Wednesday, 25 August 2010

You didn't think I wouldn't say anything........

With my latest foray back into the world of blogging it would be remiss of me not to mention the sexist tripe that is the new Heineken advert. 

It is aesthetically very nicely done, clearly they've spent some money on it, but seriously, do the marketing team at Heineken still think the only way to sell beer is to continue churning out beer stereotypes that should have been put to bed in the 70s?? Yes ladies like shoes (I have far too many pairs) but essentially this is a big budget version of  Al Murray's   "Pint for the fella... Glass of white wine/ fruit-based drink for the lady!" 

As most big beer brands they are targeting men, why wouldn't they, that's who's drinking the stuff but do they need to constantly do it by alienating women with the stereotype that beer is just for boys? When you see ads like this it's no surprise that women claim changing the advertising is the single biggest thing that could be done to make beer more appealing to women. 

And it can be done, this San Miguel ad is a great example of a stylish beer advert that is targeted squarely at men without the lame, laddish banter we're more used to. San Miguel haven't always done such good stuff but this is great example of how beer advertising should be in my book, not only does it not upset anyone it does a great job of making beer look like a premium drink to be savoured - not just a cheap commodity. More of this please!!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Great British Beer Festival - is it a girl thing?

Earlier this month I took some time out to enjoy a day at the Great British Beer Festival (all in the name of research). For me it was like an extra Christmas, 450 ales under one roof all wanting me to try them out and I had great fun. Two standout beers for me, once I managed to tear myself away from the Thornbridge bar, were the Titanic Chocolate & Vanilla Stout and Brewsters Hop a Doodle Do but there were lots lots more.

As a reminder of the day I hopped onto the website to take a look at the festival photos and was surprised to see so many nubile young ladies in the photos that seem to have been missing from the day itself!! One thing that the GBBF does, I'm afraid, is bring to life a lot of real ale stereotypes with an audience largely made up of overweight, bearded men in sandals (apologies to Mr Dredge). Now CAMRA are no fools, they're not going to put photos of fat Kev and his bermuda short wearing compatriots on their site - they want to attract people to next year's show, but is the GBBF really the hotbed of young ladies the photo gallery would suggest?

CAMRA have talked lots about the growing number of women drinking real ale. As part of this years National Cask Ale Week they claimed that women are turning to real ale in ever-growing numbers. In the space of one year, they say, the number of women drinkers trying real ale has nearly doubled from 16% to 30% and now there are 1.3 million women drinkers of real ale.

Research showed many women wouldn't even try real ale because they didn't know what it was, where to start or because they thought it would taste too bitter but my hunch is that more women are turning to ale through the efforts of good publicans than any concerted effort from CAMRA. Pubs are offering more choice, better service and education that is enticing women into the beer category, if the GBBF is anything to go by CAMRA have a way to go in understanding how to market to women and as a result I only saw a handful of women like those in the pictures.

I'm aware there are two schools of thought when it comes to making beer appealing to women; either there is nothing wrong with the beer category, women just need to appreciate it and any attempt to market specifically to women is patronising and unnecessary OR that beer is overly masculine, has ignored and even alienated women and there's a lot that needs to change to make beer relevant to women (lets not forget over 60% of women don't drink beer, ever). I've made no secret of the camp I'm in and whilst there is a lot right about the GBBF there's a lot they can still do if they want the lovely ladies in the photo to make up more of their actual audience.  Nearly half of women look for great food,service, atmosphere and entertainment in the places they choose to drink in so how did the GBBF measure up?

Service - the barstaff were brilliant. In the main volunteer and the level of knowledge and enthusiasm they had was outstanding. You could walk up to any bar say "I quite like jellybeans and the smell of hot tarmac on a wet summers day" and they would find you a beer that you would enjoy,taking the time to let you try any number of beers until you found one you liked without once rolling their eyes. But I had to stand up all day and put my sleeve in wet patches on the bar far too many times - keeping a clean bar and offering a table service area would have really made my day.

It was great that there was a range of glass sizes on offer (pint, half and 1/3) but there was no way of rinsing your glass between beers or emptying out a beer you might not have liked - something that's the norm at any wine show. I know it's difficult when you're dealing with such large numbers of people and I'm not expecting Michelin standard service but offering people the chance to rinse their glasses (especially after some of the big hoppy beers) would make a real difference.

Food - there was loads of it, and the pork scratchings were legendary, but there was no obvious link between the food and beer. Should I have picked a certain beer for the Thai food, something different for the fish and chips - there was no way of knowing, meaning that when people left would they remember anything other than "I tried a lot of beer" instead of a really great food and beer pairing that they'd want to try out at home and impress their friends with their new found knowledge. The festival programme has some basic principals on matching beer and food but I would have liked to see the food and beer mixed in together and signs on each stall of which beers they would recommend went with their food. 

Atmosphere - this is something that scored highly. One thing I've learned in the last year is just what a welcoming and friendly lot the beer community are and the GBBF was no exception. Mixing a room full of guys and 450 beers always has the potential to be tricky but not here, it felt very relaxed and a completely safe environment for a woman on her own. Everyone was there to enjoy the beer and enjoy the company and the atmosphere was hard to fault.

Entertainment - my view of CAMRA is that a lot of their views are stuck in the 70s and the entertainment was a real reflection of that. Whilst Hank Wangford is one of the finest names of a musician I've ever heard I'm not sure he's that relevant to a younger, female audience. Clearly he has appeal to the more traditional CAMRA member, as did all the entertainment, but what was lacking was real diversity. Am not suggesting that JLS are booked up for next year but there needs to be more than just country music and skittles if you want more women through the doors.

