing agency, not a travel agency (though it would be handy to combine the two), so this trip was all about the food.

The restaurants we visited included the Norman hotel, Miznon, Nina’s, Dallal, Goldman’s backyard, the market, Ha’achim, North Abraxus, Port Said, Kitchen Market, a roadside cafe (for the contrast) and Machne Yuda in Jerusalem. We could have done so much more and hopefully will go back to do and see much more.

What struck me most was the informality of everywhere we visited (probably with the exception of Norman, which is a posh hotel at the end of the day). Service ranged from really friendly to almost complete indifference, but it was always professional. Food comes first, service comes second (and some way behind), and environment, on the whole, is created by the dominance of the kitchen. There are a number of celebrity chefs in Israel who have helped build an astonishing food culture and change the perception of food in the country overall – they are an inspiration and would work brilliantly in London (as some do now).

Menus are pretty straightforward, often just listing ingredients that would normally be found on a “side” selection in the UK –“pile of tomatoes”, “spinach with butter”, “whole roasted cauliflower” – they don’t seem to wrap anything up in fancy language. Table settings are generally informal. In North Abraxus we didn’t even have plates. In Machne Yuda, tea towels replaced serviettes. In Ha’achim we sat looking over the (very) open kitchen where the chefs picked herbs from the pots in front of us. Whilst the chefs seem to be amazingly creative, much of the food we ate and saw was assembly orientated with ingredients premade or pre prepped ready, making service times generally very short.

It’s a fantastic city – vibrant, warm, creative, spontaneous and exciting and all those values are wrapped up and epitomised in the food they serve. I urge you to visit and to speak to Amir and Russel before you go.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of leading sector public relations and marketing firm Elliotts – www.elliottsagency.com
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