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Fri 6th Sep 2019 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Half measures, the perfect match, authentic Mexican cuisine is the next big thing, and alcohol myths
Authors: Glynn Davis, Brigid Simmonds, Kieran Waite and Paul Chase

Half measures by Glynn Davis

The chief reason for visiting a taproom or brewpub is to sample the range of beer a brewery produces. On such occasions, and if I have enough time, I’m more than likely to try all the beers on offer. For me this is the key reason for making such visits and typically these establishments encourage my quest by offering third pints or special deals on smaller pours.

Trying different beers was my objective when visiting the brewpub of Australian brewer Little Creatures in London’s King’s Cross recently. It’s a mightily impressive set-up with high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and a line of conditioning tanks taking pride of place behind the bar. The beer list was manageable too – with seven available on my visit – but the big shock was the pricing.

A number of beers were £5.90 a pint, which is par for the course in that part of London, but the surprise was seeing halves listed at £3.50 – no third-pint measures were listed. This places a particularly large premium on buying two halves compared with a pint. I was sensitive to this differential as only a few days earlier I visited north London-based Earth Ales’ taproom – it’s actually a double-decker bus, but that’s another story. 

I had seen Earth Ales’ Verbena pale ale listed at £6 a pint and happened to have £3 in change in my pocket so confidently handed it over (I did ok at maths at school). I was then asked for another 40p. Using the aforementioned maths capabilities, that equates to a premium on two halves of 80p compared with a pint. 

In my experience over many years a pint has always been pretty much double the cost of two halves – it clearly makes sense. Like most pub companies Fuller’s has such a policy and its halves cost half the price of a pint – give or take 5p when the division doesn’t work out exactly. In some of its pubs, including my local The Great Northern Railway Tavern, a tray of three third pints is offered at a discount to buying a pint. Clearly the objective is to encourage tasting and experimenting with new beers.

This was also Charlie McVeigh’s intention when he set up the Draft House chain. He admitted his offer of three third pints for only £5 was hardly good for group profitability but encouraged drinkers to try something new and enhance their experience at Draft House.

I fail to see the placing of a premium on half pints as anything other than an encouragement to customers to trade up to a better-value pint. This is the rationale behind coffee chains setting the price of their large pours at only a modest level above their medium serves, even though the amount of extra liquid is proportionally much greater. 

The reality is that in the overall mix of costs involved in serving that drink to the customer (including rent, business rates, salaries) the cost of the actual liquid is arguably negligible. The extra 30p to 40p charged for a large serve is therefore a valuable bit of extra margin to the business. It could be argued the two drinks could be charged at the same price. 

Clearly that isn’t going to happen but the coffee chains could do so if they chose. This would be much tougher with beer because of the undoubted implications of encouraging drinking. There is quite rightly much sensitivity around the topic and so it’s questionable whether certain operators are blatantly placing outsized premiums on halves. 

But this isn’t my personal beef with the practice (I’ll leave that to the Portman Group). My issue is it penalises the elderly and many women who don’t want to consume high volumes and discourages people from trying different beers. At the Little Creatures brewpub I tried only a couple of its selection whereas under a different pricing structure I’d have stayed longer and tried others.

Perhaps it’s of no real concern because the place was packed on my visit so its pricing policy doesn’t seem to bother other people particularly. However, if such a policy were to be widely implemented across the industry I think it would sadly diminish the current wonderful environment we have for experimentation in trying different beers – and that would be massively disappointing.  
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

The perfect match by Brigid Simmonds 

I have always been passionate about sport – playing it and watching it. This passion led to me running the Business In Sport And Leisure association for 17 years and writing a book on public and private sporting partnerships. 

In my ten years at the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) it has been a privilege to have been able to promote pubs and sport. For me, the two are inextricably linked. There’s no better place to watch live sport on the television than the great British pub. Major sporting events such as the Fifa World Cup also provide a huge boost for pubs. 

Of course sport and pubs don’t just unite around watching matches on the television. For many sports teams the pub acts as an extension of the clubhouse. For others it’s the place to go for a game of darts, pool or snooker.   

Pub-goers have always recognised the correlation between pubs and sport but never explored how deep the relationship runs – until now, with the launch of the Pubs And Sport: The Perfect Match report by sports minister Nigel Adams in Parliament this week.

The report, written for PubAid by beer writer and sports journalist Will Hawkes with support from the BBPA and Sport And Recreation Alliance, reveals for the first time the full picture of the diverse and socially significant relationship between pubs and sport.  

