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Barman looks at the Great British Beer Festival

In his latest barman column, Jeff Hoyle discusses the Great British Beer Festival...

We didn’t make it to the Great British Beer Festival this year, but Rishi Sunak did. He was pictured pulling a pint of Wensleydale Black Dub Stout to publicise the change in excise duty that was introduced at the beginning of August. ‘What’s your favourite pub?’ asked GB News. He was reported as replying ‘“Well, I’m teetotal chancellor...”

So, do the changes in duty make more sense than his answer? Perhaps. It makes sense to me to tax all drinks on the basis of their alcohol content rather than the type of product. You will pay the same for a unit of alcohol in whiskey, wine or beer, subject to a banding system. Drinks with an alcohol content below 3.5% will pay the lowest rate and those between 3.5% and 8.5% a higher rate while those over 8.5% will be liable for the highest rate.

This has led to a reduction in the strength of some drinks, in an attempt to benefit from lower duty, and it has been suggested that this will lead to a reduction in alcohol consumption with health and social benefits.

As is common with changes, some producers are not happy. While beer duty will remain broadly the same or may fall slightly, the duty on stronger drinks will rise. Wine and spirits will become more expensive.

Another change is the reduction in duty for beer purchased in pubs, which will be something around 11p per pint less than off sales, described as a ‘Brexit pubs guarantee’. This comes at the same time as it was announced that Britain would retain the European CE mark which certifies goods have met safety standards, a measure described by the Department for Business and trade as a “key ask from businesses” that would “ease burdens and boost growth for the UK economy”. Truly, we have taken back control.

One side effect of the reduced duty in pubs is the treatment of carry-outs. Many pubs and beer festivals offer draught beer for consumption off the premises, maybe at the end of a festival as a way of increasing profits and reducing waste, or to allow the designated driver to have a pint on his or her return home. It would seem that this is now illegal, and CAMRA are asking for it to be permitted.

In other news from the GBBF, the Champion Beer of Britain competition has returned after a four-year gap and the winner is Elland 1872 Porter. In second place is Greene King Abbot and third is Salopian Darwin’s Origin. I am sure that a few eyebrows will be raised by the accolade for Abbot, but perhaps this demonstrates unconscious prejudice against a nationally available beer, which has been negated by a blind-tasting competition.

If you didn’t make GBBF, then there are lots of local events to try. Mundford Cricket Club has been in touch to tell me about their event which is running from September 8-10. Denver Windmill has a festival on the weekend of September 22-24 and if you pick up a copy of the summer issue of Norfolk Nips you can find their advert which offers you 50% off your first pint.

The same weekend sees the return of Elgood’s festival at the brewery. You can book tickets in advance which cost £5, but entry is free to CAMRA members. The Kings Arms at Shouldham promise ‘Beer, Cider, Music and Food from Friday-Sunday, September 1-3 and Ashill White Hart is running its event over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Time to make the most of the summer!


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