Here's a conundrum - beer sales in Britain have dropped recently, yet this is a golden age in British brewing with more breweries making our national drink than before 1939. Where is all this beer being consumed - the Rover's Return, Queen Vic, and Woolpack? That's the problem - Britons are watching fictitious characters drink in fictitious pubs on the small screen when they should be at the real boozer ordering a pint. Residents of Britain - your country needs you to go to the pub!
Use it or lose it is all too true with pubs. Each time a pub closes, another tile in the mosaic of Britain's character, community, and heritage is lost. Perhaps we take our pubs for granted and do not realise what a unique institution the pub is. Visitors from overseas recognise it though and a visit to a pub is in the top 10 things that a tourist wants to do during their visit.
Tonight I am taking a group of Americans on a tour of historic London pubs. When they booked it they told me it was to be the highlight of their visit. Last night I was with another tourist and had a couple of delicious pints of Bengal Lancer IPA in an incomparable 17th century pub on the river in Hammersmith - the Dove. The poet who wrote the words to 'Rule Britannia', James Thomson was a regular in the Dove around 1740. He took his final drink there before succumbing to the chill he had caught on the boat journey returning home from the pub. That's just one story in one pub amongst thousands in Britain. When a pub closes we do not just lose a pub, and people become unemployed, we lose all the stories of customers through the ages.
What can we do to arrest the decline in beer sales and the closure of pubs? The immediate thing to do is visit our local more often. But the long term issue needs to be addressed and that is the shocking amount of duty levied by the Government on beer in the pub. With the exception of Finland, Britain has the highest tax on beer in the EU. On average, £1 of the price of a pint of beer is tax and it increases each year 2% above inflation.
Brewing in Britain employs over one million people and contributes £21 billion each year to the economy. This juicy tax take for the exchequer is short sighted because high beer prices leads to fewer customers in the pub. Fewer customers in the pub means pub closures and all those bar and kitchen staff, cleaners, suppliers lose their jobs and do not pay taxes. Please Mr Chancellor - review the beer tax. If anyone reading this is interested, there is an e-petition on the Government petitions website called 'Stop the Beer Duty Escalator'. Save our British pint and save our British pub!
Earlier this week it was the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar when Admiral Nelson sent a signal to the sailors on the other battle ships ' England expects that every man will do his duty'. He was not talking about beer duty.
Last word to a French man - essayist and poet Hilaire Belloc understood that the pub is the soul of our communities and wrote 'Change your hearts or you will lose your inns and you will deserve to have lost them. But when you have lost your inns drown your empty selves for you will have lost the last of England.