The report’s main finding was outstanding – pubs support grass-roots sport to the value of £40m a year. And while local football, rugby and cricket teams get the lion’s share of that support, according to the report, they don’t get all of it by any means. In fact, pubs across the UK are funding grass-roots sports as diverse as curling, squash and skittles. One of the case studies in the report, The Golden Lion in Broad Oak, Kent, even supports bat and trap – a cousin of cricket but played in a pub garden with eight players a side. Pubs such as The Golden Lion are key to the success of lesser-known sports, reflected by the fact the pub hosts 32 bat and trap teams from its local league.

The support pubs give to grass-roots sport isn’t just financial, the report found. Many pubs are providing crucial in-kind support ranging from free room hire to post-match meals and everything in between. 

Take the Lion Inn in Treorchy in the Rhondda Valley, another case study in the report. Once a boarded-up pub that looked to have served its last pint, Adrian Emmett took it over and the pub now supports more than 15 sports teams in the town ranging from rugby and football to cricket, pool and tennis. What’s perhaps most interesting about Adrian and his pub is the imaginative ways in which they support local sports teams. The Lion regularly hosts a barbecue in its back garden for the sports teams it supports, buying the food and offering it at cost price to clubs and allowing them to keep whatever money they raise. They also offer teams free tickets to the pub’s comedy club, letting them sell them on and keep the proceeds, all while driving footfall into the pub. 

The support pubs give to sports teams reinforces the vital role they play at the heart of our communities. As someone who hugely believes in personal development through sport, for life, I was particularly touched by the amazing support of another case study. 

The Butlers Arms in Pleasington, Lancashire, supports Blokes United, a football social-inclusion scheme often for those with mental health issues. The pub has raised almost £5,000 for Blokes United since February 2018, which has paid for pitch hire, kit, food and hot drinks after matches. Next on the list is raising £6,000 for a minibus for away games. Michael Hales, owner of the Butler’s Arms, puts it best: “As a pub in the heart of the community it’s about giving something back. It makes a difference.”

Publicans – or anyone working in hospitality – inspired by the fantastic support these pubs give to sport should read the report. It includes many valuable tips for sports clubs looking for support from a pub as well as pubs or other hospitality businesses that would like to do more to support their community through sport. 
Brigid Simmonds is chief executive of the BBPA

Authentic Mexican cuisine is the next big thing by Kieran Waite

The Mexican food wave is sweeping across Britain. Palates are more in tune with Mexican flavours than ever and the restaurant sector has expanded at pace.  

No longer seen as a trend, Mexican cuisine is established its own right and has garnered a reputation for punchy and bold flavours. It is healthy, packed full of antioxidants and not only feels good to eat but looks good too. It’s naturally colourful and pleasing to the eye – the saying is count your “colouries”, not your calories.

It may be the most prevalent Hispanic cuisine but it’s also diverse and has been heavily influenced by Latino, Japanese and Arabic flavours. It’s a melting pot of history and people want to know and taste more. Mexican ingredients are versatile and naturally complement today’s climate – people are thinking a lot more about where produce comes from, how it’s made and its footprint.

Chefs tend to lead the way in terms of food popularity and have discovered how bountiful and exciting Mexican produce is. The Noma pop-up in Tulum put authentic Mexican food on the map and raised awareness alongside famous restaurants in Mexico such as Enrique Olvera’s Pujol. People have become aware of what real Mexican food means, with authentic Mexican produce accessible thanks to an influx of migrant Central American workers in Europe, particularly Spain, and there are now great importation options for retailers and restaurants – dried chillies by boat, for example.  

Mexican food also naturally lends itself to the UK’s emerging food trends and lifestyle choices. It’s naturally gluten free without having to remove anything – there doesn’t have to be a compromise. It’s also easy to adhere to veganism and a plant-based diet as it’s equally as delicious without meat or dairy. Mexican staples such as maize, salsa, vegetables and beans make for a really wholesome and balanced diet.

We have also been introduced to the more challenging aspects of Mexican food in recent times, such as edible insects. They’re known to be a great source of sustainable protein and have featured on the menus of some of the country’s most celebrated eateries in recent years as top chefs seek out esoteric regional ingredients.

It’s not only food – the Mexican drinks category was tarnished with bad blended tequila for years but is now more natural and there has been a huge surge in tequila and, more recently, mezcal. Step into any craft cocktail bar and you’re likely to see both on the menu. There has been a real renaissance with mescal, which is made from the heart of the agave plant and is an authentically artisan distillate. There are also plenty of sustainable options, some have been made from cultivated agave while others are bat-friendly – there’s even a mezcal transported to Europe by Atlantic sailboat.

