That will be the booze talking

There's no longer any need to wait until the pub closes to start the revolution with a guide to ethical drinking

May 1, 2006
6 min read

Support independent breweries

The Society of Independent Brewers reckons that some 85 per cent of beer in the UK comes from just four companies – Scottish and Newcastle, Interbrew, Carlsberg Tetley and Guinness. Before the first world war, some 6,000 pubs brewed their own beer but material shortages ended this and the practice has never recovered.

A few ‘brewpubs’ exist, such as the Porterhouse in London’s Covent Garden or the Marble Arch in Manchester, home of Marbles Beer – a vegan, organic microbrewery (www.marblebeers.co.uk). The independent brewers, St Peter’s Brewery, have their own pub, the historic Jerusalem Tavern, in Clerkenwell, London, where customers can drink in the ghostly company of various former bar proppers such as Handel, Samuel Johnson and William Hogarth (www.stpetersbrewery.co.uk).

Some microbreweries prefer the trendier term ‘craft’ brewery but the principles are the same – non-chain, independent, innovative, traditional, cask-conditioned real ales. For a list of microbreweries, visit www.quaffale.org.uk.

Vegetarian and vegan

Beer and wine are ‘fined’ (clarified) with isinglass (fish bladders) or even blood and gelatine. Many wine producers now label their wines as vegan or vegetarian and supermarkets such as the Co-op and Waitrose stock a reasonable range, but for more variety check out www.purewine.co.uk. Samuel Smith breweries produced only vegan beers and are registered with the Vegan society (www.merchantduvin. com/pages /5_breweries/samsmith.html).

Champagne Gordon

Gordon Brown has the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) hopping mad over his 2006 budget, freezing duty on champagne while increasing it on beer. Join Camra’s campaign (www.camra.org.uk).

Health benefits of booze

We all know about the ‘French paradox’ and the benefits of moderate red wine drinking; now it seems beer may have the same rejuvenating qualities. Beer contains anti-inflammatory components and other antioxidants such as polyphenols, B vitamins and minerals. Well, how else do you explain students surviving on ‘the beer diet’?

Stick a cork in it

Plastic stoppers and aluminium screw tops may be great for the weak-wristed, but they are not doing much for the environment. Natural wine corks come from the bark of the cork oak, Quercus suber, grown in Portugal, Spain and parts of north Africa. Cork oak forests are rich in wildlife, including endangered animals like the Barbary deer, Spanish Iberian lynx and imperial eagle. Cork farmers sustain the woods but if the trade becomes uneconomic it spells disaster for these woods. Chelsea manager JosÈ Mourinho is fronting the Portuguese Cork Association campaign, having been chosen for his, er ‘sophistication and appeal’.

Boycott wine (again?)

This is what the United Farm Workers Union (UFWU) did last year with Gallo wines, the world’s second biggest wine maker – and it worked. It is not just Gallo who exploit workers rights, however. Vineyard pruners all over the world are paid piece-rates and encouraged to work without concern for their health and welfare. Vines are sprayed with hazardous chemicals and there is little job security. Buy Fairtrade wine from a number of suppliers, including Traidcraft and the wonderful Vintage Roots (www.vintageroots.co.uk), who do a great line in vegan, vegetarian and biodynamic wines at reasonable prices.

Support the cheese eating surrender monkeys

The US boycott of French wine over the Iraq war has cost the country an estimated £64 million in wine revenue, with a 26 per cent slump in weekly sales. Go to www.vinceremos.co.uk for some great organic French wines.

Bruiser not Breezer

One of the biggest political booze battles of all time must be Barcardi v Havana Club (note that Red Pepper is open to donations of Havana Club at any time). Bacardi, in connivance with the US government, have worked some dark arts over the years against Cuba and by extension Havana Club (www.havana-club.com). This has included alleged involvement with paramilitary groups and terrorist attacks, as well as links with the CIA and the Bush administration. For more information check out Bacardi: The Hidden War by Hernando Calvo Ospina (Pluto Press).

Smells like teen spirit

‘There cannot be too much vodka, there can only be not enough vodka.’ So says an old Russian saying from long before vodka became the favourite tipple of teenagers in the west.

Vodka packs a real political punch; the entire history of communism is wrapped up in it. Lenin believed vodka to be a major obstacle for communism. So he banned it. Stalin, on the other hand, was a big advocate encouraging the Russian state vodka industry. Interestingly, his predecessor in terror, Ivan the Terrible, established the first state-run vodka industry in the 16th century. It flourished until Gorbachev, a near teetotaller, tried to ban it to combat alarming rates of alcoholism.

Vladimir Putin brought vodka back under state control, but not before the mafia got a serious grip on distribution. If you’d rather not contribute to Russian Mafia profits try UK5 organic vodka (www.uk5.org).

Political booze

Moreno Wines (11 Marylands Road, London , W9 2DU, Tel 020 7286 0678) help fight the good fight by donating wine for various Red Pepper events and fundraising activities. Thanks Manuel!

The Workers Beer Company has helped thousands of non-profit groups, NGOs, trade unions (and Red Pepper) through its beer tent scheme at festivals and other events. WBC also runs the Bread and Roses free house in London (www.breadandrosespub.com).


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