Outside of the obvious emotional comedown that comes with realising you've reluctantly sat through yet another Hootenanny, the sheer mundanity of this back-to-work, back-to-routine, back-to-the-loft-with-the-tinsel period somehow prompts numerous organisations, pressure groups, special interests and other entities with nothing better to do to attempt desperately to split you from whatever copper coins you have left after Black Friday, Christmas and the Boxing Day DFS Sale (not to be confused with the other DFS Sales).
It used to be so simple. Just a few short years ago, January was all about getting fit and burning off the four tins of Quality Street that somehow attached themselves to your midriff. Lycra pants and yoga mats everywhere. January was also the time when holiday companies began bombarding you with pictures of white sand beaches and sun umbrellas in an attempt to make you book your package trip to some godforsaken resort for you to spend a fortnight with far too many red-faced people called Dave or Sharon.
But now, oh, the sheer plethora of options is more overwhelming in terms of choice than an IPA menu at a craft beer bar. Veganuary!! Tryanuary!! Dryanuary!! Whateverelseanuary!! Enoughalreadyanuary!! It's the Ryanuary Rumpus and the moment when you, as a beer drinker and free thinker, decide which letter you put in front of it - a T or a D.
Cards on the table - I have done both. January 2018 was a Dry one which coincided with the release onto the market of Budweiser Prohibition Brew. January 2019 was one in which I was obliged by my humongous collection of undrunk Xmas beers to make a sizeable dent.
I won't go into the perceived benefits that having a month off the beer can have for your body. Mostly because I don't have an agenda to push but also because I'm not a medical professional, nor do I own a white coat.
Anecdotally, for my own part, whenever I have a dry month (and I tend to have two a year), it's nice to just have a break from hangovers; a break from spending increasingly eye-watering amounts of money on increasingly eye-opening beers; and it (usually) indirectly serves as an aide to weight loss and general improvement in self.
These are three entirely unsurprising and frankly uninteresting benefits that are already well-known and well-appreciated by the public at large, whether regular drinkers or not. These are things that we, as informed and intelligent adults, do not need ramming down our throat by state-sponsored, state-endorsed organisations.
Yet it always surprises - and concerns - me that campaigns from so-called alcohol concern groups are reported to have, on the surface anyway, an effect on a discerning populace. According to a poll taken in December, this year's army of Dryathletes is set to number 5 Million! That's nearly 11% of 18-65 year olds! One in ten of the working population!
Which means 9 in 10 are still drinking.
And I find estimations of 5 million Dryathletes to be a little dubious frankly. That number is from a poll commissioned by an anti-alcohol organisation, conducted by YouGov and reported in the Daily Mail. You couldn't get a more trivial triumverate of truthbenders.
For starters, that is just the folk who said they "may attempt" to do Dryanuary. That is just the folk who set themselves this laudable goal back before Xmas. Anyone who's seen Yes Prime Minister will know how opinion polls can be rigged to coerce a desirable answer out of the respondent, and my cynical soul senses similar shenanigans here.
Perhaps we'll see another poll at the end of the month showing how many actually did it, or a release of how many folk signed up to the official Dryanuary campaign website, although I doubt it as the numbers could be less headline making.
Furthermore, I do wonder what proportion of people who do Dry January are regular pub goers? Is there any data that the campaign has a direct effect over and above the usual new year post-indulgence lull? What studies have taken place? I can't find anything hard and fast. I suspect that a huge proportion of regular pub goers will continue to go to the pub, a huge proportion of home drinkers will keep drinking their supermarket box sets, and the two groups of people being targeted by the two campaigns - occasional drinkers and problem drinkers - will see neither a benefit to their wellbeing nor any encouragement to change their behaviour.
Figures show January pub drink trade, as dismal as it is, only dropped by about 1% last year when compared to 2018. It would be unfair and disengenuous to attribute this entirely to Dry January campaigns, and there is an argument that pubs that serve food should be more concerned about vegan and diet based campaigns. Other external factors must come into play and indeed have been cited in the limited analysis that has been conducted in the past.
But pubs can't mitigate against Brexit uncertainty, squeezes on wages or anything else that folk may wish to blame. So what can they do?
Well, offer a greater selection of low and non-alcoholic beers for starters. A common theme of staying away from pubs during Dryanuary is the dearth of options for the non drinker. Lime and soda or soft drinks seem to be the go to. All very well in theory, but as someone who stayed dry for 5 months in 2016, the psychological aspect of drinking soft drinks in a pub, not to mention the gut rot from the sweeteners or the caffeine bang head, can be overwhelming enough to make you avoid socialising in pubs full stop.
Like it or not, a key demographic being targeted by both campaigns is the stereotypical white male with a fragile ego and concerns over image. The prospect of a ribbing off your mates - or worse off folk who are definitely not your mates - when ordering a glass of diet Coke at one's local, is powerfully dissuasive.
But the options are out there! Adnam's Ghost Ship, already a gamechanger in the industry, has become a Wetherspoons staple, as has the aforementioned Bud Prohibition Brew, Brewdog Nanny State and Heineken 0.0. All four are socially acceptable, taste half-decent and, at £1.99 a pop, well priced. Now other chains, pubcos and indies need to join the party. I do feel the industry has been caught a little on the hop by this, but producers of all sizes are now numerous and readily available, and, away from the indy brewers, big brands and macro are slapping their names on good quality product. The time is now. If not now, never.
If the effect of Dry January is so noticeable and detrimental, why oh why is the industry not moving more decisively towards embracing lo/no instead of certain representatives within it attacking folk making personal decisions for their health and also raising money for cancer charities?
