Saturday, 27 June 2009

No more Duvel on Eurostar

Rail company pulls the plug
on classic Belgian golden ale

If you enjoy the fast-track journey to Brussels or Paris from London on Eurostar, the ride has just gone dry: the rail company has stopped selling the divine strong Belgian ale, Duvel.
I'm indebted to Stephen D'Arcy, long-standing CAMRA member in Brussels, who has passed on this sad missive from Andy Grant:
"On Saturday 6 June, I travelled by Eurostar from St Pancras to Paris, where I met Kathy, who had been on a two-day euro-seminar in Brugge (lucky girl!), before continuing together to Tuscany for our summer holiday. On the Eurostar train I enjoyed my traditional bottle of Duvel from the buffet car (expensive -- but better value if paid in Sterling, as Eurostar's exchange rate has not kept pace with the pound's recent freefall.)
"On the return journey on Monday 22 June, I was dismayed to discover that Eurostar had re-vamped the buffet car menu -- not only with a much-reduced choice of food and drink and corresponding hike in prices -- but they had also discontinued both Duvel and the bottled beer of the month (which was usually London Pride or Moortgat Vett). The only 'beers' now available on Eurostar are cans of Kronenbourg 1664 or that hoary old whore from Leuven called Stella -- who is so embarrassed about her fallen credentials that she tries to make out that she is French in UK televison commercials."
But, Andy, don't knock Stella too hard -- according to a hastily-withdrawn TV commercial last year, this was the beer that used maize in its recipe several centuries before the grain was discovered in Africa. Such prescience!
Lobby Eurostar hard to bring back Duvel. If they claim lack of demand, they lie through their teeth. On my most recent visit to Belgium, to Het Anker brewery, I caught a rush-hour Eurostar home and discovered that people use the train to commute between Brussels and Lille. The amount of Duvel being consumed in the buffet car that evening was phenomenal.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Hello, fans

A reply to comments

One commentator asks if I bother to read the contributions you make to the blog. The answer is an emphatic Yes. I haven't replied to comments until today as I don't want to stifle debate or seem to have the high-handed last word on any subject.
But to prove I do read your remarks, a few replies:

"Anonymous" says I'm wrong in every respect in my defence of the tied-house system. But as he doesn't say why I'm wrong I can't really reply. His views would be welcomed.

There was some criticism of CAMRA among you. One contribuitors says the campaign is stuck-up and engenders a "us and them" attitude to beer drinking. CAMRA, in common with any consumer organisation, is not perfect but that seems a curious criticism to make. CAMRA stages dozens of beer festivals every month aimed at general beer drinkers, not just its own members. It's about to become 100,000-strong. Doesn't sound like an elitist body to me.

As for the size of the Wells & Young's beer fridge -- I said 1,500 square feet, I will check that out. Figures were never my strong point.

Keep them coming -- and thanks.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Turmoil in the east

Global brewers turn their backs on
small countries in quest for profits

Brewers in Central and Eastern Europe face an uncertain future as two global giants plan to cut back on their presence in the regions.
A-B InBev, the world's biggest brewer, said today (18 June) it will seek private equity firms to buy 11 breweries in seven countries, including Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia. The breweries produce a total of 15 million hectolitres a year and A-B InBev says they are worth $2.5 billion.
At the same time, Heineken has announced it will sell two breweries in the Czech Republic, Kunta Hora and Znojmo, both part of the Dutch giant's subsidiaries Drinks Union and Starbrno. The best-known brewery within the groups is Krusovice.
Significantly, both A-B InBev and Heineken have said they will not reduce their commitments to Russia and the Ukraine. The reason us simple: those two countries, Russian in particular, are such vast markets that they offer a big return on investment.
The problem for the global brewers is that they snapped up many breweries in the post-comnmunist bloc without realising that people's incomes there were too low to afford the prices that western drinkers expect to pay for beer.
A-B InBev, for example, owns Prague Breweries, which includes the Staropramen brand, the third-biggest selling beer in the Czech Republic after Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell. But the group is willing to sell the brewery and the brand as it's unimpressed with the profits it makes.
This problem is compounded by the fact that the group sells impressive volumes of Staropramen in Britain but has built those sales by undercutting other imported Czech lagers, such as Budweiser Budvar. This activity means it makes only marginal profits on the brand.
It's not known whether there are companies with sufficient funds to buy the breweries A-B InBev and Heineken are anxious to sell. The result could spell closure for several breweries and reduced choice for consumers.
And it means the future of Budvar is even more uncertain. The state-owned company is performing well and has beaten its targets in both the Czech Republic and in Britain. But opinion polls suggest a right-wing coalition could win the Czech general election in October, which is likely to result in Budvar being privatised.
In the current climate, who would buy Budvar? Its bitter American rival Anheuser-Busch once seemed the only likely suitor as brewer of the rival Budweiser. But now A-B is part of InBev, a great cost-cutter anxious to quit central Europe. Budvar may be sold off by the Czech government but there will be few willing partners to take it to the altar.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Wells & Young's faith in cask future

