Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Battle of the Buds

American giant loses European
court battle with its Czech rival

Anheuser-Busch, now part of A-B InBev, has lost its EU-wide hold on the "Budweiser" brand name following a ruling by the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg, which found in favour of A-B's Czech rival, Budweiser Budvar. The ECFI said the EU's trademark registry, the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market, erred when it rejected Budvar's complaint against A-B's listing. The two breweries have been locked in a bitter trademark dispute for more than 100 years.
Budvar claimed it registered the trademark Budweiser under a 1958 agreement that protected the brand in France, Austria and the then Czechoslovakia. With the ruling, A-B could only use the Budweiser trademark in European countries where it has made separate brand registrations ahead of its Czech rival.
A spokesman for A-B InBev said the company may appeal against the Luxembourg court decision.


New hope for Burton museum

The Member of Parliament for Burton-on-Trent, Janet Dean, has called a meeting in her constituency for 12 January with a view to continuing the campaign to save the Coors Visitor Centre, formerly the Bass Museum of Brewing. The centre closed in the summer when Coors, the American brewing group that now owns the former Bass breweries in Burton, withdrew funding for the visitor centre.
Mrs Dean hopes to create the Burton Brewing Heritage Group, made up of influential people in the industry, to see if the visitor centre can be revived. One plan is to create a Trust that could run a re-opened museum on the site. Coors has agreed to charge only a peppercorn annual rent if another body could takeover the centre.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Major London plant could face closure

New beer giant could axe
historic Mortlake brewery

A-B InBev, the clumsy name of the recently merged Anheuser-Busch and InBev, could close its Stag Brewery in London as part of a restructuring programme. The brewery is based in Mortlake and was once the infamous head production unit of national brewing giant Watneys, best known for its Red Barrel keg beer.
The threat to the Mortlake site is the result of A-B InBev's confirmation that it is reviewing its British operations. One industry analyst says that InBev's $52 billion buyout of A-B has left the Belgian-Brazilian giant with significant over-capacity in Britain. The sale of the Mortlake plant could raise a substantial sum but its current value is hard to assess as a result of the property slump.
A-B InBev refused to be drawn on the future of the Stag Brewery but admitted it was in talks with a number of its employees. It's thought that the A-B sales and marketing teams are most at risk.
In the United States, the merged brewing group said it will cut 1,400 jobs -- 6% of its workforce -- to save $1.5 billion (£1 bn) a year. Threequarters of the cuts will be made at the A-B head office in St Louis, Missouri. But A-B Inbev pledged not to close any of the Anheuser-Busch plants in the U.S.

Friday, 5 December 2008

New blow for beer and pubs

Darling adds to misery for brewers and publicans
with yet another increase in the duty on beer

That familiar cry from the football terraces aimed at beleaguered managers -- “You don't know what you're doing” -- should also be roared at Chancellor Alistair Darling.
He seems hell-bent on destroying pub and breweries. Along with Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson, Darling repeatedly proclaims his support for small businesses. But where pubs are concerned, he seem determined to ruin even more of them. You don't recognise pubs as small businesses, Chancellor? I have news for you: they are the elephant in the room.
Brewing and pub retailing employ close to one million people. They are one of our last major industries and retailers. Why do you want to drive them into oblivion, forcing large numbers on to the dole queue, Chancellor?
On the morning of the Pre-Budget Report, I spoke to a City expert, a man who knows everything worth knowing about government fiscal policy. “Do tell me,” I pleaded, “he's not going to increase duty on beer again?” “Of course not,” the sage replied, “the decrease in VAT will support pubs.”
It's the kind of support the rope gives the hanging man. Out from left field, as the Americans say, came another unheralded, 8% rise in excise duty. The VAT increase is a short-term measure. It will go up again. Excise duty is locked into an escalator that will see a further increase every year. Every which-way, pubs are kicked in the groan and, while they're writhing on the ground, kicked again for good measure. Five pubs are closing every day, Chancellor: how many more do you want to see go under?
But then it got worse. It so happens that Brown and Darling are Scots and, surprise, surprise, the Scotch whisky industry got on the blower, threatened to burn its collective kilt and demanded a rethink on the duty levied on the juice of the barley.
And, lo and behold, Darling turned turtle and halved the increase on duty on whisky to 4 per cent.
While I'm in Scottish mode, I recall the witches in Macbeth: “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” For wicked, read alcopops. By reducing the duty of whisky, Darling had also to cut it by the same amount for all spirits. And spirits include alcopops. Perhaps I've missed something along the way, but isn't the government worried about binge drinking and, in particular, young people drinking themselves into early graves by consuming these vile, sweet, noxious liquids known as alcopops?
Research shows that young women who over-indulge in alcopops run the risk of stacking up serious health problems. The dangers include giving birth to deformed babies. No matter: it's vital to keep the Shock Jocks happy. So cut the duty on whisky and, way-hey, watch the sales of alcopops rocket. Surprisingly, I haven't heard a squeak of protest from Alcohol Concern.
Government attitudes to beer, brewing and pubs in 2008 almost defy belief. Never has an industry been so attacked, battered and holed below the water line. Pubs give pleasure to millions on a daily basis. They attract visitors and tourists. They provide employment for many thousands. So what do the wiseacres in Westminster do? Introduce so many barriers to trade that running a pub in England is about as much fun as watching England play rugby.
It would be a mistake to think the Conservatives offer anything better. They are scarcely good friends of brewing and pubs. Remember the Monopolies Commission report of 1989 and the Beer Orders that flowed from it?
Remember the “pubs for breweries” swaps nodded through by such geniuses as Michael Heseltine and Peter Lilley? The result today are the giant pub companies that treat pubs like supermarkets or petrol stations. They call customers “traffic”, want to shovel them in and out of pubs as fast as possible, and offer them a simple choice of over-priced beers sourced from global brewers who sell their products at less than the cost of production.
Both the major political parties treat brewers as convenient milch cows. Hammer them, suck them dry, place every possible tax barrier in the way of them earning a decent living and, along the way, levy such crippling rates of duty on beer that even the most dedicated pub lover is forced into the unloving arms of the pile 'em high supermarkets.
But at the moment we are saddled with Brown and his scurvy crew. As a result of upbringing, inclination and social class, I voted Labour all my life, but never again.
I apologise for dragging politics into the pages of the Morning Advertiser but these are exceptional times. This is being written shortly after armed police, members of the counter-terrorism squad, arrested an Opposition MP, invaded parliament and took way his documents and computers.
Please don't tell us, Ms Smith and Mr Straw, that you knew nothing about this. You have lied to us before and you will lie to us again.
The last time I can recall armed men invading parliament was when Oliver Cromwell dispersed the Rump Parliament in 1653. His words of anger and derision aimed at the assembled politicians echo down the years and today more than adequately serve notice on the present government:
“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
*This article first appeared in the Morning Advertiser 4 December 2008.

