In a roundabout way the book I'm currently reading on Belgian beer reminded me of a conversation I had at the Great British Beer Festival.
Belgian beers are (or were, the book looks a bit old) legally divided into four categories of strength: up to 4° Plato , 4-9.5° , 11-13.5° and 15.5° +. As there are gaps between some of the categories Belgian brewers aren't allowed to make beers of certain strengths. To illustrate the horror of this I'll translate some of it into the more sensible British system of original gravity: one of the gaps is the highly important 1.038 to 1.044 range.
I've a feeling I've read about similar daft systems, also with gaps, in other countries (maybe Germany?).
I'm not aware of Britain ever having restrictions like that, but when I started drinking taxation laws meant no brewer would make anything under 1.030, as that was the lowest level tax would be charged at. You could if you wanted to make something weaker, but I don't think anyone did as you'd be charged tax as if it was 1.030.
Though we still don't have any restrictions on the strengths of beer we can make there is, once again, a de facto restriction due to tax laws. Which gets me back to my drunken conversation in the Summer.
Merrily wending my way through the crowd I bumped into someone I know from Fullers, and the chat soon turned to what was coming next in the Past Masters series. The bloke said it was a Burton Ale and he thought it was 7.6% ABV. "Oh no it isn't" I said, "no one makes beer at 7.6% anymore". And do you know what? I was right, it turned out to be 7.3.
With High Strength Beer Duty meaning beers over 7.5% ABV pay an extra tax there now seems to be a gap between 7.5 and 8.5 where there aren't any beers. The heavy hand of the state is denying us the full range of drinking pleasures.