Wednesday, 31 March 2010

First Beer Twitter a great success

A Twitter session conducted for Cask Ale Week on Monday 29 March proved a great success. The session was run by CAMRA at two pubs in St Albans where I tasted and gave my views on five beers: Fuller's Discovery and London Pride, Wells Bombardier, Young's Special and Badger Tanglefoot.
More than 400 people logged on to the session and there was a lively debate about the merits of the beers.

Drinks giant attempts to quash small brewery

In a David and Goliath confrontation, the might of the French Champagne house Charles Heidsieck has cracked down on a tiny Kent brewery, Old Dairy, over the name of its Red Top beer.
Heidsieck, part of the global Remy Cointreau group, is claiming infringement of trademark on the grounds of confusion with a name they have registered. At Old Dairy, managing director Lionel Fretz is struggling to see the connection between beer and Champagne. "When we found out that Heidsieck had the name Red Top registered for Champagne, we never imagined there would be a problem. They are claiming the likelihood of confusion, which is absolutely ridiculous. They produce superb French Champagnes, we produce fine English ales. It's a totally different market and are in a different league when it comes to price. The only similarity I can see is they both appeal to discerning drinkers."
Old Dairy Brewery is based in an old dairy outside the small Kent village of Rolvenden and brews two beers: Red Top (3.8%) and Gold Top (4.5%).
The stand-off recalls the case brought by the American whiskey maker Jim Beam that attempted to block imports of the Irish stout Beamish on the grounds of product confusion.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

CAMRA slams Budget duty increase

CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, attacked the government's lack of regard for communuity pubs and responsible beer drinkers following a punitive increase in beer duty in today's Budget, with plans to increase duty above inflation for the next three years.
With close to six pubs a day closing, CAMRA fears these latest rises will mark the end for many more community pubs, with beer prices in pubs set to rise by up to 20p a pint. Instead of freezing beer duty and helpinn to protect community pubs, the Chancellor's last act before the general election is to impose a further duty hike that will lead to more pub closures, the campaign added. Beer duty has soared by an unprecedented 25% in the last two year.
Mike Benner, CAMRA's Chief Executive, said: "Today's Budget is a charter for the large supermarkets who irresponsibly promote alcohol as a loss leader at the expense of the nation's community pubs. We are totally at a loss to understand how a government that recognises the community value of pubs can impose such consistently draconian duty increases."
CAMRA also exppressed concern at the 10% above inflation increase in duty on cider and will demand government action to support and protect small cider producers.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Innis & Gunn heads for pub sales

Innis & Gunn, the Edinburgh-based company that sparked the interest in oak-aged beers, aims to double sales to one million cases a year by making a push in to on-trade pubs and bars.
At present, 95% of sales of Innis & Gunn Original, which is matured in American oak bourbon casks,is sold through supermarkets and off-licences. But managing director Dougal Sharp said a trial in Edinburgh and Glasgow pubs and bars had been successful and he wanted to roll the beer out to the on-trade.
He added that he would look at developing a draught version of the beer if pub sales are successful. Last autumn Sharp added Innis & Gunn Rum Cask to a portfolio that includes Blonde -- sold in Tesco -- alongside Original.
He is also planning to expand internationally and he has appointed a managing director in the United States to develop sales there.

Sheps springs in while Brains goes for tapas

Kent brewer Shepherd Neame has heralded the arrival of spring with a seasonal beer for April and May. Early Bird Spring Hope Ale is a light gold, full-bodied beer at 4.3%. It will be available on draught in selected pubs or in 500ml bottles from Sheps' 369 pubs, its website, off-licences and supermarkets.
In Cardiff, Brains will launch "Beer Tapas" for Cask Ale week (29 March-5 April),with three third-of-a-pint glasses in a wooden tray, enabling drinkers to sample the Welsh brewer's cask ales and then decide which one to choose for a full pint.

Friday, 19 March 2010

CAMRA hails pub reforms

The Campaign for Real Ale 2-- CAMRA -- hailed 19 March as a "fantastic day for cask beer drinkers and pubgoers as a result of a major package of reforms announced by John Healey MP, the new Minister for Pubs.
The government's new 12 point Action Plan plan promises sweeping reforms on a wide variety of subjects. To support community pubs, Mr Healey has announced:
*Greater protection for pubs under threat of demolition
*A ban on the anti-competitive practice of imposing restrictive covenants on the sale of pubs.
*Greater flexibility for pubs to diversify by adding shops and other facilities without planning permission
*£1 million government funding for Pub is the Hub, the group led by Prince Charles to protect the community role of pubs
*£3 million to support community pub ownership
*Greater freedom for pubs to host live music without a specific licence

