The background

The U.K. has a serious binge-drinking problem. Alcohol is a dangerous drug but also one of the oldest most pervasive so there's little chance of it being outlawed. Almost every adult has consumed alcohol, as well as many children, but a growing number are consuming it to dangerous excess. The UK has recently introduced 24 hour drinking as a way of trying to combat this problem. Seriously. The idea is if we can drink at any time we won't be in such a rush to get drunk. Of course the fact that you can now go to a bar after the clubs close won't encourage drinking to excess. No sir!

The way the law is heading is aimed at stopping children being exposed to alcohol and letting adults have the choice of more relaxed atmospheres, preferably with food available. The problem here is that people are still used to their old drinking habits. Who wants to go to a continental style cafe at 3am and drink over a philosophical chat when they can go to the Lizard Lounge, get wasted and wake up next to a hippo?

The idea

The thing people don't realise is we already have a system in place that could be readily adapted to alcohol. The driving licence. The only reason we keep kids away from alcohol is to safeguard them. They're allowed to be given alcohol and drink it with a meal, but in practise this only happens in relation to getting pissed on cider at 14.

Alcohol vendors already separate themselves out to a particular clientèle, there are trendy wine bars, student pubs, old man pubs, gay bars, anything you can think of. If you act in one as you would in another you're likely to be thrown out, so why not make different rules for different places?

Here's where the licence comes in. Pubs are still regulated the same way, but they can choose categories for themselves based on how they want people to behave. For example the Highbury Vaults in Bristol is a lovely ale pub, so would use "Real ale", "Student" and "Old man". To come in you need to have one of the appropriate drinking licences. This doesn't mean you have to be a student or an old man, but instead that you can drink appropriately with them.

Licence types

This is the type of drinking that is commonly known as binge-drinking, as typified by the student lifestyle. Drinking games are OK, highly alcoholic cocktails, cheap beers and spirits are appropriate. Vomiting may be acceptable.
Old man
A dark, smoke-filled atmosphere that serves mostly ale. Getting too drunk is frowned upon, but going slightly over your own limits is usually ok. Bar snacks are usually simple but always available. Scampi fries and various cobs are commonplace.
Real Ale
Very similar to the old-man pub, but serves almost exclusively real ale. Asking for a pint of carling would be a serious faux pas. Drinking to excess is likely to get you thrown out.
Family pub
Expect children. Having more than a couple of pints will not go down well as children should not be exposed to your letchings over the women there. These pubs are usually used for a family meal, or for quick half-pint.
Young professional
Serves a wide range of drinks, often including a range of continental lagers and a variety of spirits. Like the real ale pub, this isn't a place to get drunk but where you go to enjoy a well-made drink after work.
Trendy wine bar
A good place to go before going out to a club. Don't stay here once the effects of alcohol have started, drinking games are not allowed.
Rock pub
Simple range of drinks, usually with an emphasis on ale. Loud rock music, pool and live music are to be expected. Drinking to excess is usually ok as long as you don't cause irritation to the staff or other patrons.
Night club
Drinking to excess is almost mandatory. It's difficult to get non-alcoholic drinks. Glasses should not be taken onto dance floors as they break easily.

Getting a licence

Obviously the above definitions are not air-tight, the way you would be examined is similar to the driving licence. You do a theory test for basic drinking which will allow you to visit off-licences. This will include the physiological effects of alcohol, knowledge of one's own limits and information on the secondary dangers of alcohol (daterape, mugging, etc).

Once you've passed the theory test, you're ok to start visiting pubs, under supervision. The person you go with needs to have passed at least one of the tests for the pub you're visiting. If you misbehave he will get the points on his licence. Oh yes, you heard correctly, points on the licence.


You walk into a pub that you have a licence for. If you look a little out of place, you are asked to show your licence (you have to if you're escorting somebody without a licence). You have a few too many, and the manager comes over. He asks for your licence and runs it through a machine behind the bar. This records that you've misbehaved. Too much of this an your licence is revoked for that pub. Obviously you don't know what you're doing.

Serious offences, like drink driving would mean you not only lose your driving licence but your alcohol licence. If you're found drinking without an alcohol licence you're screwed matey.

The test

When you want to prove you can drive, you do a driving test. The same with alcohol, you go out to a pub at a specified time and an examiner will be there. If you make a mistake it will count against you, but if you do well you will be issued your brand new licence.

The benefits

  • You will never be in a pub with some little shits misbehaving themselves without getting their come-uppance.
  • The minimum drinking age won't exist anymore, children will be actively taught how to drink appropriately.
  • Pubs will have control over exactly who they want to come in. Not by barring people, but by ensuring everyone knows how to create a pleasant atmosphere and they're all there for the same reason.
  • The right to drink can be withdrawn as a punishment

The problems

  • It will be very expensive to introduce
  • Children will learn drinking can be something to enjoy sparingly, rather than it being just a drug to abuse.
  • Allowing people of any age to drink will not be popular.

My special thanks to Andy Waitt who helped me come up with this idea, and the University of Bristol Mixed Lacrosse Team whose infuriating behaviour was the catalyst.