Fasten your seatbelts ...

25 January, 2008

The Treasury has delivered its starkest warning yet to the trade that it should expect duty to rise sharply in March, confirming fears senior industry

figures have shared with OLN over the past few months. Duty hikes are likely to be dressed up as a responsibility crusade by the government.

This comes as Office of National Statistics data shows drinking in the UK is actually going down. There are some seriously jumpy people in the industry right now, and there has never been a better time for

suppliers and retailers, large and small, to get involved in lobbying the government, whether directly or through your trade association. It's going to be a bumpy ride - sharp duty hikes are likely to hit suppliers, independents and wholesalers rather than consumers and are the last thing the sector needs.

Creature discomforts

Back to that ONS data, and it seems

the off-trade is doing pretty well when it comes to getting responsible drinking messages across to shoppers. Those questioned were more likely to pick supermarkets and shops as places they'd seen unit labelling information (81 per cent) than any other licensed business.

Also good news for the off-trade is the finding that in 2007

52 per cent of women and 50 per cent of men had drunk an alcoholic drink at home in a typical week, compared

with 33 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women who'd had a drink in a pub.

The middle classes - identified as a key focus of the government's alcohol strategy last year - drank more than those in routine and manual jobs, according to the survey. It seems ironic after years of Blair-inspired Yobs of Booze Britain headlines that the heaviest drinkers are Middle Englanders.

One thing's for sure - the government will have an uphill battle to wrest

that large gin and tonic

from the hands of the average hard-working middle manager.

And what 's next? A crackdown on

labradors, cheese straws and the Ford Focus?

Remembrance of things past

Well done to the Gaymer Cider Company for reviving the art of wassailing - an ancient custom involving chanting, gunshots, bizarre outfits and dancing, all in the name of ensuring a bumper cider apple crop for the next harvest.

Reading a book called The Countryside

& How to Enjoy It recently ( OK, it does date back to the 1940s), I was intrigued by the sheer number of customs then widely practised in villages across Britain. Some are probably best forgotten - the Ilchester Badger Feast, for example, is unlikely to have been attended by many animal lovers.

But there must be a whole range of ancient customs involving alcohol that are ripe for revival - or perhaps still practised -

just because they form

part of the UK's rich history of drinking.

If you've got any examples - the more bizarre the better - please get in touch.

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I was asked recently what I thought the biggest change had been in wine fashion in the past five years. My answer was unequivocal: sales of pink wines. From being a niche that expanded and contracted with the sunshine, rosé has subtly but steadily become a stalwart of many merchants’ ranges, with Provence firmly at the top and asked for by name.

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