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Fri 18th Aug 2017 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Beer is no longer a volume-driven drink, memorable food and tackling the illicit beer market
Authors: Glynn Davis, Ann Elliott and Tim Clay

Beer is no longer a volume-driven drink by Glynn Davis

Normally the only big decision to be made at the Great British Beer Festival is which beer to drink next from the few thousand on offer at the event that is held each August at London’s Olympia. This year for the first time I had an earlier important decision to make – which type of glass to choose. In the old days it would only have been a pint, and then some years back I made the switch to the half pint. This year, I was faced with a third option – a third-pint stemmed glass. I mulled over the decision and was in a quandary about whether to take the third or half pint option.
 
I took the former because since third-pint measures were recently introduced by the Campaign for Real Ale at the festival I’ve generally drunk this quantity of each beer anyway (in the half pint glass), because it clearly gives you the opportunity to try more different brews. But having made my decision I was slightly conscious of drinking out of the smaller glass – holding the stem as I invariably do on such vessels because that’s what they are there for. They help keep the liquid at the correct temperature.
 
This self-consciousness was because I was massively outnumbered by drinkers wielding pint glasses all around me downing the traditional measure of beer in the UK. This feeling was unusual. For some time I’ve increasingly taken the stemmed glass option when available and often filled it with a third-pint measure. In the places I often find myself drinking in nowadays these lesser volume measures are increasingly being made available and I do not particularly stand out from the crowd.
 
This is certainly a dramatic change to only a few years ago. The fact is it is not that long ago when I would have found it a tad embarrassing to even ask for a half of anything. It was a pint or nothing. My sub-pint drinking might well just be a manifestation of living in London because I know out there in the provinces it is still deemed a bit lame to order anything less than a pint.
 
The owner of The Draughtsman Alehouse in Doncaster train station recently told me about some regular groups of drinkers that visit his bar and order pints with only minutes to spare before they have to catch their respective trains. They invariably leave lots of beer behind but they won’t choose halves even though the landlord has suggested it might be a good idea – and it would clearly lose him money. They simply can’t be seen wielding puny halves.
 
My move to smaller measures (it’s not an age thing I can assure you of that) is to a large extent a result of the new appreciation of beer among drinkers. The ability to drink thirds, halves, and two-thirds reflects the gradual move by beer away from simply being a volume-driven drink. To a growing number of people it is something very different. It is now all about taste.
 
Beer has become a liquid that has moved up the scale of respectability. It is now something that is being respected in a similar way to wine. Thankfully beer also has a level of accessibility that wine would very much like to have. It does not generally suffer from any form of stuffiness – apart from maybe at the cutting edge of craft where too much reverence is involved – unlike wine.
 
This newfound respectability is great for beer drinkers who want to drink across the full spectrum of beer styles and alcoholic strengths. It certainly takes me well away from the days when I first drank the wheat beer in the Sam Smith’s pub The Princess Louise in central London and would often ask for it to be served in a standard pint glass rather than the traditional tall fluted vessel designed for this style of beer because I was tired of people coming up to me and asking why I was drinking my oddly cloudy beer out of a flower vase! 
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends 
 

Memorable food by Ann Elliott

You know that sensation when you eat in a place sometimes, have a particular dish and then it stays in your mind for ages? You just can’t wait to go back and have it again – and you measure much of what you eat after that against it? It’s not just the taste – it’s the whole package. It’s the presentation, the colour, the texture and how it makes you feel. It’s a real sense of joy and pleasure, not to mention the memory and anticipation of eating it again and again.
 
That’s how I felt about my meal at Chick ‘n’ Sours, which is, according to its story: “A great restaurant masquerading as a chicken shop! A whimsical menu of herb-fed fried chicken, serious seasonal sides, sour cocktails, local beers and cracking soft serve ice cream creations.”
 
I had its “Tenders boneless white meat. Straight Up With Seaweed Crack: three for £5 /five for £7.50”. I must admit, it really doesn’t sound that great when it’s written down like that but it was one of those dishes that stopped everyone in their tracks – the whole table just ceased talking. It was everything you ever wanted a KFC to be but it never was – perfect, succulent, crispy and wonderful. The rest of the meal was great including its lethal “Fishbowl: Fabulous Gay Wedding (£20) including gin, strawberry, cucumber, honey and bubbles”. The brand positioning is “Next Level, Free Range Fried Chicken and Sour Cocktails”. And it is. It lives up to its promise in every way. It’s a dish to remember and cherish.
 
