Wednesday’s ad is for Watney’s Dairymaid Stout, from what looks to be the 1970s, plus or minus. The first time I ever heard of Watney’s, probably like most Americans, was watching Monty Python, and their reference to “Bleedin’ Watney’s Red Barrel.” One interesting thing from the ad copy. It’s “the perfect mixer with most other beers.” I didn’t realize that was something people looked for in a beer. I also love the line at the bottom, mentioning another one of their stouts. “Watney’s Hammerton Stout: Brewed with Oatmeal & Glucose for Zest.” Yum, glucose. When was that a marketable ingredient?
Wednesday’s ad is for the UK brand Double Diamond, which was originally owned by Allsop, but is now part of the Carlsberg dynasty. The ad’s tagline, “Loyal Greetings from the brewers of Double Diamond,” and shows their cartoon mascot propping himself up, high into the air, on beer bottles so that he can better see the passing parade. As for when the ad is from, the bottom offers a clue. The phrase found there, “A Double Diamond Works Wonders,” was used during the 1970s. I assume there was some sort of royal ta-do going on.
Take a tour of the Suffolk brewery Greene King with head brewer John Bexon hosted by UK beer writer Roger Protz. The video, entitled The Magic of Brewing, the Joy of Beer, runs just under a half-hour and includes a tour of Greene King’s “traditional brew house and fermenting area, taking in the ancient wooden vats where Strong Suffolk is matured.” Enjoy.
Here’s an interesting historical piece, from 1819-20. It was a four-volume set of books known as “Remarkable Persons,” though its full title was “Portraits, Memoirs, and Characters of Remarkable Persons From the Revolution in 1688 to the End of the Reign of King George II” and was subtitled “Collected from the most authentic accounts extant.” The full collection is available digitally at the Villanova University’s Farley Memorial Library, who describes the work as follows:
This collection contains the four volumes of: Portaits, memoirs, and characters, of remarkable persons: from the revolution in 1688 to the end of the reign of George II collected from the most authentic accounts extant by James Caulfield. “Caulfield’s ‘remarkable characters’ are persons famous for their eccentricity, immorality, dishonesty, and so forth.” — Dict. nat. biog. This work contains 155 engraved plates including work by engravers: George Cruikshank, W. Maddocks, Henry B. Cook, Robert Graves, and Gerard van der Gucht.
Another sources claims that it was a “collection of portraits and stories about the eccentrics of Britain in the 18th century by James Caulfield was issued by subscription in 1819 and 1820 to great success. It promised to satisfy the public fascination with ‘true stories’ about exceptional feats, physical peculiarities and notorious acts. The extent to which it actually contained ‘true stories’ is a matter for conjecture.” The one that caught my eye was a 19th century publican.
Plate 19 in Volume 3 depicts “Cornelius Caton, (Of the White Lion Richmond),” followed by his story on pages 173 through 175. Here’s his colorful story:
This little whimsical publican, having passed through the several gradations of pot-boy, , helper in the stables, and other menial offices attached to a public inn, at length rose to the important place of principal waiter: being of a complaisant temper, and possessing a species of low wit and pleasantry, he rendered himself so acceptable to the humour of the different guests which frequented the house, as to derive considerable perquisites from his ready desire to serve and accomodate the various description of persons whom business or pleasure drew to the place.
Caton carefully treasured up the money he obtained from time to time; until he had saved a sufficient sum to enable him to take the White-Lion public-house, at Richmond, in Surrey. The drollery of the landlord brought him considerable custom, which his attention to business so far improved as to make his house the most frequented of any in Richmond; and he became a general favourite with most of the inhabitants.
In person, he was one of the most grotesque appearance; and might have gained a livelihood bu exhibiting himself as a dwarf; this, joined with a certain oddity of manner, rendered him so conspicuous a character, as to bring him into great notice; and Cornelius Caton, and his house, found visitors from most parts of the adjacent villages in the neighbourhood.
He was well known to many persons in London; and, among others, George Bickham, the engraver, who deemed him of sufficient importance to speculate on engraving and publishing his portrait. This did not tend to diminish the number of Caton’s friends: and many have made a journey from town to Richmond, merely from curiosity of seeing the landlord of the White Lion.
A few years since, an equally singular personage, named Davis, a true son of Sir John Barleycorn, kept the Load-of-Hay public-house, on Haverstock-hill, near Hampstead; the eccentricity of whose personal appearance brought a considerable number of persons, particularly on a Sunday afternoon, and made the house a place of great trade.
Cornelius Caton was living at the time of his present majesty’s ascension to the throne, but the print of him was engraved in the reign of King George the Second.
You can see the original pages at Villanova digitalLibrary. Click on Volume 3 and scroll down to just before page 173, which is Plate 19.
Friday’s ad is for Tennent’s Pale Ale, who apparently are “The Aristocrat Of Beer.” Though the Wellpark Brewery is, or was, a Scottish brewery, the ad appears to be from Australia. Though from when I can’t be sure; perhaps the 1950s, although the bottle looks even older than that?
