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Where does this phrase come from? 

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I've always assumed it comes from similar to 'Off License' (i.e. the premises is licensed to sell alcohol to take away and be consumed off the premises)? Not sure if that is the case, but makes sense in my head.

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Beer off -  missing out the license bit after it. We also used that phrase for any any shops that just sold alchohol as well as the out sales at various local pubs.. 

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Pubs used to have a beer off that if you were old enough you could get beer & fags without going into the public bar

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Licensed premises used to have either an "on license" or an "off license" (or a combination of the two i.e. "on" and off"). So pubs would have an "on license" allowing them to sell alcohol for consumption "on" the premises. Shops would have an 'off' license implying that the product had to be taken away and consumed 'off' the premises. Some pubs were only licensed to sell beer, so you wouldn't be able to buy spirits in that kind of pub. So, likewise, a beer-off might only be licensed to sell beer for consumption off the premises and not spirits. There were also categories for ale, porter etc.  etc .

A typical license (which had to be displayed over the door) might read somethhing like "Jim Smith is licensed to sell ale, beer, porter, wine and spirits for consumption on or off the premises".

Ayfer.

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