Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Coming to Breweries' Websites Now: the Nanny State

Would the outlet at the Banks’ Brewery be open, I wondered, on Saturday mornings in the winter? The need to head in that direction for a small errand had made me think it would be worth finding out. And their website seemed the obvious place to start.

I found myself looking at an Enter Here page. It was illustrated by a promising slogan, “Fresh From the Country – the Black Country”, and a picture of a handpump with a rotating display of their flagship bitter and mild. But that was not all. There was a dropdown menu. And a question: “Are you of legal drinking age for the UK? Please tell us what year you were born in.” The menu asked visitors to select a year, making it implicitly clear that failure to tick one of the choices would preclude entry to the site.

Intrigued, I scrolled down to the bottom of the page, finding some consistent small print. “You must be of legal drinking age to enter and use this site.” Really? “To find out more about responsible consumption, visit Marstons PLC.” Beneath the small print was a link to the website for the charity drinkaware.co.uk.

What sinister invitations could be lurking the other side of the barrier, I wondered, deciding to click on my year of birth and take the plunge? Well, the outlet’s opening hours were there as I had hoped, thankfully including Saturday mornings. A description of each of their beers too. A walk through the process of brewing. The history of the brewery. And an explanation of their brewery tours with the catchline “enjoy 3 half pints on us”, although the tours were seasonal. But nothing more sinister than that. Not even the chance to order a supply of beer online, let alone an invitation to the next secret lock-in at one of their tied houses (joke).

So what’s with the demand for age confirmation? Such a pointless gesture anyway. An underage schoolboy interested in researching local industrial history, or how water, barley, hops, and yeast can be transformed into beer, is hardly going to think twice before clicking on an inaccurate age option. And that’s the kind of prohibited person who might be looking at the site, not someone in search of illicit online refreshment when it’s quicker and easier to go straight to the off licence or supermarket.

Not knowing if some draconian EU based legislation might have been sneaked through on the quiet, I thought of four other favourite ales and checked out their breweries’ sites. Neither Timothy Taylor, nor Theakstons, nor Hook Norton nor Purple Moose asked their website visitors to confirm their age. The latter two were heinously (!) offering beer for sale via online shops. Both Theakstons and Purple Moose had the drinkaware website link. A brief look at the JD Wetherspoon site also sailed through without an age confirmation enquiry.

One impression stood out. Whoever decided to make visitors to the Banks’ website go through that irritating final step could only have been following that equally irritating policy doctrine, namely the need to be seen to be doing something, empty and futile gesture as it was. Will it result in one single drop of beer not finding its way down an underage drinker’s throat? Hardly. Would they have put it up because of a legal threat? Equally hardly (but watch out for the nanny state’s mission creep, now that they have seen off tobacco displays). Might they have been responding to some busybody’s nagging? Maybe, even if common sense would have dictated a reply involving long walks and short planks.

At least the visit to the outlet was worthwhile. Eight top range bottled pints for £10, from a wide variety including the Wychwood and Ringwood ranges alongside Banks, Marstons and Jennings, was an offer that beat the supermarkets hands down. Well done, Banks’ Brewery. But please, take that silly age confirmation requirement off your website.

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