To reform the operation of the Beer Tie to ensure a fair deal for tenants and consumers, the government has announced:
*A one-year deadline to fully implement the recommendations of the recent Business, Innovations and Skills Parliamentary Select Committee report on Pub Companies -- before the government intervenes with legislation if necessary -- and deliver a beer right and a free of the tie option for tied tenants.
CAMRA chief executive Mike Benner said: "The proposals have the potential to totally transform the UK pubs market, leading to a free, fair and competitive market where consumers will benefit through greater choice, improved amenities and lower prices.
"We are now busy lobbying hard to encourage the other political parties to unveil their policies to support pubs before the general election. We also need to ensure that the government sticks to the proposals they've announced."
Mike Benner added that it was vital for beer drinkers to keep the pressure up by continuing to encourage election candidates from all parties to support the proposals in CAMRA's Beer Drinkers and Pubgoers Charter.

SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers, was more cautious in its reponse to the Healey proposals. Chief executive Julian Grocock said he was delighted the minister was considering relaxing the beer tie to allow more local guest ales into pubs as "this will open up more routes to market for SIBA members.
"We are disappointed, however, that there is no mention of addressing the imbalance between beer prices in the on and off trades. In most pubs -- and certainly where local, craft ales are sold -- drinking is part of a social occasion rather than an end in itself. We'd therefore like to see more done to encourage drinkers in to the socially responsible environment of the pub, rather than the supermarket or off-licence, where alcohol is bought cheaply for consumption in parks and other uncontrolled places."
Julian Grocock added: "If the government is really serious about supporting pubs, it has an opportunity with next week's Budget to hold any increase on beer duty. This would be hugely beneficial to thousands of pubs who are currently struggling to attract drinkers and would certainly help to secure their future."

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Economics of the mad house

Molson Coors, the American-Canadian giant that owns the former Bass breweries in Burton-on-Trent, is to raise beer prices to pubs in an attempt to boost its wafer-thin profits. The group has been concerned for several years that while it makes vast amounts of beer -- mainly Carling lager -- its profits are negligible.
According to the weekly trade newspaper the Morning Advertiser (18 March), Molson Coors will raise pub prices of its beer by 7 pence a pint with immediate effect. With brilliant timing, this comes just two weeks before the government's Budget, when Chancellor Alistair Darling is expected to increase beer duty by 5%.
Molson Coors' decision has been driven by its need to tackle the problem of wafer-thin margins. The group brews a mighty 6.8 million barrels a year but its profits amount to just one penny a pint.
The reason for Molson Coors' parlous profits situation is that it sells beer to supermarkets at enormous discounts. The prices are sometimes so low that beer is sold as a loss leader, cheaper than bottled water. The supermarkets have the big brewers over a barrel: when Molson Coors raised the price of Carling to Tesco in March 2009, the supermarket group promptly de-listed the brand. It lasted just six weeks: Carling was soon back on Tesco shelves and we can guess who blinked first, brewer or retailer.
And as always it's the battered pub and pub customers who pay the price for this economic lunacy. Instead of facing down the supermarkets and forcing them to pay realistic prices for beer, Molson Coors makes pub drinkers pay a heavy price for draught beer.
It's worth comparing a global giant such as Molson Coors with a successful regional like Fuller's of west London. Fuller's brews 200,000 barrels a year -- as Molson Coors would say, "we spill more beer than Fuller's makes". Yet the family-owned brewery had to warn the Stock Exchange earlier this year that its profit figures for the previous year would be higher than expected as a result of its success.
Will the global giants learn the economic facts of life or will one of them eventually go out business, a victim of supermarket greed?

Too hot for Kew

Young's of Wandsworth introduced a delicious new bottle-conditioned beer called Kew Gold a few years and the brand has been continued by Wells & Young's in Bedford. The beer's name comes from the fact that some of the hops used in the beer were developed at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London. The gardens received a royalty from the sales of the beer.
But now the gardens have decided "they no longer wish to be associated with an alcoholic beverage" and in May the beer's name will change to London Gold.
I trust they don't grow poppies in Kew Gardens. And they'd better be careful when using fertiliser.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Yorkshire brewery scores a hat trick

