Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Future looks grim for Highgate

Highgate Brewery in Walsall, West Midlands, went into administration on 22 September, owing Customs & Excise around £1 million in unpaid excise duty. The administrators plan to sell the company for £80,000 to two property developers, Simon Toon and David Lindil. As the redbrick Victorian brewery is in a residential area, there are fears the new owners will turn the brewery into accommodation.
Highgate opened in 1898 and was an independent company until 1938, when it bought by Mitchells & Butlers of Birmingham. When M&B became part of the Bass group, Highgate was the smallest Bass plant and produced only dark mild ales.
Highgate was bought by its management in 1995 and was later acquired by the Aston Manor packaged beer and cider manfufacturer in 2000. In 2007, Highgate was bought once more, this time by the Birmingham-based pub group, Global Star.
While Highgate remained best know for Dark Mild and Old Ale, the portfolio grew in recent years. A number of beers labelled Davenports recalled a long-closed Birmingham brewery while M&B Mild was produced for the Mithcells & Butlers pub chain.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Iconic lambic brewer faces difficult future

Drie Fonteinen -- Three Fountains -- one of Belgium's leading producers of lambic and gueuze beer, faces a difficult future as the result of a heating problem that destroyed around one-third of the brewery's stock.
The brewery is based in the town of Beersel, six miles from Brussels, and is run by Armand Debelder, a member of a famous family of lambic blenders. In the summer, Armand discovered that a faulty thermostat in his beer store had created a high temperature, with a large amount of beer spoilt. The beer was distilled and turned into eau-de-vie and Armand is now struggling to stay in business as a result of his heavy losses.
For many years, the Debelders bought in lambic beer from the likes of Boon, Girardin and Lindeman and blended and matured the beer in oak casks. Then in 1999 Armand took the fateful step of brewing his own beer: it was the first new lambic brewery in Belgium for 80 years.
As well as gueuze -- a blend of young and mature lambic -- framboos (raspberry) and kriek (cherry) beers, Armand has brought back the old style of Faro, a sweetened lambic, and also made beer with the addition of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The beers are on sale at the Drie Fonteinen restaurant next to the brewery in Beersel, run by Armand's brother Guido.
Armand was one of the driving forces behind HORAL, an organsiation of lambic brewers and blenders who have striven to give authenticity to their beers and distinguish them from what they call "industrial lambic" produced by such giant brewers as InBev.
Other member of HORAL are rallying to Armand's side and will do their best to help overcome his problems and remain in brewing. It would be tragedy if this magnificent brewery were to close.

Heineken axes historic Russian brewery

Heineken has announced the closure of the Stpean Razin brewery in St Petersburg and plans to turn the site in to a giant warehouse and "logistics" facility. The Dutch group says the Stepan Razin brands will be brewed elsewhere in Russia but it's not clear how many will survive. The future of the 8% Porter, a now rare example of a Russian Baltic Porter, is in doubt.
Stepan Razin is a brewery with a long and fascinating history. It was foudned in the late 18th century by a Swede named Abraham Krohn. He supplied beer to the palace of Tsar Peter I, who encouraged the spread of commercial brewing. The brewery was first called Kalinkin after a bridge over the River Neva and it brewed English-style ales, porters and stouts. It switched to cold fermentation late in the 19th century.
Following the Russian revolution, the brewery was renamed Stepan Razin in honour of a Russian Cossack who led a failed attempt on the life of the Tsar and was put to death in 1671.
The brewery was encouraged to expand in the 1920s by Leon Trotsky, the former Commissar for War, who helped obtain modern brewing equipment from Germany.
As well as the brands, there will be a major qeustion mark over the future of the splendid brewery museum at Stepan Razin, which traces the history of brewing in Russia and has many fascinating artefacts from the Soviet period, including the award of the Order of Lenin.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Austrian blow to Budvar trademark

Europe's highest court made a ruling on 8 September that could stop the Czech brewer Budweiser Budvar blocking an attempt by ABInBev to use the brand name "Bud" in Austria. The ruling could also open the door for ABInBev to challenge Budvar's trademark in other countries. ABInBev is the result of a merger in 2008 between Anheuser-Busch of the United States and InBev, a Belgian-Brazilian group.
Budvar has brewed the Czech version of Budweiser since 1895. The company, which is still owned by the Czech government, has registered the "Bud" or "Budweiser" trademarks in 37 countries, including Austria. It has been engaged in legal wrangles for more than a century with Anheuser-Busch, the American brewer of the other Budweiser. The Budvar brewery opened in 1895, several decades after Anheuser-Busch launched its beer in the U.S. But for centuries beers from the Bohemian town of Budweis -- now called Ceske Budejovice -- were known by the generic name of Budweiser. A second brewery in the town, Mestansky, also uses the Budweiser trademark and both breweries have been given a seal of authenticity of origin by the European Union.
The Austrian court sought advice from Europe's highest court, the European Court of Justice. In its ruling, the ECJ said the Austrian court must determine what sort of protection the Czech company's Austrian trademark accorded to "Bud". If the trademark merely related the beer to the Czech Republic then its trademark can be protected, the ECJ said. But if the protection includes specific characteristics, such as brewing conditions, ingredients or taste, then it will have no protection under Austrian law, as this type of protection is now provided by EU-wide law, it added.
Should the Austrian court find that the Czech Budweiser protection does apply to wider characteristics -- as the court has hinted is likely -- it would set a legal precedent, opening the door for ABInBev to make legal challenges to Budvar's other Budweiser or Bud trademarks and appellations of origin in other countries.
ABInBev welcomed the ruling as a clear victory. "It provides Anheuser-Busch with a clear and decisive victory in Austria and improves our trademark rights in other European markets," spokeswoman Karen Couck said.
But in London, Tony Jennings, chief executive of Budweiser Budvar UK, which markets the Czech beers in Britain, said it was "business as usual". Britain is the only major country where a court has ruled that both the American and Czech beers can use the full Budweiser trademark.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Heineken goes to court against Swiss group

