Alcoholic beverages have existed in Britain for thousands of years and provisions relating to the use and misuse of alcohol reflect its historical importance. Distinctive features of the British brewing industry, such as the tied house system and judicial power to grant licences, are a legacy of the nineteenth century. Licensing laws are substantially unchanged since 1923. They exist to provide controlled conditions under which alcohol can be bought, sold and consumed to protect the public from anti-social behaviour related to alcohol consumption, and to prevent the sale of alcohol to children. Licences available include the full pub on licence for the sale of alcohol for consumption on or off the premises, off licences, restaurant and residential licences, and occasional licences. No licence is required for members clubs. Changes to licensing laws in 1995 allowed Sunday opening all day until 10.30 pm and off licence opening hours were also extended.
   In Britain, a unit of alcohol is eight grammes of ethanol, the amount contained in half a pint of ordinary strength beer, a glass of wine or a measure of spirits. From 1996 the safe recommended limits were four daily units for men and three for women. The increase in awareness of health problems related to alcohol, alongside media pressure against ‘lager louts’ and drink-drivers, has led to a reduction in the amount of alcohol drunk. In 1984, the British Government signed the World Health Declaration, with its commitment to reducing alcohol consumption by 25 percent before the year 2000. Significant advances have been made in the campaign against drinking and driving with the introduction of the breathalyzer in the late 1960s, as well as high-profile television advertising to discourage potential offenders. Home Office data in 1994 showed that despite the total number of tests having tripled since 1984, the number of people who were found positive or refused a test had fallen to 93,000 per annum.
   The Brewers Society was founded in 1904 to represent the interests of the brewing industry. In 1995 it calculated that the industry employed half a million people and consisted of eighty established brewers, operating around 130 breweries and about ninety small wholesaling brewing units. There were 200,000 licensed premises. Beer remains the most popular drink in Britain and, in 1994, 28 million pints of beer were sold each day. The number of brewers has declined throughout the twentieth century, and the tendency towards mergers and acquisition continues. In 1995, five major brewers produced 91 percent of beer in Britain. The Campaign for Real Ale was formed in 1971 to safeguard the interests of small brewers, oppose takeovers, and promote improvements and individuality amongst British beers.
   In 1990, a Monopoly and Mergers Commission Report was made as a result of claims that there was a monopoly in the brewing industry in the supply of beer. The Commission found that a complex monopoly existed against the public interest, and advocated restricting brewers to ownership of 2,000 pubs, allowing tenants able to sell ‘guest beers’ (that is, beers produced by brewers other than the pub owner) and increasing competition in order to widen consumer choice. The brewers lobbied intensively against the proposals, which were consequently diluted to the 1992 Beer Orders; these have nonetheless led to surplus brewing capacity and pub closures. Pubs suffered a 13 percent decline in sales between 1990 and 1995. This is due to fewer young customers, cross-Channel shoppers making bulk beer purchases in France, drug taking, more competition for the ‘leisure pound’ and the growth of home entertainment. The provision of catering services is now considered very important to increase turnover and attract customers. The growth in the off sales market also adversely affects the pub. Prices of alcohol in off licences and supermarkets have continued to decrease relative to pub prices in the 1990s. The increase in beer off sales was attributed to innovations such as draught flow systems which improve beer quality, and large ranges of imported beers, while wine purchases have been encouraged by sampling promotions. There is intense competition in the brewing industry, and several strategies have been adopted to encourage the public to choose particular brands. Sponsorship, particularly in sport, is seen as an effective method of self-promotion. Critics assert that drinking is incompatible with a healthy lifestyle and the practice should be discouraged. There are strict guidelines under the Independent Broadcasting Authority code for advertising alcohol. Nobody who is or appears to be under the age of twenty-five can advertise liquor and stimulant, and the intoxicating or sedative aspects of a drink cannot be emphasized. There should be no suggestion that drinking is masculine, daring or leads to sexual success. Drink cannot be connected with driving or operating machinery and should not be targeted at young people. The launch in Britain of alcoholic carbonates, commonly known as ‘alcopops’, in 1995 provoked the Portman Group, the regulatory body of the brewing industry (see regulatory bodies), to issue a code of practice on the marketing of alcoholic drinks to minors. Evidence in 1997 indicated that alcopops contributed to a growth in juvenile drunkenness. In 1990 the annual per capita consumption of alcohol in Britain was 9.45 litres, and 94 percent of the population were customers of one or more of the alcohol producing industries. The long-term trend in the nation’s drinking is the decline of spirits and, to a lesser extent, beer sales, coupled with an increased demand for wine, which by 1994 accounted for a quarter of Britain’s expenditure on alcohol. As wine increases in popularity, brewers have taken steps to obtain a sizeable share in that market. The decline in the number of young people will adversely affect lager and vodka sales, while whisky sales will benefit most from an ageing population.
   See also: food; licensing laws
   Further reading
    Mintel (1995) Report on Pub Retailing, London: Mintel International Group Limited.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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