Today is the 28th birthday of Mark Dredge, who writes the beer blog Pencil and Spoon from his home in Kent, England. I’ve had the pleasure of drinking with Mark on his last three trips across the pond. The first time, at the opening gala for SF Beer Week, two years at the Beer Bloggers Conference in Boulder, Colorado, and this year judging at GABF. By day, he works in digital marketing and social media and by night, he’s “a beer writer and blogger.” In December 2009, he won the British Guild of Beer Writers New Media Writer of the Year for Pencil and Spoon. If you don’t read his stuff, you should. Join me in wishing Mark a very happy birthday.
Note: The last two photos were purloined from Facebook.
Thursday’s ad is from the 1950s, for the English brand John Smith, specifically their Magnet Pale Ale, which they registered as a trademark in 1911. This ad appears to use a Marilyn Monroe lookalike, or at least drawn-alike, to entice people to but John Smith’s Magnet Pale Ale, along with the tagline. “A Magnet for me!”
Today is the 37th birthday of Melissa Cole, UK beer writer extraordinaire. I’d met Melissa first online and then in person at the Rake in London a few years ago. She’s also been coming over to our side of the pond to judge at both GABF and the World Beer Cup. She’s a great advocate for beer generally, but especially for women, and is great fun to hang out and drink with. She also writes online at Taking the Beard Out of Beer! which is subtitled “A Girl’s Guide To Beer.” Her first book, Let Me Tell You About Beer, was published recently. Join me in wishing Melissa a very happy birthday.
Given that the anti-alcohol folks, and especially my churlish neighbors Alcohol Justice, are continually beating the drum about alcohol taxes being too low, this news is not going to be particularly welcomed with open arms. A British think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), recently took a close look at the effect of higher taxes in alcohol and their report, Drinking in the Shadow Economy, found that the British “Treasury is losing as much as £1.2 billion every year to the illegal alcohol industry.” That, they conclude, is one of the effects of higher taxes on alcohol, because it creates an incentive for people to go outside the law and the safe world of regulated alcohol to make a quick buck. They found that “the illicit alcohol market is also closely associated with high taxes, corruption and poverty. The affordability of alcohol appears to be the key determinant behind the supply and demand for smuggled and counterfeit alcohol.” So place too high taxes on alcohol, and you invite in the wrong element, which we’ve seen in the U.S. before during Prohibition, and which we’re seeing right now with the war on drugs. If that futile policy was reversed, we’d save as much $13.7 billion annually by legalizing, regulating and taxing just marijuana, not to mention we’d remove the criminal element, make it safer and drastically reduce burdens on police, the justice system and prisons.
But back across the pond, the study also notes that the “demand for alcohol is relatively inelastic,” meaning people generally don’t drink less when prices go up, they instead find new ways to address the rising prices. As study after study has concluded, tax hikes are regressive and almost always hit poorer families the hardest, while not eliminating the problem the proponents of such measures claim they will fix.
But here’s that again, said another way:
Our analysis indicates that the affordability of alcohol does not have a strong effect on how much alcohol is consumed. Once unrecorded alcohol is included in the estimates, it can be seen that countries with the least affordable alcohol have the same per capita alcohol consumption rates as those with the most affordable alcohol.
I suspect that’s the case here, too. We know that price hikes cause people living near borders with other states to simply buy their alcohol in the next state over, causing further economic erosion. I don’t know if we have the same issue with counterfeit or illegal beer. Certainly there’s still Moonshine, but beer is probably not profitable enough on its own to warrant illegal breweries flaunting the tax code, not to mention how labor intensive and technology-dependent it is.
Another interesting portion of the report, answering the question “Why Tax Alcohol?”
Temperance and public health campaigners typically dismiss the black market as a problem that can suppressed through rigorous enforcement and tougher sentencing. At worst, they view a growing unofficial market as a price worth paying for a more sober society. This view is rooted in the belief that affordability is the main driver of alcohol consumption and that increasing prices by raising excise duty is therefore the single most effective way of reducing alcohol sales.
Ceteris paribus, economists would expect there to be some truth in this assertion, but there is too much real world evidence to the contrary for it to be taken as an iron rule. For example, alcohol consumption has fallen in most European countries since 1980 despite alcohol becoming significantly more affordable (OECD, 2011: 275).19 In Denmark, Sweden and Finland, the sudden drop in alcohol prices that resulted from EU accession did not bring about the kind of surge in alcohol consumption that the price elasticity models predicted.
A comparison of European countries suggests that affordability has a negligible and statistically insignificant negative effect on recorded alcohol consumption (see Figure 12). Moreover, as Figure 13 shows, when unrecorded alcohol consumption is included in the analysis, affordability does not appear to be a decisive factor in determining alcohol consumption from one country to the next.