So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I visited the latest Hubbox opening in Bristol and ordered its “Crispy Chicken Strips: three strips of crispy buttermilk fried chicken breast served with HBX hot sauce, ranch or barbecue (£4.95)” as a side dish. Would they live up to my last memory of fried chicken? Well, they were really good, but not the memory-making sort of standard as those at Chick ‘n’ Sours. Its Classic burger though, accompanied by its Mug of Mac, was brilliant and has stayed in my thoughts unlike most other burgers. I am not a burger aficionado but it had an “I wish this existed near me” sort of perfection about it. It’s worth traipsing to Bristol for.
 
Closer to home, Mitchells & Butlers’ PCDG pub near the office has “Chicken, Leek and Crème Fraîche Pie topped with ham hock crumb, served with seasonal cabbage mashed potato and buttered green beans” on the menu. I don’t know who makes this for M&B but whoever it is, I would like the recipe. I always go in here thinking I’ll always choose something else and then revert to this like someone with a guilty secret. It’s extraordinarily moreish.
 
Porridge is a good memory maker and arguably Leon makes the best ever porridge. Its “Porridge with Blueberries, Honey and Toasted Seeds” is another dish I think about even before I’ve got on the train to Euston – not so much I would catch an earlier train to have time for breakfast at Leon, but not far off.
 
Then, at the Hartwell summer party in Dinearama, I had dumplings from Yumpling. Is eating six dumplings just too greedy? Oh, they were brilliant. They were perfectly soft and gooey with just the right level of spiciness. I woke up thinking about them, wondering where else I can get them and how soon I can get them. I certainly didn’t need a whole portion of food from You Doughnut to follow but in for a penny – it was so good! I could go on.
 
Of course, eating out is more than just the food but creating and serving dishes that stay in the memory, inspire conversation and encourage repeat visits must be a good place to start.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – www.elliottsagency.com

Tackling the illicit beer market by Tim Clay

If there is something that unites businesses of all sizes – from multinationals to lone traders – it’s a distaste for extra paperwork and extra taxes. Equally, all businesses would agree (albeit grudgingly) that a level of governance and even-handed tax instruments are necessary to ensure a fair and equitable trading environment.
 
Alcohol duty fraud in the UK has been a serious and pervasive problem with unscrupulous traders defrauding the government of an estimated £1.2bn every year. In 2014-15 a further £0.6bn in lost VAT brought the total to £1.8bn. That is money desperately needed elsewhere, whether it’s for schools and hospitals or tax cuts for those on lower incomes. 
 
All this gives you the context for the introduction of the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS), which came into force in April this year. The idea behind it has been to create a level playing field for legitimate businesses and to strengthen supply chain due diligence procedures across the wholesale category.
 
Why should we care? We sell beer, we make money. What does it matter to me if a few rogues sell the odd crate of beer out of the back of a van? It matters a lot. The truth is for a company like ours, where brand equity is of such great importance, it’s absolutely critical our products are sold only by reputable retailers (large or small) and the profits of our legitimate customers are not undermined by a minority who choose to play outside of the law. The HMRC report Measuring Tax Gaps estimates the market share of illicit beer grew from 9% in 2007/8 to 15% in 2014/15, totalling £650m in duty lost.
 
AWRS is going a long way to helping to addressing the big issues. By requiring wholesalers to go through an approval and registration process, HMRC has improved its “line of sight” over the sector. We’ve always prided ourselves on our due diligence and commitment to “knowing our customers” and it’s reassuring to know this is now supported even further by HMRC and the new register. And as a supplier we have an additional validation of who we trade with alongside our own checks and risk assessment.
 
And it works both ways – businesses will not legally be able to buy alcohol for commercial purposes from any non-registered trader. They have the ability to look up and the obligation to check suppliers via an online register of approved wholesalers’ unique reference numbers (URNs). This again will help prevent potential instances of fraud and support legitimate traders. You can find the register here.
 
The penalties for breaches will be severe. Fines starting from £500 for poor record keeping to a new civil penalty of £10,000 for unauthorised trading, right through to imprisonment. In addition, any alcohol found in the premises of unregistered businesses may be seized whether or not the duty has been paid.
 
And the system seems to be working. We have seen increased sales through our existing customers, all of whom are signed up to AWRS, which would seem to indicate the illicit players are being edged out. The expectation for new customers is set and parameters are clear for existing customers to trade in a market where duty must be paid. Traders in duty unpaid alcohol (approved by HMRC) have been regulated for years so it’s good to see the duty paid sector aligning with this.
 
As I said, no one likes extra paperwork. But we believe this is an appropriate and effective measure by HMRC and I’m confident it will benefit everyone in the long run – customers, brands, consumers, government and taxpayers.
Tim Clay is sales director at Asahi

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