Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Raising an ironic glass to Maggie

Big demand for tickets
for Eurostar farewell

When it was announced that the government (a "Labour" government) was considering staging a state funeral for former prime minister Margaret Thatcher when she dies, the Guardian newspaper was inundated with letters of protest. A Guardian poll showed that 87% of its readers were opposed to the idea. (Probably a similar poll in the Daily Mail would show 87% of its readers in favour.)
The Guardian published a letter from me in which I offered to book a Eurostar train to Brussels in order that readers could toast the passing of Mrs Thatcher in good Belgian beer. I suggested the famous Brussels bar Morte Subite (Sudden Death) would be a good starting point for a crawl.
I was stunned by the reaction. I received a flood of emails in support of the idea. One reader wanted to send me money now in order to book two seats. I said we should wait until Mrs T passes away.
One writer to the paper said it would be better to stay in Britain and say our farewells to the former PM with good local ale. Another criticised me for being sour as well as bitter -- a feeling shared, no doubt, by the thousands of miners and steelworkers who lost their jobs in the 1980s.
Beer writer Alastair Gilmour wrote to the Guardian to point out that Jarrow Brewery in North-east England had already produced a special commemorative brew to celebrate a 2007 play called Maggie's End, " a dark comedy which opens with the death of Margaret Thatcher...the 5% beer is a pale golden wheat beer with a citrus and spice flavour and a complex grass-fresh hop aroma".
I suspect Mrs T will be quite unmoved by the passion the idea of a state fuenral has aroused and will pour herself another large whisky.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

After the InBev takeover

Does the shuffle at the top aid
the embattled Czech Budvar?

The only positive outcome of the InBev takeover of Anheuser-Busch is that it gives much-needed breathing space to Budweiser Budvar, the state-owned brewery in the Czech Republic. For more than a century, Budvar and Anheuser-Busch have been locked in court battles over which company has the rights to the Budweiser trade mark. In most countries, whichever company registers the Budweiser title first has exclusive use of the trade mark. For example, Budvar uses the Budweiser brand name in Spain, while A-B's beer can be sold only as "Bud". In Italy, on the other hand, A-B has won the right to use the Budweiser trade mark and Budvar is reduced to selling its beer as "Czechvar", the brand name it also used in the United States.
It seems unlikely that InBev will wish to spend millions of dollars and euros pursuing Budvar through the world's courts to defend the Budweiser trade mark. It's more likely it will seek some rapprochement with the Czech government to stop the ruinous waste of money over the dispute. The emergence of A-B InBev also means it's unlikely that the group will wish to buy Budvar when it is eventually privatised. As InBev already owns the the massive Staropramen group in Prague, the Czech government would probably block any moves for InBev to add Budvar to its portfolio.
The only downside for Budvar is that InBev may be reluctant to sell Budvar in the U.S. The brewing world was stunned when A-B reached agreement with Budvar -- its age-old enemy -- to market the Czech beer in the U.S. using the Czechvar brand name. But InBev will be eager to promote such brands as Stella Artois and Beck's as well as Staropramen in the vast American beer market and may consider "Czechvar" surplus to requirements.
Budvar will be able to absorb such a potential loss with the news that its domestic sales rose 4.7% last year, with annual production running at 639,190 hectolitres.
Meanwhile, the A-B InBev merger neatly boosts the group to Number One in the fast-growing China beer market. It's the markets in Asia, Russis and the Baltic States that is forcing the global brewers to reposition themselves to take maximum advantage of these markets.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

The Battle for Bud

Is it End Game for Budweiser
as InBev up its shares offer?

It seems the battle for control of giant American brewer Anheuser-Busch could be over as InBev, the Belgian-Brazilian giant, has increased its bid for the Budweiser brewer to $50 billion. After weeks of acrimony and bad-tempered exchanges, both sides have now agreed to hold friendly talks as InBev raised its bid by $5 a share to $70.
Before the increased offer was made, relations between them had reached boiling point. InBev said it would remove the entire A-B board and replace it with an independent board. A-B countered by claiming that as InBev trades with Cuba, where it not only sells beer but runs the Coca-Cola franchise, it was not fit to take over an "all-American" company that maintains the Cuba blockade.
The sheer size of A-B's operations -- it is market leader in the U.S., where Budweiser alone accounts for 50% of beer sales, and is the world's biggest beer brand -- has brought out the heavy guns of the banking world. InBev, best known as owner of Stella Artois, is backed by Deutsche Bank, BNP Parisbas, Lazard and JP Morgan, while Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup have stepped up to the plate for A-B. If InBev is successful in its bid for A-B it will take on astonishing amounts of debt but will hope to pay it off as a result of increased beer sales. InBev also has a tough reputation for closing breweries and centralising production.
Anheuser-Busch has put up a vigorous fight for survival, led by chief executive August Busch. But the Busch family controls only a small minority of shares and independent shareholders have been tempted by InBev's latest offer. But the fight may go on: citizens of St Louis, Missouri, where two German immigrants called Anheuser and Busch opened their first brewery in the mid-19th century, have reacted angrily to the possible sale of the company and have staged protests and internet petitions.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Do you want to be a judge at the GBBF?

The Campaign for Real Ale is calling for beer lovers to judge in the bottle-conditioned class of the Champion Beer of Britain competition. Judging will take place at 12 noon on Monday, 4 August, at Earl's Court in London. Please contact me without delay at roger @ beer-pages.com.

CAMRA will also appeal for judges on its own website and a short list will be drawn up.