Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Another nail in the pub's coffin

Darling ignores the pub trade
and hikes up beer duty again

Chancellor Alistair Darling has hammered another large nail in the coffin of the pub trade with a 2% increase in beer duty in today's (22 April) budget. In effect it means around 10 pence on the price of a pint and in some parts of the country beer will now cost as much as £3.50 for a pint.
You can hear the stampede as drinkers run screaming to their nearest supermarkets to load up with cheap, heavily discounted beer.
Today's increase follows two last year that added 18% in duty on beer. Is it any wonder that 40 pubs a week are closing, unable to compete with the giveaway booze offered by the major supermarkets.
Darling and his chum Brown are ever anxious to bale out big business in the shape of banks and the car industry. But if it's the likes of Woolworths or the Dog & Duck, used by millions of people, many on low incomes, then no help is forthcoming.
Intense lobbying by the brewing industry and the pub trade have made it clear to Darling that any further increase in beer duty can only result in more pubs closing. He is impervious to the arguments. 45,000 jobs have been lost in brewing and retailing in the past five years and the same number is expected to go over the next five years.
And any notion that increasing the duty on alcohol will prohibit the activities of the small minority who indulge in binge drinking is nonsense. On the contrary, the increase will encourage supermarket sales and the flow of cheap alcohol to those who abuse it.
Rush to your nearest pub -- while it's still there.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Courage ad 'too strong'

Now the thought police
crack down on humour

You can't take Courage -- that's the warning from the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA has banned an advertisement for Courage Best Bitter that shows a man, a glass of beer and a woman in a figure-hugging dress. The slogan with the ad says "Take Courage my friend" and the implication is clear: the woman is asking the age-old question "does my bum look big in this?" and the man needs a drink to pluck up Courage to tell her the obvious.
Brewer Wells & Young's of Bedford, which bought Courage Best along with Directors from Scottish & Newcastle, says it is merely updating famous promotions for Best that ran from the 1950s to the 1980s. But the po-faced ASA pompously ruled that the poster implied the beer would give the man the confidence to make negative comments about the woman or "try to take advantage of her".
The ASA added: "Although we understood the humorous intention of the scenario, we concluded that the poster breached the code by suggesting that the beer could increase confidence".
On these grounds, all advertisements for beer and any form of alcohol should be banned. Alcohol is a relaxant. It makes the world seem a better place. It's a social lubricator. But even several pints of Courage Best wouldn't give me the courage or Courage to make derogatory remarks about my wife or her dress sense.
So, after the smoking ban, we have the humour ban. Perhaps the ASA could hire security guards to stand in pubs and warn drinkers not to smile, laugh or make jokes. Better still, perhaps pubs could have outdoor laughing shelters were drinkers can go for a fag and a cackle.
My advice to Wells & Young's is to hire Chas and Dave to stand outside the ASA head office and sing for several hours. That should bring the watchdog to its senses.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Worrying times in Czech Republic

Heineken in line to
buy Czech Staropramen

There are strong rumours in Prague that the world beer giant, InBev AB, plans to off-load its Staropramen brewery in the Czech Republic, with Heineken poised to step in. Staropramen -- the Old Spring -- is second only to SABMiller's Pilsner Urquell group in the Czech Republic and is strongly positioned in export markets.
Staropramen was bought by Bass when the communist regime quietly folded its tent and walked away to numbered Swiss bank accounts. The brewery was privatised and Bass invested heavily in a new brewhouse and used its marketing muscle to sell the beer through its British pubs and in other export markets. When Bass quit brewing to run Holiday Inns, ownership of the brewery passed to the Belgian group Interbrew, which has since merged with Ambev of Brazil to become InBev, which subsequently bought Anheuser-Busch in the United States, owner of the world's biggest beer brand, Budweiser.
If Heineken buys Staropramen it will give the Dutch group a major presence in the Czech market. Heineken's style is to brew beer quickly and not bother with such niceties as long lagering times. When I visited its Polish subsidiary Zywiec last year I found that the entire brewing process -- from mashing to cold maturation -- for both Zywiec lager and Heineken was just 21 days. So we can expect the brewing process to be speeded up to Road Runner proportions at Staropramen.
But Heineken may cast its net wider. It has admitted it would be interested in buying Budweiser Budvar if the state-owned brewery in Ceske Budejovice were to be privatised. Heineken is a dab hand at closing plants and concentrating production into large units. If it buys Budvar at some time in the future we can expect the brewery to close with production moved to Prague. It would almost certainly spell the end for Budvar's famous 90-day lagering period.