Last week the Portman Group, who are the self appointed regulators of alcohol advertising, marketing and packaging upheld a complaint which stated the bleeding obvious.  The complaint was regarding super strength beers Kestrel Super, Special Brew and Skol Super, all of which are 9% lagers.   The can typically contains 4.5 units of alcohol, more than the daily average recommended guidelines for a man and 50% higher than the female recommended amount.  The complaint was from the homelessness charity Thames Reach who said that the non resealable design of the cans and the degradation in quality of the beer once it was opened means that it encouraged drinkers to finish consumption of the can in “one sitting”, and therefore encourage “immoderate consumption”.

Kestrel Super did put a prominent label on their cans saying “Sharing Can”, but the best bit they saved for the back of the can which read ‘…an award winning beer that can be savoured on its own, with fine food, or even better, shared with friends’.  Let’s be frank if a guest turned up with a four pack of one of these three beers, you’d start to have concerns regarding other things that are happening in their life.   These beers are not nicknamed “tramp juice” for no reason.  Four to six cans will ensure that most people forget their worries and concerns for the rest of the day whether they wanted to or not.

Kestrel in their defence quoted 80% of its database said they shared the contents of the can and this was because of the sharing message. Of those that did not share the can, 50% said they often left part of the contents of the can in the fridge overnight and consumed the rest the next day.”  I like my beers, but even the best carbonated beer left open in the fridge overnight is fairly undrinkable when it is flat as a pancake.  It is not like wine, spirits or flat cider which don’t change character significantly if left overnight at the right temperature, the gasiness is an integral part of the lager experience, would you accept a flat lager at the pub?

One point regarding these beers and “the degradation in quality of the beer once it was opened”.  I’ve tried Special Brew once in my teens and frankly it tasted like a rat had urinated into a can at the factory and been topped up with industrial chemicals.  There is no room to degrade from here unless you count “fizzy chemical enhanced rat urine” better than “flat chemical enhanced rat urine”.   Either way you could use it to descale your toilet.  But joking aside it is the so called lower echelons of society who buy and drink these beers.   The poor, the serious alcoholics, the homeless.

You don’t buy these beers to enjoy the taste or to sip over a meal, you buy them to take the edge off day to day life. 18 units of alcohol packed into 2 litres (4 x 500ml cans) does a damn good job of that, as does a 3 litre bottle of Frosty Jacks High Strength Cider Drink at 7-8%.  Let be blunt that these 18 units of alcohol (or about 8-10 normal strength cans of beer) comes relatively cheap at about £6.50 alcoholic unit for unit.   The homeless, the alcoholic with little money, the chronic alcoholic with a high tolerance, they all have a hell of an edge to take off a pretty poor life every day and these 18 units go a long way to making that life bearable by taking you mentally away from that sharp edge.

It is an extreme example of what we regular recreational drinkers consume alcohol for, however our edge is blunt, we drink to relax, socialise, have fun.   We get up go to work, have a beer after work then return to our families or drink a beer over dinner.  We don’t get up, open a beer to help us cope with the day, spend the day trying to keep away from our real life and then drink to send ourselves to sleep at the end of the day on a groundhog day basis.   If you lower the strength or reduce the can size, people who have proper issues will buy more cans or move onto stronger brands.  They won’t suddenly decide to change their personal health and life decisions based on this small change.

I can’t disagree with the basis of the complaint from Thames Reach, it does not dissuade from drinking large amounts of alcohol, but the result of a Portman Complaint being upheld is that there is an order to remove the products from the shelves within 3 months.  How will this help the homeless, not a jot, it’ll just change their brand of choice (if the removal ever takes place).  It’s a bit like taking a drug dealer off the street, there is always another one round the corner.

  1. Curmudgeon says:

    I can’t help thinking that there’s a touch of hypocrisy and snobbery about those who sneer at Special Brewer drinkers while happily uncorking that 750ml bottle of 9.5% barrel-aged Imperial Stout.

    Also I would say that many people who come within the spectrum of “normal” heavy drinkers choose these products as a trade-off between strength and volume.

    • santobugtio says:

      Agreed there, I’m not sneering at them, but the beer itself. The beer is their tool of drinking choice, not the cause of their problems. That is events in their life and alcohol addiction / dependence generally.