Don't shoot the messenger

by Julian Westaby.

If we told you about a Hampshire firm called J. Chandler & Co who have been all over the Scottish press this week, you’d probably ask us “who they?”.  However, if we mention the name of the drinks brand they distribute and market, you’d probably…(no, let’s make that definitely) have heard of their product. It’s a tonic wine called Buckfast.

Now, Buckfast’s not exactly the elixir of the Gods but it’s not alone in this situation. It’s not the only ‘cheap’ alcohol product aimed at what could be seen as the ‘underbelly’ of Scottish society. It retails at over 6 quid a bottle, so it can’t even have the label of ‘cheap’ booze levelled at it.

If you were a distributor or purveyor of ‘honest’ alcohol drinks, you could probably be seen to be incredibly  jealous of a product which seems to fly off the off-licence shelves in North Lanarkshire, usually with little or no promotions. No supermarket shoves, no frowned-on BOGOF deals and certainly no engaging, bus shelter campaigns. Which is a bit ironic, because bus shelters and Buckfast, ‘gang thegither’, as our National Bard probably would never have penned.

Yup, lots of drinks firms would probably love to be in this situation with one of their products. This is, if it wasn’t for the heinous, satanic reputation the popular claret nectar enjoys. It’s called for everything. A poison which is damaging our youth. It fuels violence and religious hatred…It’s blamed for every social malaise in Central Scotland, from Baillieston to Hermiston Gate and beyond. There’s even a recent statistic which fuelled this story, one which linked it directly into a number of assaults in Glasgowshire and The Lothians.

Really? Whilst we wouldn’t argue with the fact that alcohol and accident and emergency go hand-in-hand, (there are squillions of hard facts that point clearly this), we’re very wary of suggesting that blaming or banning a certain alcohol product is going to make a blind bit of difference. Prohibition demonstrated that banning alcohol simply drives consumption underground. Banning the use of ‘weed’ has not exactly helped it vanish off the surface of the Earth. We’re also very mindful that there are lots of Scandinavian statistics that point to less alcohol = less violence and again, we’d agree wholeheartedly with this.

It’s just that we think, in a Society like Scotland, it’s going to be REALLY difficult to change overall patterns of behaviour and banning some sickly tonic wine made by monks will be next to useless. In fact, it might be worse than that, it might just lead to lots of copycat brands or ‘worse’ products with clever marketing moving into the void left by ‘Buckie’.

There’s been broad talk of a minimum pricing policy which is going to be introduced and again it could be argued that a society where a ‘slab of ‘cooking’ lager can be bought for a little over a fiver, is asking for trouble. However, Buckfast’s not premium by any stretch but it’s not peanuts either, so would adding a quid or two to the price make any difference?

It’s also a bit of a myth that it’s only the tracksuit and skip-cap brigade who drink Devon’s finest Tonic wine. There’s a much broader cross-section of the population drink it. Most of them enjoy ‘getting blootered’ without a doubt but they don’t kill people, stab anyone or throw bottles at fire engines.

We’re not a paid advocate of ‘Buckie’ although several of our ‘crew’ have tasted it. It’s certainly got a unique taste and many would say, you can develop a taste for it and perish the thought, even get to quite like it. There’s a lot of snobbery comes into it. For example, many ‘gastronauts’  extoll the virtues of eating Oysters but not everyone has developed a taste for them. According to comedian Frank Skinner eating them is “Like licking spittle off a tortoise”. Just because you’re drinking Penfold’s Grange at £several score a bottle doesn’t mean you’ve not got a problem relating to alcohol.

So there we have it a eulogy in support of an Abbey in Devon, not something we thought we’d ever be doing! To finish, we’d simply  say, anti drinks lobbyists, don’t shoot the messenger, look beyond the product and give ‘the yoof’ a bit of a break. Their relation with alcohol is probably the fault of their parents who were led to believe it was the devil’s brew, rather than having a sensible view of it, like they do in most other places on planet earth.

Hopefully, this might be read and cause a bit of debate and we’d love to be told we’re talking through our ass. Until then, we’d say, ban Buckie at your peril, what will people turn to instead of it?

Buckfast, elixir of the Gods

Buckfast, Elixir of the Gods