Heineken to axe Irish brewery

Beamish & Crawford to close as
Dutch giant consolidates in Cork

When the Irish government made the ludicrous decision to permit Heineken to own both Beamish & Crawford and Murphy's breweries in Cork, it signed the death warrant of Beamish. Heinken has owned Murphy's for many years, brews lager as well as stout, and clearly prefers to concentrate production there rather than a Beamish, which fell into the hands of the Dutch giant as a result of its takeover of Scottish & Newcastle.
The closure of Beamish in March 2009 will mark the end of a historic period in Irish brewing. Beamish & Crawford is the oldest brewer of porter and stout in the republic. Beamish and Crawford were farmers from the north of Ireland who went to Cork to sell beef and butter and saw that large amounts of porter and stout were being exported to Ireland through Cork from London and Bristol. They decided to stay in Cork and build a brewery. They were brewing porter and stout by 1792, several years before Arthur Guinness in Dublin abandoned ale and switched to stout production.
At one stage, Beamish was the biggest brewer in the United Kingdom, which then included the whole of Ireland. Beamish produced 100,000 barrels of porter and stout a year, compared to 60,000 barrels at Guinness. Both companies were badly hit by the potato famine, which saw not only starvation among the people but a mass exodus to the United States. Beamish never recovered its dominant position while Guinness was able re-build sales by using the canal network that radiated out from Dublin. Guiness also became a major exporter with Foreign Export Stout.
Beamish also faced competition in Cork from 1856 from a new brewery founded by members of the powerful whiskey distilling family of Murphy. Their brewery was built on the site of the Lady's Well, a religious shrine, and was known for years as the Catholic brewery, while Beamish was called the Protestant brewery. Employees of the two breweries were not encouraged to socialise.
While Murphy's fell into the hands of Heineken, Beamish also had a turbulent life in the 20th century. In 1962 it was bought by the Canadian group Carling O'Keefe, which in turn was bought by the Foster's lager group of Australia. This allowed Beamish Stout to be sold through Courage pubs in Britain as Courage was owned by Foster's. Eventually Courage was taken over by S&N, which gave the brand little promotion in Britain but, incongruously, marketed it in France alongside its French subsidiary Kronenbourg.
Beamish is based in a fine black-and-white Tudor building, the Counting House, in Cork where the floor of the entrance is built out of plates from an old mash tun. Now all this rich brewing history is to be axed by its new and ruthless Dutch owners. It has not been announced whether or not the Beamish brands will continue to be brewed.
Meanwhile Guinness, which will scale down operations at St James's Gate in Dublin when it moves to a new greenfield site, has announced that it will close the Smithwick brewery in Kilkenny, where another historic Irish style -- red ale -- is brewed. Traditional brewing in Ireland is under sustained attack.