Heineken has gone to court to stop a Swiss group from distributing a spoof brand called Keineken (No Heineken). Local beer lovers decided to launch the brew in protest at the Dutch giant's increasing domination of the Swiss beer market.
A judge in the Swiss canton of Obwalden has ordered a supply of 1,200 Keineken bottles and matching glasses to be confiscated after Heineken filed a complaint for trademark infringement.
The No Heineken campaign is in response to recent acquisitions by the Dutch beer giant in the Swiss beer market. A year ago, Heineken acquired the Swiss brewer Eichof from Lucerne. According to Conrad Engler of the Keineken campaign, this meant that "the last big independent Swiss brewer ended up in foreign hands."
Eight years ago, when Carlsberg took over the Feldschlossen brewery near Basel, local beer aficionados founded the Unser Bier (Our Beer) brewery in the same city. The Keineken campaign in Lucerne was inspired by this.
On 19 August Keineken desposited the Keineken trademark with the Swiss patent bureau and had Unser Bier brew a supply of Keineken beer. But before the 120 Keineken members could even taste the brew, the police had sealed the lot.
The small scope of the Keineken campaign is no argument, said a Heineken spokesperson. "We see this as a trademark infringement and we filed a complaint accordingly."
The speed with which Heineken acted took the Keineken activists by surprise. "On Friday morning we sent out a press release about Keineken and four hours later Heineken's lawyers were on the phone," Conrad Engler said. "They demanded an immediate halt to the distribution of Keineken and a withdrawal of the trademark."
Keineken said it was willing to halt the sale of Keineken until the trademark was processed but Heineken was not appeased and went to court. That same night the police entered Engler's garage to seal the Keineken supply. As a result, there was no Keineken beer at a party on Saturday to commemorate the first anniversary of Heineken's acquisiton of Eichof. Instead the guests drank Unser Bier.
"As a precaution we blacked out the Keineken name on the t-shirts and flags we had made," Engler said. "That was just as well, as the police came by to check for further trademark infringements."
The judge is expected to take several weeks to reach a final verdict. Heineken is confident it will win the case, a spokesperson said.
But Conrad Engler expects to get the last laugh. "Heineken scored an own goal with their legal action," he said. "The media attention has brought us dozens of new members. Our goal -- to have an Engelberger Klosterbrau by 2012 -- has now come a bit closer, with or without Keineken."

American giant moves in to craft beer

A sign that craft beer is the growing sector of the American beer market comes with the news that MillerCoors is to invest in its Leinenkugel brand. Leinenkugel is based in Chippewa Falls in Wisconsin. It has German immigrant origins and dates from the 19th century. It was a leading independent brewery until it was bought by MillerCoors, the second biggest brewer in the U.S.
MillerCoors is a merger between the two breweries. Confusingly, Coors oeprates in Canada as MolsonCoors and in Britain is still known simply as Coors.
Jake Leinenkugel, head of the Wisconsin brewery, said MillerCoors has invested around $10 million in the past seven years: "That's incredible for a brewery of our size."
The investment in both brewing capacity and marketing is aimed at increasing the company's share of the American beer market, which is led by the Brazilian-Belgian conglomerate AB InBev. The formation of Miller and Coors was driven by the need to cut into Anheuser Busch's market share: AB owns the biggest beer brands in the U.S., Budweiser and Bud Light.
Leinenkugel represents part of MillerCoors' efforts to break into the craft beer market. This makes up just 3% of the total Aemrican beer market but represents an important element of the MillerCoors portfolio.
"The fastest growing part of the beer business today is the top end -- the craft end," MillerCoors chief executive Leo Kiely said. "They are the most expensive brands on the shelf but value is determined in a different way."
In Chippewa Falls, the brewery has the capacity to double brewing but needs additional fermentation vessels.
MillerCoors has already moved into craft brewing with the Coors' Belgian-style wheat beer, Blue Moon. This is now the second biggest-selling craft beer in the U.S. and featured in President Obama's recent "beer summit" in the White House.