Then there’s this long passage addressing some of the philosophy behind taxation which seems to fly in the face of much of the neo-prohibitionists propaganda playbook:
Contrary to temperance rhetoric, high alcohol taxes are not necessarily good for public health because, although excessive alcohol consumption undoubtedly carries risks to health, so too does moonshine. Counterfeit spirits and surrogate alcohol frequently contain dangerous levels of methanol, isopropanol and other chemicals which cause toxic hepatitis, blindness and death. These are the unintended consequences one associates with prohibition, albeit at a less intense level than was seen in America in the 1920s.
It should not be surprising that excessive taxation encourages the same illicit activity as prohibition since the difference is only one of degrees. As John Stuart Mill noted in 1859: ‘To tax stimulants for the sole purpose of making them more difficult to be obtained is a measure differing only in degree from their entire prohibition, and would be justifiable only if that were justifiable. Every increase of cost is a prohibition to those whose means do not come up to the augmented price’ (Mill, 1974: 170-171).
But in a less frequently quoted passage, Mill appears to approve of taxing alcohol to the apex of what we now call the Laffer Curve. Appreciating that governments need to raise funds and that these politicians must decide ‘what commodities the consumers can best spare’, Mill argues that taxation of stimulants ‘up to the point which produces the largest amount of revenue (supposing that the State needs all the revenue which it yields) is not only admissible, but to be approved of’ (Mill, 1974: 171).
This message tends to resonate more powerfully with politicians than Mill’s more libertarian pronouncements. Drinkers generally prefer low alcohol prices. Temperance campaigners nearly always demand higher prices. The politician, however, usually seeks to maximise tax revenues and will only react to the shadow economy when it becomes a serious threat to state finances. Nordlund and Österberg summarise the politician’s dilemma as follows:
‘Domestic economic actors can, of course, support the rules and regulations imposed by the state for controlling unrecorded alcohol consumption, but for these actors a better solution in combating unrecorded alcohol consumption would be the lowering of alcohol excise taxes… In most cases the state is not willing to follow this policy, as lower alcohol excise taxes in most cases mean lower levels of alcohol-related tax incomes. However, if the state is no longer able to control the amount of unrecorded alcohol consumption by different kinds of legal administrative restrictions the only remaining way to counteract, for instance, huge increases in travellers’ border trade with alcoholic beverages or an expansive illegal alcohol market is to lower the price difference between unrecorded and recorded alcohol by decreasing excise taxes on alcoholic beverages.’ (Nordlund, 2000: S559)
It scarcely matters to the politician whether unrecorded alcohol comes from legal or illegal sources. In either case, the treasury loses out on revenue. In Britain, HMRC estimates that the alcohol tax gap could be as much as £1.2 billion per annum, plus the costs of enforcement, and that this is largely because ‘duty rates on alcohol are far higher in the UK than in mainland Europe’ (National Audit Office, 2012: 2, 10). This is the price the state must pay for excessive taxation, but the politician is also aware that these high alcohol taxes raise £9 billion a year (Collis, 2010: 3). Being in possession of these facts he may conclude that reducing the illicit alcohol supply through tax cuts will probably reduce net alcohol tax revenues.
We argue that such a focus on maximising tax revenues is short-sighted and carries significant risks. Failing to deal with alcohol’s shadow economy threatens not only the public finances, but also public health and public order. Unrecorded alcohol has, as Nordlund and Österberg note, ‘the potential to lead to political, social and economic problems’ (Nordlund, 2000: S562). In addition to the health hazards presented by unregulated spirits, alcohol fraud in the UK is, according to the HMRC, ‘perpetrated by organised criminal gangs smuggling alcohol into the UK in large commercial quantities’ (HMRC, 2012: 8). Alcohol smuggling and counterfeiting is linked to other illegal activities, including drug smuggling, prostitution, violence, money-laundering and — in a few instances — terrorism.
In the press release, the IEA concludes:
“The government’s focus on maximising tax revenues is short-sighted and dangerous. Aside from losing money by encouraging consumers to find cheaper illicit alternatives, public health and public order are also being put at risk by high prices. Policy-makers ought to take the threat of illicit alcohol production seriously when considering alcohol pricing in the future.”
“There is a clear relationship between the affordability of alcohol and the size of the black market. Politicians might view the illicit trade as a price worth paying for lower rates of alcohol consumption, but this research shows that the amount of drink consumed in high tax countries is exactly the same as in low tax countries.”
“Minimum alcohol pricing might seem like a quick fix to tackle problem drinking, but it is likely to cause many more problems by pushing people towards the black market in alcohol.”
While a fairly emphatic statement against higher taxes on alcohol, I assume that many will still wonder how applicable it is to the United States economy and society. Honestly, I’m sure there are differences, but the overall concept seems sound, at least to me. We can haggle over some of the details, but the idea that higher taxes isn’t always the answer just has the ring of truth to it.