Beer has been given many affectionate nicknames over the years – liquid courage, daddy’s medicine, proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy, and countless others. But “yeast excrement” was a new one on me. That is how Alex Barlow, training director at the Beer academy, described the tipple to 10 MPs at a masterclass he hosted at the red lion opposite the houses of Parliament this week.
“I have to warn you that you are drinking yeast excrement,” he said. “All yeast wants to do is eat and recreate. It’s a good life, if you can get it.” “I can relate to that,” said one MP, causing an eruption of laughter and a dozen “hear, hear” chants.
It set the tone for a relaxed and enjoyable evening, but one that carried a serious message: beer supports thousands of jobs, adds billions to the Treasury’s coffers and could do with more of the support government has shown it by axing the duty escalator and cutting tax in the past two Budgets.
The event illustrated why the drinks industry is so good at lobbying: it was well organised, engaging and informative. But getting MPs to cross Whitehall and get together for a few beers after a hard day at the Commons isn’t exactly a tough sell. It clashed with the England v Costa Rica game, but it was a sell-out even before we knew Roy Hodgson’s men had already been knocked out.
Beer – just like wine, cider and spirits – is a subject that is easy to make people passionate about. Pity the lobbyists for the grass seed industry, or the call centre industry. Must be harder for them to justify a trip to the Red Lion.
But once you have the attention of the MPs, you have to make it count. And it was great to hear Burton MP Andrew Griffiths receive a round of affirmative roars as he said: “Having scrapped the hated beer duty escalator, having cut duty not once but twice, we have seen growth in beer sales for the first time in years.”
MPs actually do a lot more than eat and recreate – despite what The Sun and its salacious sex scandals would have you believe. They are among the most influential people in the country and they were effusive in their praise for the beer industry. One suggested adding the beer masterclass to the curriculum, although Michael Gove might not let that one slip past.
But they can certainly remind George Osborne how vital beer is to their constituencies when the next Budget comes up. We would all raise a pint of yeast excrement to another duty cut.