'Beer fridge' will boost Bedford's beer

15 June:-Wells & Young's underscored its commitment to the cask beer sector today by opening a new air-conditioned warehouse at its Bedford site that will keep beer at a cool temperature before it leaves for pubs. The brewery extension, known as the Beer Fridge, has cost the company £1/4 million and it has 1,500 acres to store cask beer.
The Beer Fridge was made necessary by the growing demand for W&Y's beers and is also needed as a result of additions to its portfolio in recent years. Young's Bitter, Special and seasonal beers moved to Bedford when the Wandsworth brewery closed in 2006. A year later, Courage Best Bitter and Directors were bought from Scottish & Newcastle: the Courage beers are owned by a separate company, Courage Brands, in which S&N has a small stake but brewing and marketing the beers is controlled by W&Y.
W&Y has invested heavily in its cask beers and has seen sales of Bombardier increase to such an extent that it's now one of the Top 5 premium beers in the country. Bombardier and Courage Best are level-pegging in sales, with the Courage brand in particular spearheading success in the free trade sector.
W&Y knows that beer quality is vital to win drinkers to cask beer, As well as the Beer Fridge, it has developed a new dispense font for Bombardier that enables drinkers to watch their glasses filled above bar level.
And beer temperature is crucial, as drinkers expect cool cask beer. As well as the Beer Fridge, W&Y's distribution company, KNDL, will also store beer in cooled warehouses to ensure cask beer arrives at pubs in tip-top condition.
Wells & Yojng's brews half-a-million barrels of beer a year, of which 36 per cent is accounted for by cask -- the company also brews Kirin and Red Stripe lagers. The cask beer proportion is rising and is the bedrock of the company's tied pubs and free trade business.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Couldn't give a....

Coors pulls the plug on Castlemaine

This is a very short blog -- more of a twitter.
Coors of Burton-on-Trent has decided to stop brewing Castlemaine XXXX.
Have a good weekend!

Tie will come under EU spotlight

Fair Pint campaigners head for Europe and
threaten to undermine craft brewers' pubs

Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do. Publicans leading the Fair Pint campaign have joined forces with the Federation of Small Businesses and the GMB trade union to take their campaign agaisnt the tied-house system to the European parliament. They are in danger of opening a Pandora's Box that could spell ruin for Britain's regional and smaller craft breweries for whom the tie is their lifeline.
The justifiable complaints against the behaviour of the giant pubcos, which force heavily discounted lagers and keg beers on their tenants and lessees, restricitng choice for consumers, is in danger of getting lost in a general review of the tie by the European Commission. If the tie were to be banned in Britain, scores of independent brewers -- who mainly produce cask beer -- would consider the game was not worth the candle and get out of brewing.
Fair Pint, FSB and GMB will focus on the EU's Directorate General for Competition, which will decide whether to renew a series of opt-outs -- known as block exemptions -- from European competition law. The British tied-house system has been reviewed a number of times by the directorate and given an exemption but there is always the danger the exemption could be lifted. The current exemption expires in 2010.
The campaigners are heading for Brussels with the wind in the sales following a damning report on the behaviour of the pubcos by parliament's Business & Enterprise Committee. But a press statement by Fair Pint shows it does not distinguish between the behaviour of the pubcos and independent brewers. Fair Pint says: "It's an opportunity for licensees in the UK to make a strong case to the European Commission as to why the tie in the UK should not be allowed to continue. The European Commission has received complaints in the past about the situation in the UK and we expect this review will not simply be rubber-stamped, as perhaps some pubco and brewery executives hope or expect."
Note that the statement says "pubco and brewery executives". Clearly Fair Pint does not distinguish between the likes of Punch and Enterprise Inns and independent breweries. With the exception of Heineken's Scottish & Newcastle subsidiary, the global brewers operating in Britain do not oeprate tied estates. It's the likes of Marston's, Greene King, Fuller's, Shepherd Neame, Everards, Thwaites and Wells & Young's who would be hit hardest by a ban on the tie. Without the tie, their pubs would be swamped by heavily-discounted lagers and keg beers. Cask beer would be driven from the bar tops at the very time it's enjoying a revival.
Speaking at his annual meeting on Friday, Fuller's chairman Michael Turner hit out at the Fair Pint tactics. He said it could lead to disaster. It had taken the pub trade many years to recover from the ill-thought-out government Beer Orders of the early 1990s, he added, which wanted to turn thousands of pubs into free houses, and action by the EU could have a similar result.
A key question: why is the GMB union getting into bed with free marketeers such as Fair Pint and the FSB? The role of the GMB is surely to defend its members' jobs -- and they could be threatened if the tie were to go.