Home > Beer > Black Ops: Is Snakebite Illegal?

Black Ops: Is Snakebite Illegal?

I was in a pub yesterday when one of us, who had been abstaining from alcohol for the duration of Lent, wanted to break her fast with a snakebite and black.

For the uninitiated, snakebite is a mixture of (usually) half and half cider and pilsner, often taken with a dash of blackcurrant cordial. It’s sweet and refreshing and is especially popular amongst students and younger drinkers. I sold thousands of them when I worked in bars in St Andrews, sometimes asked for as “diesel” or, ahem, “pinky pees”.

It was therefore slightly surprising when the barman informed us that he could not serve snakebite and black, as it was illegal. As a compromise, he sold us the component parts separately.

It is not illegal to serve snakebite, as far as I can determine. Weights and measures legislation in the UK requires that draught beer or cider can only be served in quantities of one third of a pint, two thirds of a pint, a half pint, or multiples of a half pint, “except when sold as a constituent of a mixture of two or more liquids”.* That doesn’t prohibit anyone from serving a pint of half & half snakebite. It also appears to me that a half-pint wouldn’t be a problem under the exception for mixed drinks, but I’m happy to be corrected in the comments.

It seems that a number of pubs, perhaps including Wetherspoons, refuse to serve snakebite on the grounds that it is drunk primarily by younger drinkers who tend to drink it too fast. This seems to be an odd distinction for places that have posters in the window advertising discounted jägerbombs. Nevertheless, the “illegal” excuse seems to be used by staff in these circumstances as one of those catch-all, blame-shifting excuses, like “health and safety” or “data protection”, when the law in question has nothing to do with it, which is then passed on to others as fact.

My favourite story about this is from the Harrogate Advertiser in June 2001. It’s not recorded whether this particular customer was thought to be a potential troublemaker or whether the member of staff just accepted the myth as fact:

At about 11.45am, seven serious looking security agents had banged on the door of the pub, flashed their warrant cards, and requested lunch for the former president of the USA. […]

“But we let them in and after they’d searched the building in walked Mr Clinton himself. He came to the bar and introduced himself, and then there was the dilemma of what to drink.

“So I gave him and his aide a taste of a couple of real ales we have here, but he decided on a diet Coke.

“He did ask for a snakebite after one of his security men did, but we kindly refused him. It’s illegal to serve it here in the UK you see.”

Welcome to Yorkshire, Mr President.

* See The Weights And Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) Order 1988 para 2(1) as amended by The Weights and Measures (Specified Quantities) (Unwrapped Bread and Intoxicating Liquor) Order 2011 para 2.

  1. Chris
    April 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    It’s basically just a primitive alcopop and pubs are quite happy to serve those, so I don’t get the problem. You do drink them fast though!

    • April 2, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      I notice that alcopops such as WKD and Smirnoff Ice all seem to have dropped in ABV over the last few years. Not sure if that’s due to tax or moderation. I haven’t seen the American high ABV, high caffiene party drinks like Four Loko and the like over here yet, but maybe I’m just drinking in the wrong (or right) places.

  2. April 1, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    (Perhaps) The worst looks I’ve ever received was many years back when I was on a train from Bath to Southampton and I mixed a can of Stella with a can of Strongbow – I believe my fellow passengers would’ve been more approving if I’d tortured a little kitten.

    If pubs don’t want to sell Snakebite they should simply be more honest about it and just say it’s something they don’t do – much like many pubs do with ‘cocktails’

    • April 2, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      I wouldn’t sneer at you Mark, unless you started pouring White Lightning into My Antonia.

  3. mikemassen
    April 1, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    As a lawyer I suppose I should have an opinion or knowledge on this but it’s bank hols so can’t be bothered so did next best thing and googled it – is this any use ? http://licensinglaws.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/the-21st-century-right-of-refusal/

    • April 2, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      Thanks. I think pubs are fine to exercise a right of refusal regarding serving snakebite because they don’t want to, for whatever reason, but I don’t like the false excuse of supposed illegality.

  4. pubcurmudgeon
    April 3, 2013 at 9:39 am

    When I was a lad snakebite was always a mix of bitter and cider. One reason pubs gave for not serving it was that they didn’t want to give the impression of serving cloudy beer (although would a mix of bitter and Strongbow actually be cloudy?)

    • April 3, 2013 at 9:45 am

      I’ve never seen a bitter/cider snakebite, although now I’m curious.

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