Brewers to water down their pints

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The Independent Online
A SEEMINGLY dry technical dispute between the big brewers and Customs and Excise could have beer and lager drinkers foaming at the mouth: the alcoholic strengths of many brands are to be cut while the prices - already too high for many - remain the same.

Bass, Courage and Carlsberg- Tetley have told pubs that the alcoholic strength of dozens of leading brands is being cut because of a change in excise duty.

Courage has decided to water down Hofmeister from 3.5 per cent to 3.4. Holsten Pils is going down from 6 to 5.5 per cent and Webster's Yorkshire Bitter from 3.8 to 3.5 per cent. Bass is slashing Worthington Best Bitter from 3.8 to 3.6 per cent and Tennents Pilsner slips from 3.5 to 3.4 per cent - but Carling Black Label will stay the same.

Carlsberg-Tetley will not tinker with Carlsberg lager but, to the probable disquiet of Tetley bittermen, will adjust downwards some other beer brands.

From 1 June duty, previously charged on the degrees of original gravity before fermentation, have been imposed at the brewery gates. Brewers were permitted a wastage allowance of 6 per cent to cover any loss between fermentation and delivery. Efficient ones saved tax by keeping wastage low.

Having asked HM Customs & Excise to change the rules some of the biggest brewers have been left reeling.

The Brewers' Society, under the impression that it would have no impact, now claims the move will cost pounds 64m a year. Customs & Excise stoutly insists the claims are unsubstantiated.

Industry set for clash, page 24