At the first of the month, Lew asked the question "Is 2009 The Year of The Session?" As with every year, I sure hope so. I see that I have far too few posts tagged in the category Low Strength Beer and of those, only a couple are about beers that have really caught my imagination over the last while. Those are Brakspear Bitter (3.4%) and Jolly Pumpkin's Bam Noir (4.3%), neither of which I can get on any kind of regular basis.
It strikes me that beers like that need some extra sort of intervention in the market to make them more popular - and thereby more numerous. Massively hopped beers really only got going when the branding of "extreme" gave them some machismo to the palate of the congregation of beer fans but I don't think that sort of thing is going to work with light beers. Believe me. I have the market research from CAMWA to prove it. But a movement in Australia right now, as reported by Australian Food News, even though it was started for entirely different reasons, might be just the thing to encourage the brewing of quality flavourful light beers:
Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Todd Harper, has proposed removing the current excise on light beer to promote the consumption of products with lower alcohol volumes. “With a rising tide of binge drinking and associated violence and crime, it’s essential that we shift our drinking culture towards lower alcohol alternatives,” Mr Harper said. According to Mr Harper, the tax system provides the best chance to encourage consumers to switch their drinking preferences.
There can be no doubt that lower prices will attract buyers as this column from the Yorkshire Evening Post indicates is happening in England's discount end of the market. So if retail sales taxes and other imposed costs associated with beers under, say, 4.4% were reduced is it not reasonable to think that there would be increased demand? From my perspective, the most interesting thing could be that the interests of the medical community and lobby groups like MADD might align with those of craft beer drinkers. Further, make it a sliding scale. So that from 4.5 to 5%, certain taxes are reduced by a third, from 3.5% to 4.5% they drop by two-thirds while under 3.5% they disappear. By making them substantial, a significant market opportunity could be created that serves the interest of both health and safety advocates and also trigger brewing of classic ordinary bitters, milds and other low strength brews. As Lew concludes: "[l]ess problems with DUI, less problems with outrage over high prices, and most likely, more local beer. All that, and the possibility of developing a true beer culture and getting more people back to bars to enjoy themselves in moderation." Could it work?