For many reasons, the way beer is sold these days is ridiculously unfair. The larger brewers have sold many (and in most cases, all) of their pubs to companies that are now just vessels for creating profit. This has led to some brewers of products like lager moving their brewing operations to Eastern European countries where it can be produced cheaper. These large conglomerates have no problems with producing as much as they like with cheap labour and are now looking at selling in bulk; as a result they sell their beers cheaply to supermarkets and their ilk to keep their breweries fully operational and their turnover high. As a result the chain shops and supermarket sell cans of lager and the like far too cheaply.

The real ale drinker feels the effect of this by higher prices at the pumps. It seems ridiculous that a product like Stella Artois for instance will sell in pubs for around £3.00 per pint yet you can go into a supermarket and buy a large can for well under £1.00. I am not against the home drinker, but our heritage is our on trade and as pubs fold week by week the government should be taking steps to redress the situation.

I feel the answer is to double the tax on beers sold by large off trade companies - and slash it to nothing for the on trade to make the batting wicket a lot fairer for all. Certainly this would benefit the micro brewery and pub alike. The trade has been hit hard from high rent, rates, the smoking ban and a general shift to home drinking and this is the minimum I would welcome. ,p> Finally to kick off the New Year, we come to the Brown Stuff awards for last year, highlighting the pubs on our patch that have excelled with their beer quality. I have selected six in no particular order for this much sought after commendation. The Blue Ball Inn in Grantchester, probably serving the finest Adnams in the area, having a wonderful set of customers and the brilliant stewardship of the licensees John and Karolin.

The Boot at Dullingham, a fine community pub serving the village superbly with a fabulous ever changing beer list and Kevin and Diane's generous charitable help for their community.

The Rupert Brooke Grantchester. Fine food, welcoming staff and three superbly kept beers having replaced G.K with Harveys of Lewes, Black Sheep best bitter and Adnams.

The Cambridge Blue, Gwydir Street Cambridge. Jethro and Terri had quite an act to follow since Chris and Debbie hung up their bar towels but have stamped their own spectacular style on the pub and on my last visit around 11 real ales, superbly kept, were on offer.

The Three Tuns at Great Abington, Chris and Karen run a superb village pub with great Thai food and fine constantly changing real ales.

The Red Lion at Histon. A superb pub constantly improving under the fine leadership of Mark Donachy. There are six well kept beers, a fine clean pub with magnificent memorabilia and great staff. There is brilliant food served at lunch time with gargantuan sized portions.

Well done to you all, and to many of the wealth of fine pubs in our area. We have a great heritage and we must protect it.

Jerry Brown