Today in the UK it is National Beer Day. This is not an age-old, traditional celebration as you may well have been imagining, but a brand-new invention of which 2015 signifies the inaugural year. I first became aware of National Beer Day as a result of an ironic turn of events involving the lovely people of IOGT International, an email, and a pub in London’s King’s Cross known as The Parcel Yard. Here’s what happened.
Last Thursday I visited London to meet Maik and Kristina (see below – I’m the short one in the middle) of IOGT International (Swedish based temperance movement). I booked us a table in the Parcel Yard and we ate a very nice lunch, drank sparkling water, discussed alcohol policy and how good life is without alcohol, and generally had a productive and enjoyable couple of hours together.
As a result of this lunch reservation (which I made online) I received an email this morning from the Parcel Yard, which informed me that today is the very first National Beer Day, and to help me celebrate I am entitled to a free pint of Oliver’s Island (never heard of it!) at the pub. Here’s what the email said:
Ale is important. Really important. So important in fact, the British pint was defined for the first time in the Magna Carta on this day 800 years ago! To celebrate this, we’re supporting #BeerDayBritain and want you to join us for a tasty pint of Oliver’s Island. Pay us a visit before the end of the week, show us the code below to get your free pint, and if you’re on Twitter, tweet a photo of you and your friends with your pint and the hashtag #CheersBDB.”
The Magna Carta, the landmark charter of liberties, celebrates its 800th anniversary today. The beer industry has clearly chosen to capitalize on this as a way of boosting sales. Community Pubs minister Marcus Jones got involved in the proceedings which aim to raise the profile of the British beer and pubs industry, and promised to take part in a nationwide toast at 12.15pm today, joining thousands of community pub patrons and beer lovers across the country. This is something campaigners wanted people to capture on social media – using the #CheersBDB hashtag – by posting photographs of themselves with a pint of British beer.
In linking beer with the Magna Carta, the beer industry has been rather clever. Intent on planting an association in the national psyche of beer and what it means to be British, they are hoping for a deep surge of national pride inextricably linked with that wonderful traditional pastime of ours, boozing. And no doubt they will be successful to a degree.
On the National Beer Day website, it states that, “Today beer and pubs are still central to the social health of the nation and in economic terms they contribute £22 billion annually to Britain’s GDP.” There is no mention of the cost of alcohol to UK society, which currently stands at approximately £21 billion per year. It doesn’t take a maths whizz to see that these two figures almost cancel each other out.
I recognise that not everyone who drinks alcohol has a problem with it. I know that for some, drinking can be a pleasurable social activity that does not bring about any real negative consequences. But I also know that as a country, the UK hardly needs any encouragement to drink more; that the number of people under the age of thirty who develop alcohol-related liver disease has doubled in the past twenty years; that liver disease is the only major disease against which we are not making meaningful progress; that the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions each year is 1.2 million; that alcohol costs £11 billion each year in criminal justice costs.
Alcohol is big business. The government continually refuses to either acknowledge or attempt to improve the situation by reassessing its alcohol policies (namely, introducing minimum unit pricing, placing tougher restrictions on alcohol advertising, and raising awareness of the strong links between excessive alcohol consumption and a vast array of diseases and conditions, of which liver disease is only one). David Cameron has made it eminently clear that profits come before public health.
National Beer Day (and other money-motivated alcohol-related events like it) is nothing more than a mercenary, calculated effort to flog even more of a product that causes vast amounts of harm.