However there still aren’t enough restaurants in the UK serving authentic Mexican food. In Bristol we’ve got Cargo Cantina and Masa + Mezcal, while various chefs are making waves in London such as Edson Diaz-Fuentes, of Santo Remedio, and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, who will launch a restaurant at The Standard hotel in King’s Cross next month offering Spanish and Mexican fusion. Other notable spots in the UK are Ojo Roj, El Cartel Mexicana and 400 Rabbits.
Kieran Waite is co-founder of Season & Taste Hospitality Group

Alcohol myths by Paul Chase

The health lobby is intent on getting health warnings on alcoholic drinks labels. While the holy grail of their ambition is to have a notice that reads “alcohol causes seven different types of cancer”, for now they’d settle for “alcohol is linked to over 60 different diseases”. It got me thinking what “linked to” means? In my experience you need to carefully examine the language used by the health lobby if you want to avoid being misled. 

Causation versus correlation
One of the techniques they use is to confuse causation with correlation. For example, we can truthfully say tobacco smoking is highly correlated with lung cancer. Today, no one doubts this link is causative. We can also truthfully say tobacco smoking is highly correlated with beer drinking – traditionally a pint and a fag have gone together, even if you have to do the smoking bit outside these days. It follows logically that if tobacco smoking is highly correlated with both lung cancer and drinking beer, then beer drinking is also highly correlated with lung cancer. But beer drinking doesn’t cause lung cancer – and not even the most rabid anti-alcohol zealots suggest it does. But semantically it wouldn’t be inaccurate to draw that correlation between the two, even though there’s no causal relationship at all.

If you are in the business of de-normalising drinking alcohol, allowing this kind of semantic confusion to flourish helps to pump up the negative statistics – it’s part of the problem-inflation the health lobby has become notorious for. Part of this is a result of what I term “noble cause syndrome” – the tendency to justify misrepresentation if it is done in a “noble cause” such as saving people from sliding down the slippery slope to alcoholism.

The alcohol-harm paradox
However, the health lobby’s main policy prescriptions for reducing alcohol-related health harm are based on the “total consumption model” – the idea population levels of consumption drive alcohol-related harm. 

This has given rise to the so-called “alcohol harm paradox” – while middle-class drinkers consume more alcohol per head than people lower down the income ladder, alcohol-related health harm and hospital admissions are overwhelmingly skewed towards the poor. But this is only a paradox if you start from the position there’s one national drinking culture and it’s seriously disordered. In other words, the alcohol-harm paradox breaks down when you look at which drinkers are reducing or increasing their consumption and what other lifestyle factors are correlated with their drinking. How much you drink is less significant than how quickly you drink, how quickly the alcohol is absorbed into your system (food in the stomach), and what other lifestyle factors may mitigate or worsen your alcohol consumption harm. The failure to take into account the complexities of drinking cultures is why the health lobby’s proposition that population levels of consumption must be cut to decrease health harms is simply wrong.

The beer belly myth
The NHS Choices website’s advice on alcohol features an interesting section entitled: “Does drinking alcohol make you fat?” It asserts: “A pint of beer contains as many calories as a packet of crisps.” It goes on: “Drinking five pints of lager a week adds up to 44,200 kcal over a year, equivalent to eating 221 doughnuts.” It is the calorific content of beer and other alcoholic drinks that enables the correlation of alcohol with many of the diseases associated with obesity. Again, we’re looking at correlation being conflated with cause. The notion beer makes you fat because it contains lots of calories is true of any food that contains calories if you consume more than you burn off in exercise. 

The beer belly myth contrasts with the generally more positive image of wine, where the impression is wine is less likely to make you fat than beer because it contains less carbohydrate and people generally don’t drink it by the pint. However, the main source of calories in beer (or any alcoholic drink) isn’t carbohydrate, it’s alcohol. Any alcoholic drink will deliver calories in proportion to its alcoholic strength.

The licensed premises density myth
There’s another element to the health lobby’s attack on alcohol – availability. Alcohol Focus Scotland produced a report linking the density of licensed premises with rates of alcohol-related illness and death. Essentially it says Scottish neighbourhoods with the most licensed premises have the highest rates. This is similar to an earlier report produced by English sister organisation Alcohol Concern (now Alcohol Change UK) about off-licence density. 

Both studies blatantly conflate correlation and causation and peddle the old temperance myth that the availability of alcohol makes people drink it. Therefore, to reduce consumption you must reduce availability. It gets the equation the wrong way round. This isn’t rocket science – geographical areas where there’s high demand for alcohol will attract more supply. We would accept this in relation to the provision of any other kind of outlet. Lots of Polish food shops tend to be located in areas where lots of Polish people live; shops that sell fishing tackle are likely to be located near rivers or the sea. Local retailers cater for local demand.

The many years I’ve spent studying health statistics in relation to alcohol, food consumption and obesity has made me suspicious of all official statistics people authoritatively assert are an “indisputable expression of scientific certainty”. Perhaps I’ll write an article on the statistics used to justify the climate change panic – when I can get my head around it!
Paul Chase is director of Chase Consultancy and a leading industry commentator on alcohol and health

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