Saturday, 24 March 2012

A minimum price for alcohol

Well, it looks like the government is going to set a minimum price for alcohol. That isn't going to affect me; I have the occasional pint in a pub, and that's sold way above any minimum that they're likely to set.

But will it work in general?

The doctors are really keen on this idea. But they're medical experts, and I think this is really more of an exercise in economics. I believe it when I'm told that getting frequently pie-eyed is bad for me. Actually, I didn't need to be told, I already knew, it's one of the obvious things I don't need to be told, along with sticking my hand in a fire. But will minimum pricing for alcohol lead to less drinking? The problem is, it's really really cheap and easy to make alcohol. And legal.

I checked the Tesco web site; Fosters or Carlsberg is £1.5 per litre, 85p per pint (I pay over £3 for a pint in the pub, and I'm guessing that clubs are even more). So I can see why someone wanted to get drunk would want to tank up on supermarket beer before going to the pub or club. If they made the minimum price, say, £2 per pint that might make a difference. Obviously, I haven't tried to adjust for beer strength, but I can see how this works.

Or can I?

I used to brew my own beer; dark stout, strong brown, lighter mild and a ginger beer that was barely alcoholic. It's *really* easy to brew beer; all you need is a five gallon tub, and a can or malt, which I used to buy in Boots, but now there's lots of specialised homebrew vendors. It's safe (unlike distilling, which can be really dangerous), it's legal (except you can't sell it) and most of all, it's cheap. The can of malt costs about £10 and makes 40 pints. If you want it a bit stronger, you can add ordinary white sugar to the brew (but for taste, you should add malt instead). You bottle it a week or so later, and can drink it immediately, although it's better if you let it age for a week. And it tastes great. I used to go down to my allotment with a couple of bottled quarts, leave the bottles in cold water in the shade, and spend a happy afternoon digging and drinking.

Cost - 25p per pint.

So, if you believe that economic forces affect drinking habits, and I'm sure that's right to some extent, then you have to believe that putting up the price of supermarket beer will make people look more favourably on home brewing. While the difference in cost is 25p compared with 85p, maybe going to the trouble of home brewing is only for a few people. Put that difference up to 25p compared to £2, and a lot more people will brew their own.

And if it's so much cheaper, maybe they'll drink even more.

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