How Low Can You Go (2)

Following on from Sunday’s post about low strength beers, there comes the news that they are the saviour and future of the drinks trade. Or so might your conclusion be if the media coverage of the recently released off-trade figures is to be believed. For across the board sales of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beers have soared 40% in the last year. The reasons-according to retailers-are that customers are reacting to the improved product quality and range, a desire for more healthy living, and better awareness of drink-driving risks.

Now 40% is indeed an impressive increase in sales, but of course the benchmark is much lower in this category to begin with. For example, Tesco, who are trumpeting a 47% rise in sales across their stores, sold just 15m bottles of non and low-alcohol beer last year. Small beer (ho-hum) in the scale of things. However, they are expecting a further 15% rise this year and remain so enthused about prospects in this area that they are launching no less than 11 products in a category that they will label “mid-strength”.

Mid-strength? Wouldn’t that make full-strength 5.6%? Surely not what they are alluding to, but presumably preferably to labelling them “pisswater”. Chiara Nesbit, Tesco’s specialist beer buyer, argues that quality has improved in recent years with “many breweries using far better ingredients in order to create full-bodied brews that taste like their more alcoholic cousins.” She also feels that growing number of drinkers are prepared to buy lower alcohol beers as “long as the quality is good.”

But is it quality or is it price? And aren’t all these drinkers merely swapping one product for another? I find it hard to visualise horses of new converts beating down the doors of their local Tesco Express. Of course, Tesco aren’t the only player in town. Waitrose are also keen for a slice of the action as they have seen sales of Becks Blue rise 27%, low-alcohol beer Bavaria by 11% and their own low-alcohol cider by 16%. The whole concept of low-alcohol cider deserves a post by itself, but let’s go back to Tesco and Ciara Nesbit.

In a hyperbole worthy of someone with a vested interest, Ms Nesbit claims that: “The growing number of 2.8% brews will offer greater diversity than ever before for drinkers, whilst at the same time offering them very high quality and extremely great tasting brews.” Extremely great tasting, eh? Well I shall be the judge of that.

But wait, there’s more. Tesco are changing the landscape of home drinking. Yes, really. They are “creating a new middle ground for beer drinkers which will offer a solution to anyone fancying a midweek pint, perhaps to enjoy while watching the football, but who doesn’t want anything too strong”. A solution to a problem that doesn’t exist in my book, and will you please stop using terms like “middle ground” and “mid strength” when referring to pisswater.

But wait...there’s more. These “mid-strength” beers are seen by some as a panacea for the pub trade’s ills. With the licensed trade reeling from the closure of 16 pubs a week, apparently it’s pinning its hopes on “the wider range of economically-priced low-alcohol beers to entice even more customers in”. I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one, if I were you.

What we need is some words of wisdom from CAMRA. Step forward CAMRA Press Officer, Jon Howard. Now surely he will put a cork in all this talk of quality pisswater? Sadly, not quite. According to him: “Brewers have already proven in a short time that it is possible to brew a low-strength beer packed with flavour and aroma.” Er, no they haven’t. Not to my satisfaction, anyway.

Even more contentiously, he goes on to say: “We hope to see more of these low ABV thirst-quenchers unveiled by brewers in the near future.” Thirst-quenchers? They’ve not quenched my thirst as of yet. When even CAMRA can’t tell the difference between pisswater and “thirst-quenchers”, I give up.

Only when Windermere Pale, tasting as it does now, comes down to 2.8% or someone produces its equivalent, can these beers be regarded as genuine “thirst-quenchers”. Until then, my definition of pisswater will remain


Curmudgeon said…
Sadly, more evidence that CAMRA is metamorphosing into "the very fat man that waters the workers' beer".

See here for my earlier comments about "mid-strength".

I suspect all this will become another NABLABs bubble - remember that?
Tyson said…
I susoect you may be right about another NABLAB bubble. Certainly I haven't seen any signs of any real shift. And yes, when will CAMRA tire of appeasement and banging the drum for any half-cocked idea?
arn said…
I see that Tesco have started this weekend to stock the 2.8% bottles, mostly priced at £1.39, interesting to see how long they last at that price. The only one that i was interested in tasting and subsequently bought was Fullers Mighty Atom.
Tandleman said…
"And yes, when will CAMRA tire of appeasement and banging the drum for any half-cocked idea?"

Soon I hope. More daft ideas that shouldn't see the light of day.
Penny said…
Shouldn't that be "piss-water"?
RedNev said…
CAMRA's support for these semi-beers is in line with its support for minimum pricing: it wants to be seen as an organisation that encourages responsible drinking.

CAMRA is there to promote real ale, not responsible drinking. Adults should be seen as responsible for their own drinking, whether excessive or not. Just as I don't pay my taxes to be preached at by government, I don't pay my subs for the campaign to try (and fail) to appease the anti-alcoholics. Promoting real ale involves opposing such control freaks and killjoys, not trying to reach a compromise when the other side has no intention of reciprocating.

If I were rich, I'd put on a 2.8% or less beer festival just to show how popular such beers really are.
Tyson said…

Well said.


Well obviously I did spend hours agonising about that. Ok I didn't check the theasaurus-when do I ever-but I prefer "pisswater". It's my party-I was part of the campaign to change e-mail to email-so I won't hyphen if I don't want to.
Curmudgeon said…
I can't say I noticed any display of 2.8% beers on my most recent visit to Stockport Tesco, although I wasn't really looking and if they weren't next to the "normal" bottled beer section I probably would have missed them anyway.

Incidentally, this store stocks bottled stouts (such as March of the Penguins) alongside canned stouts, rather than alongside bottled "bitters", which seems to me to be an error of presentation.
Tyson said…
My local Morrisons puts Brewdog with the foreign beer. Alex Salmond will be pleased:)
Barry said…
Or should it be piss as in piss off?

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