Over the last few years there has been a growing number of people participating in Alcohol Concern’s Dry January campaign; however, with the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) reporting that pubs are closing at a rate of nearly 30 a week, the British public need to support the industry before last orders are called permanently. 

Condemnation and this “all or nothing” attitude towards alcohol cannot be beneficial to public opinion and more needs to be done to support the growing industry of independent breweries and pubs. As such the Tryanuary (a social media campaign to get people to seek out “new independent breweries, bars and bottle shops”) and Try January (an industry led campaign challenging people to “try new drinks and dishes”) counter-campaigns were started in an effort to get people to experience the wealth of pubs and breweries around them, not just in January but throughout the year.

It is undeniable that for some abstinence from alcohol has a series health benefits, such as a reduction in blood pressure, lowering of liver fat and a fall in blood sugar levels. But, the benefit of campaigns such as the Dry January campaign have been called into question. Whilst the attempt by Alcohol Concern is well-intentioned, it fails to target those who need to reconsider their drinking habits. The self-enrolment aspect of the Dry January campaign already undermines its purported results, with self-selected participants already diminishing the benefits such a campaign could produce. A recent study by the University of Sussex found, unsurprisingly, that those who are “moderate drinkers may be more likely than heavier drinkers to complete an abstinence challenge”. However, these are generally not the people who need to be re-educated regarding responsible alcohol consumption and those that do need such help are unlikely to partake in such a campaign.

“The all-or-nothing attitude to alcohol consumption leaves no room for those who are responsible consumers and are able to enjoy alcohol whilst maintaining healthy lifestyles”

Furthermore, the self-reporting nature of such a study casts doubts over any conclusions that can be drawn from such a campaign. With the average amount of alcohol consumed being under-reported by about 40%, as shown in a 2013 study by Boniface & Shelton, it is doubtful that many of those who have “completed” the 31 days of abstinence did so in truth.

The Dry January campaign also fosters the wrong attitude to alcohol. The all-or-nothing attitude to consumption leaves no room for those who are responsible drinkers and are able to enjoy alcohol whilst maintaining healthy lifestyles. This means that those who do indulge in a pint are already subjected to a preconceived bias that they are irresponsible and don’t understand the risks alcohol could pose. The attitude that the dreaded public house of temptation can only harbour irresponsible alcoholics does not foster a healthy and responsible relationship with alcohol.

Many pubs, especially those in less populated, rural areas already suffer from reduced trade during the winter months. Their budgets do not allow for 31 days of further reduced trading. They are already hindered due to the all too slowly decreasing excise and tax placed on alcohol by the government – about 50p of every pint (plus 20% VAT) goes straight to the Treasury. The government also has an apparent reluctance to clamp down on supermarket’s use of promotions to avoid paying as much as they should for it. We have a responsibility to support our local industries.

“Nottingham is extremely fortunate to be host to a thriving and growing independent brewing industry that we should all be making the most of”

The goal of the Tryanuary campaigns is not just to change the public opinion of alcohol as a whole, but also to make us realise the wealth of local, high-quality drinks available. Nottingham is extremely fortunate to be host to a thriving and growing independent brewing industry that we should all be making the most of. Local pubs such as the Ned Ludd, the Embankment and the Golden Fleece, have recently been taken over by independent local breweries, so there is now an even wider variety of havens for those who want to try the liquid delights this city has to offer. With the increase in craft brewing and the development of trendy beer-bars such as “Crafty Crow” and Brewdog’s Nottingham bar, gone are the days of beer being the boring drink that your grandparents used to nurse at the pub.

Today, you can go into Nottingham city centre and try fruit beers, with cherries or plums, beers with chocolate or ginger in them, or a beer/wine hybrid. There is a myriad of variations on the traditional styles that have secured Britain’s place as one of the best brewing nations on earth! So why shouldn’t we take a month to stop and appreciate the work and thought that goes into making drinks for us? Who knows, we might find something we enjoy.

Both the Dry January and Try January campaigns serve a very important role in that they prompt the public to discuss alcohol awareness and the alcohol related industries within the country. However, care must be taken to avoid nanny state pressures on those who are responsible and able to make healthy life choices. Can encouraging people to, responsibly, explore the pub, bar and brewing industry around them be a bad thing? It is an industry that has supported the British public for the past two millennia and it would be a shame to see if suffer, even if only for a month.

Nottingham’s Real Ale Society are working in collaboration with Mooch to organise this year’s Mooch Beer Festival on the 27th of January. Try January yourself.

Chris Cousins, President of Nottingham’s Real Ale Society 

Image: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

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