I wouldn't for one moment decry desperate business owners for being miffed at a campaign that they perceive as seeking to undermine their footfall at a needy time of year. But I would like to know if it's been proven that that's where their ire should be directed. Blunt, hostile rejection of the "other" camp is completely illogical and does more harm than any abstinence campaign ever could. If a pub does put out a tweet saying "Forget (or stronger) Dryanuary" it makes it less likely that folks will come into their pub to partake of a soft drink or two, so they're basically shooting themselves in the foot.
2/2 ...If you want their custom in January, all you need to do is offer decent no-alcohol drinks. There's no excuse these days - the range is now truly excellent. Happily, more and more are pubs getting it. Those are the pubs I'll be drinking and spending my money in this month.— Pete Brown (@PeteBrownBeer) January 4, 2020
It must be said that any individuals or pubs using strong, dismissive, threatening or hostile language towards Dryanuaryists do not have the support of the official Tryanuary Campaign.
Actually, we're actively promoting that Dry January can coexist with #tryanuary. Support for the beer industry doesn't just mean drinking alcohol.— Mosaic Mike | Beer Evangelist (@mikestaproom) January 1, 2020
Alcohol free beers, soft drinks, meals in a pub etc.
No bashing from the @Tryanuary side at all 👍
January 4, 2020On the other hand headlines like this one (which was RTd and linked to on the official Tryanuary twitter feed) openly and nakedly stating that campaigns like Tryanuary want to "destroy" Dryanuary, don't help that message :
‘Dry January’ Is Destroying Bars. This U.K. Movement Wants to Stop It
Nor does it help that the website of Alcohol Concern, one of those advocating Dry January, buries its own non-alcoholic beer feature under a mountain of alarmist anti-booze posts
Top ten alcohol-free and low alcohol drinks for Dry January and beyond
The media at large don't help either. Certain sectors of the popular press attack DRYanuary as being emblematic of the so-called snowflake millennial generation. But their editors then won't countenance overtly endorsing any opposing campaign for fear of being seen to promote alcohol consumption.
Overall though, I do feel that both sides' claims and indignation are amplified somewhat by social media attention seekers and it's yet another front in the ongoing culture wars; meanwhile most of the population are just getting on with what they do anyway.
So what's the answer? Well, for starters, ignore social media noise and deal with hard facts and figures. By doing that, you come onto another pathway: there is a sector of the beer industry that has seen incredible growth this year: LO/NO! Perhaps there is an opportunity within Tryanuary for the beer industry to play the more vocal of the anti-alcohol brigade at their own game and undercut their abstinence message. After all, lo/no is not just for January either. There are signs of this already occurring:
Our low/zero alcohol range keeps on growing 🥤🍻🥤@cloudwatersoda @thornbridge @RidgesideBrewer @Ilkleybrewery @HawksheadBrewer #alcoholfree #lowalcohol #DryJanuary #dryanuary #tryanuary2020 #Tryanuary #headingley pic.twitter.com/lpN0fex4Y2— Arcadia Leeds 🍺 (@ArcadiaLeeds) January 3, 2020
We're embracing #Tryanuary AND #DryJanuary this month! Want to try something new? We've some fantastical #ales to sup. Working off the #Christmas excess? #Alcoholfree bevvies it is! @Tryanuary @dryjanuary #TheCrossKeys pic.twitter.com/ZAw35g1GeH— The Cross Keys Inn (@Crosskeys12) January 4, 2020
It is also true however that many pubs' lo/no offerings continue to be limited, craft lo/no availability is sporadic and location-dependent, and often the best or only place to pick up lo/no is macro brands at supermarkets.
The industry has lo/no producers of all sizes that should feel that this is the time of year they can come into their own. Availability, diversity and visibility of that sector can only increase from this point on.A veritable phalanx of alcohol-frees from my #York / #Leeds jaunt this weekend ... still hit and miss, these beers, but discovering new flavours without the interrupted sleep / headaches ... #beer #alcoholfree #DryJanuary2020 #DryJanuary pic.twitter.com/veb1Stjuju— Mike (@mjt209) January 4, 2020
For the time being, despite attempts by both campaigns, there is still all-too-ready evidence of a reluctance by the more vehement proponents of either side to even consider an inclusive approach. You're either with us or against us is still a theme running through the more passionate discussion of this topic.
As one very unscientific metric, I have had folk unfollow me on Twitter this week due to my daring to approach (and to be fair, wring to death) this topic in a nuanced way. But then I've experienced both sides of this coin - I love trying new beer and I appreciate the gaps I take between beers to recover. Perhaps as a consumer without a dependency on alcohol I have the freedom to pick and choose what I do, when I do it. Businesses can't do that, and neither can folks with addictions.
And therein lies the irony. For two campaigns aimed at helping beer sellers and alcoholics, it seems that neither of them actually have much effect. It can be argued that Tryanuary doesn't drive more folk to pubs in January than those who would go anyway, and Dryanuary is mostly partaken by folk who sensibly drink in moderation. Which means that, when you strip away the superficiality of likes, retweets, shares, headlines and humblebragging social media posts, the real world effect is negligible at best.
Which kinda sums up January to be honest. A pointless endeavour which no-one really cares about much and which just has to be endured until February comes along and rescues us.
Dry January is an initiative specifically created by the anti-drink lobby with the intention of undermining the drinks trade. While it may be prudent for pubs to keep their heads down, to embrace it is effectively to embrace that which wishes to destroy you.
As Churchill said, "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
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