Saltaire Brewery of Shipley, West Yorkshire, scooped three awards in the 2010 National Beer Competition run by SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers. The awards were announced this week at SIBA's annual conference in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Saltaire took the top title of Supreme Champion Beer 2010 for its Triple Chocoholic, a 4.8% chocolate stout. The same beer won the Gold Award in the Champion Speciality Beer category, while the brewery's Cascade Pale Ale took the Champion Premium Bitter accolade.
All 10 winning beers were chosen by 50 judges who gathered to pick the winners from the 56 cask and seven bottled finalist beers. A Gold, Silver and Bronze awards were given in each of the nine categories and the Supreme Champion title was then selected from the eight draught Gold winners.
The winners were:
Supreme Champion Beer 2010: Triple Chocoholic, Saltaire Brewery.
Champion Milds (up to 4% ABV): Dark Mild, Bank Top Brewery, Bolton
Champion Bitters & Pale Ales (up to 4%): Lord Marples, Thornbridge Brewery, Derbyshire
Champion Best Bitters (4.1-4.5%): Darwins Origin, Salopian Brewing, Shrewsbury
Champion Premium Bitters (4.6-4.9%) Cascade Pale Ale, Saltaire Brewery
Champion Strong Bitters (5.1-5.5%): Big Chief Bitter, Greenmill Brewery, Rochdale
Champion Strong Ales (over 5.5%): Dorothy Goodbody's Country Ale, Wye Valley Brewery
Champion Porters, Strong Milds, Old Ales & Stouts: Guerilla, Blue Monkey Brewery, Derbyshire
Champion Speciality Beers: Triple Chocoholic, Saltaire Brewery
Champion Bottled Beers: Proper Job, St Austell Brewery

Friday, 5 March 2010

Bott is new SIBA chairman

Keith Bott, boss of the Titanic Brewery in Stoke-on-Trent, has been elected chairman of SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers, the body that represents most of Britain's craft breweries.
Boot took over the helm at SIBA's annual meeting in Stratford-upon-Avon this week from outgoing chairman Peter Amor of Wye Valley Brewery, who was in post for the past three years. Keith Bott has been SIBA chairman before, from 2002-2005, and helped mastermind the campaign to introduce Progressive Beer Duty for smaller breweries. He said: "SIBA today is a very different organisation to the one I chaired three years ago. Since then we have appointed our first chief executive, Julian Grocock, who has steered SIBA through a period of change and enhanced our standing with government, trade bodies, the media and other stakeholders.
"This is an exciting time to be taking on the chairman's role and I look forward to working with Julian and SIBA's trustees and directors, to ensure the continued success of the UK's thriving quality beer sector."
Bott will stand from his current role as SIBA President and will include that role's lobbying elements within the chairman's remit.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

May Day opening for brewery centre

The National Brewing Centre in Burton-on-Trent is due to open on Saturday 1 May, following a major campaign to maintain a museum dedicated to beer in the town that was once the capital of British brewing.
The centre was originally the Bass Museum. It became the Coors Visitor Centre when the American brewing group took over the Bass breweries in Burton in 2000. Last year Coors announced it would close the centre as it was making a £1 million-a-year loss. A spirited campaign, led by the local MP, Janet Dean, led last November to Coors reaching a deal with Planning Solutions to re-open the centre.
Planning Solutions chief executive John Lowther said he was confident his company would meet the planned opening on 1 May. He said the much-loved shire horses, a feature of the old museum, would return to their stables next week to prepare for the opening. The new centre will feature live actors and audio-visual displays.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Carlsberg switches Tetley cask ale to Wolverhampton

The insensivity of global brewers knows no bounds. After months of speculation, Carlsberg announced today (2 March) that production of the cask version of the legendary Tetley Bitter from Leeds will be switched to Banks's Brewery in Wolverhampton when the Leeds brewery closes in 2011.
Tetley Bitter is an iconic Yorkshire beer. Wolverhampton, when last checked on a road map, is in the West Midlands. Conscious of the need to save on carbon footprints, Carlsberg will trunk the beer 100 miles to the beer's Yorkshire heartland every time a batch is brewed at Banks's.
The keg "smoothflow" version of Tetley Bitter will be switched to the John Smith's factory in Tadcaster. The fact that keg beer will stay in Yorkshire speaks volumes for the priorities of Carlsberg. John Smith's should perhaps be renamed the Brewery of Lost Souls: as well as fizzy Tetley, it will also soon become home to Newcastle [sic] Brown Ale when Heineken UK closes the Tyneside brewery.
Bob Stukins, vice-chairman of CAMRA and a Yorkshireman, said: "Carlsberg don't do geography lessons but if they did they'd clearly realise the impact this move will have on the beer-drinking copmmunity in Yorkshire. It's unbelievable to think that a long-standing global brewer would make this move at a time when the real ale industry is recording year-on-year growth and CAMRA's annual research is showing a steep increase in the number of consumers try real ale for the first time."
A spokesman for Carlsberg said Tetley Mild and Dark Mild will continue to be produced but at present no new home had been found for them.