News & views – May 2024

HANDPUMP HIJACK

I mentioned the ‘Fresh Ale’ concept being pushed by the Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company (CMBC) in the previous edition. Some people in the wider trade believe that we are over-reacting but this issue takes us back to CAMRA’s origins. It needs to be taken seriously. Over the last 50 years, largely through CAMRA’s influence, the handpump has become the unambiguous symbol of cask conditioned beer. To serve any other type of beer through one can only be misleading, whatever small print appears on the pump clip. Also, if a handpump is being used to serve what is, by definition, keg beer, one less cask beer is being made available and consumer choice is being reduced.

This sort of misrepresentation is an issue for trading standards. Back in the 1980s, CAMRA took a similar complaint to the Local Authority Co-ordinating Body on Trading Standards (LACOTS). They decided that using handpumps to dispense keg beer was misleading to consumers and issued the appropriate advice to all local trading standards departments. LACOTS has since been replaced by a body called National Trading Standards which is funded by a number of Government departments. They have told CAMRA that they do not have the powers to investigate this matter. Consequently, Gillian Hough, CAMRA’s director for real ale, cider and perry campaigns, has written to the business secretary, Kemi Badenoch, saying, “The impact of this perniciously misleading form of dispense will affect the reputation and availability of cask-conditioned beer in all pubs and social clubs: an integral part of British heritage and pub culture. It is a self-evident fact that consumers should be as fully informed as possible about the product they are buying at the point of dispense. CAMRA is deeply concerned because, for beer drinkers, the use of a handpump to dispense beer is an indication that the beer is cask-conditioned, which these products are not.” CAMRA has also contacted the trading standards department at West Northamptonshire Council, where Carlsberg UK are based. CAMRA’s national chairman, Nik Antona, added, “Of course, if Carlsberg Marston’s was interested in being transparent, it could simply serve its Fresh Ales from keg fonts and be proud and clear about the characteristics of the beers.” Pubs which use misleading dispense are not eligible for inclusion in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide.

SIBA REBRANDS

SIBA has changed its name to the Society of Independent Brewers and Associates. This is to acknowledge that their membership now includes what chief executive Andy Slee described as ‘wider parts of the industry’. He stressed however that ‘independent beer and brewers are the heart of what SIBA is about and always will be’.

There were two London winners at this year’s SIBA Independent Beer Awards, held in Liverpool at the end of March. The Hammerton Brewery from Islington took a gold award for their City of Cake stout (5.5% ABV) in the ‘Cask Speciality (Amber to Dark Beer)’ category and Kingston’s Park Brewery won a silver award for their 1637 Pils (4.4% ABV) in the ‘Bottle/Can Session Lager’ category. This beer is also available in draught form.

SUPER HOP ON THE WAY

Further to my comments in the Introduction about our climate, funding is being provided to develop a hop which is genetically engineered to resist environmental changes. The research is a collaborative project and will be carried out by Wye Hops Ltd and the University of Kent, both from traditional major hop growing regions, along with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), the British Hop Association, the Hop Plant Company and LGC Genomics. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have provided a grant of £574,000 for the five year project. Dr Klara Hajdu from Wye Hops explained, “Through this collaboration we are not only addressing important issues such as the development of climate-resilient British hop varieties but also re-establishing a dynamic, research-driven hop-breeding programme capable of future proofing the UK hop and brewing industries in the face of evolving challenges.”

BOTTLING IT!

The UK and the three devolved governments have announced that a deposit return scheme covering the whole of the UK will come into effect in October 2027. CAMRA welcomes this initiative. Chief executive Tom Stainer said, “The UK, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments working together on a deposit return scheme is good news for the environment and for consumer choice. CAMRA supports a deposit return scheme, but having four different schemes with different rules, paperwork and labelling needed for each nation risked a catastrophic reduction in choice for consumers of quality beer and cider from small and independent businesses which wouldn’t be able to take part in four systems and produce four sets of labels for each beer or cider they make. The announcement of an easy-to-understand scheme that works seamlessly across borders with one set of rules, labels and deposit levels is a good one. We now want to make sure sufficient help is offered for small and independent breweries and cider producers to participate in the new deposit return scheme so they can afford to keep selling their products to all parts of the UK, providing consumers with a choice of distinctive and quality products.” Attempts to introduce a similar project in Scotland have proved difficult and, presumably, this scheme will replace that. We will provide more details as to how it will work as and when they become available.

HERE WE GO…

On 9 May Parliament agreed that pub opening hours can automatically be extended to 1am should either England or Scotland reach the semi-finals (9 and 10 July) or final (14 July) of the UEFA Men’s Euro 2024 tournament. The pub trade has already warmly welcomed the additional custom. It is understood that the Government is looking at introducing some form of change to the licensing regulations which will simplify the process for events such as this and not require the complication of Parliamentary approval very time. Welcome as it is, this does however come at a time when a number of pubs are actually reducing their normal opening days and/or hours because of the falloff in trade. One landlady quoted in the Propel Newsletter said, “We can’t afford to pay staff to stand in an empty pub with the heating and lights on and no customers. If customers aren’t in the pub by 8.30 or 9pm, we have learned they don’t arrive any later.”

CHILDREN IN PUBS

As we appear to be experiencing odd spells of good weather, I thought it might be useful to go through the rules governing the presence of children in pubs, especially as some of them may wish to support England or Scotland.

The 2003 Licensing Act promotes four ‘licensing objectives’, one of which is the ‘protection of children from harm’. The only blanket restriction contained in the Act is a total prohibition on children under 16 being on premises which are licensed primarily to serve alcohol, unless they are accompanied by an adult (at least 18 years old). It is an offence both to sell alcohol to anyone under 18 (even if they are with an adult) and for an adult to buy alcohol on the premises for consumption by someone under 18 (called a proxy sale). Underage drinking is considered to be very serious by the police and the licensing authorities.
Further restrictions specific to individual pubs may be included in the pub’s premises licence. Frequently, there is a time bar on children under 18 being allowed in a pub, even with an adult. Any breach of these provisions leaves the pub’s management liable to prosecution, which could ultimately lead to the loss of the pub’s premises licence and/or the loss of their personal licence. Hopefully, where such restrictions apply, appropriate notices will be on display.

There is an exception where a table meal is being consumed. In that case those aged 16 or 17 may consume beer, wine or cider so long as they are with an adult and an adult has purchased the drink.
This, inevitably, raises the subject of age verification. Various new and highly technical methods involving holographic marks or ultraviolet features are being developed but progress is slow. In Southampton a trial is being conducted using facial recognition cameras which are primed with photos of known offenders.

TOILETS…

It was announced in early May that the Government are planning a change to building regulations to make it a legal requirement for all new restaurants, bars, offices and shopping centres to provide separate facilities for men and women. There are reasons why they are doing this but that discussion is beyond the remit of this magazine. I will keep to the practical. I’m sure that, like me, many readers will have immediately wondered what happens to micropubs and similar small pubs which, often being converted shops, do not have the space for two toilets and have, up to now, happily managed with one used by all. Fortunately, the legislation will not be retrospective and an exception will be made where buildings are too small to accommodate two separate toilets. Pubs will have to be aware though that, if the building undergoes major renovations, the new requirement will be triggered.