The GBBF are using Twitter but there seemed to be no recognition of the power of social media at the event itself and the number of people blogging and tweeting live from the event. I'd love to see free charging stations for your mobiles as many big shows offer (my battery died after beer no4) and free wifi for next time. 

All in all I'd say a B- with definite room for improvement and hopefully next year there will be as many women there as the photos suggest.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Is drinking around your kids ever ok?

In what feels like a sadly increasing trend, another mother has been sentenced for letting her child look after herself while she got drunk on holiday. 

The mother in question, Alicia Jenkins, deemed it safe and appropriate to let her 11 year old daughter roam the beaches of Salou, famed for the booze filled, violent excess of Saloufest, while she got trollied on cheap Sangria. Fortunately the girl is now in local authority care but this is, sadly, far from an isolated incident. Last month the The Mirror reported how young mother, Katie Down,  took her four-year-old son with her when she met friends for a few drinks in a beer garden on a sunny afternoon… a few hours later she was arrested, locked up – and her son taken into care.

I've shared my views on children in pubs before but I suspect this is less about having kids in the pub - I'm pretty sure no one has ever had their kids taken away for indulging in a J20 and chicken in a basket in a Wacky Warehouse - and more about just how appropriate is it to drink alcohol in front of children.In 2009 The Chief Medical Officer's official issued guidelines on alcohol for under 18s for the first time, stating that:
Children and their parents and carers are advised that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option. However, if children drink alcohol, it should not be until at least the age of 15 years.
This seems somewhat at odds with the current legal position which makes it legal to give children alcohol in your own home from the age of 5, an age limit that does seem ridiculous. That said I do disagree that an alcohol free childhood is the best option - I believe in modelling the right behaviour to my child and I want her to grow up thinking of alcohol as a normal part of adult life. I will have a beer with her when we're out and am happy to drink in front of her when we're at home - a beer or a glass of wine, not 16 Vodka Tonics and half a bottle of Jaeger, it's about teaching children moderation. If my daughter never sees anyone drinking she'll grow up thinking that alcohol is something drunk in secret, making it a taboo that is more likely to encourage her to rebel by binge drinking as soon as she can.

Seeing your parents falling down drunk is wrong for any child - children need stability and they panic at any change of behaviour in their parents. It's worrying for a child to see their mum suffering from a cold so watching them stumbling about, incoherent and drunk should never happen but learning to enjoy alcohol responsibly should be part of any normal childhood.

*image from 

I blame the parents........

In a week where the Daily Mail yet again place all of society's alcohol problems at the feet of young women it seems that that the older generation aren't as blameless as the the Mail would have us believe.

The Temple Bowling Club in Denmark Hill, London, where most of the members are drawing a pension, have been refused an extended hours license after repeated complaints about loud music and disorderly behavior.

The club has apparently made several attempts to get the golden oldies to curb their raucous revelry without success, with local residents complaining;
"on occasions the noise emanating from the club house was more suited to boisterous rugby players after a day of pub golf."
 Certainly beats a lukewarm cup of tea and a nice biscuit at the church hall!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Normal Service Will Soon Be Resumed......

House move, Twissup, changing the way people drink beer at home forever, decorating, parenting.......etc seems to have taken up all my time and not left a second for blogging.

Off to drink more beer, visit more pubs and hopefully come back with something interesting to tell you

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Beer Takes Another Bashing

According to the Daily Star (I obviously saw it over someone's shoulder on the tube, it wasn't my copy) "Binge Drinking Brits like to drink 20 pints of beer a night". Really?? There must be some phenomenal bladder control out there in that case! Actually no, no cast iron bladders just another tabloid, yet again, making beer a scapegoat in a binge Britain story.......yawn. 

What the story actually says is that 10 - 15% of men and 4% of women admitted to drinking up to 40 units of alcohol on a night out, a bit different to the headline suggesting we're all feet up in front of Emmerdale with 20 pints of lager. Now I'm not suggesting 40 units on a night out is ok, it's about 4 bottles of wine which is far from ok but I would like to see an end to the media constantly using beer as root of all evil and call out the low cost, high ABV drinks that are the real problem. 

According to the Daily Star this study is the latest evidence that Britain's binge drinking problem is getting worse and they seem to be suggesting beer is to blame - well some facts beer is at its lowest level of consumption since the 1930s, the on trade beer category is forecast to be down a further 2.8m barrels by 2012 and over 1 in 5 adults now claim never to drink alcohol at all. 

So the Star is right, a few people are choosing to drink far too much alcohol on a night out, not every day, on a night out. Not good but hardly a nationwide epidemic. But where they are wrong is suggesting those people are drinking beer, far from it, it's wine, spirits and cider. Beer is lower in alcohol, on average, than wine, spirits and cider and wine and spirits are taking an increasing share of total alcoholic drinks. So if you are looking to depict alcohol misuse it certainly shouldn't be an image of a pint that’s used to represent it

This isn't just beer, this is M&S beer......(sorry, it was too easy)

Since Cookie put me over his virtual knee for mentioning the election I thought I'd stick to what I know best - drinking some beer.

Never let it be said I don't have my finger on the pulse when yesterday, just 4 or so months after launch, I got round to trying some of the Marks and Spencer revamped beer range developed and designed by Brandhouse. Mark Dredge has been asking about what makes good bottle labelling this week and I think Brand House have done a great job - all the labels are stylish and contemporary with a subtle nod to the beers heritage on each one (my favourite is the  Hughye elephant). The only thing that lets them down in my book is there's nothing to show non beer drinkers why they should drink them - my guess is M&S shoppers aren't all beer experts so I'd like to see each bottle tell you what it tastes like and some food matches on the label (like they do with their wines) rather than just the ingredients - but then I'd like the same of all beer labels!

I opted for the Belgian Cherry Wheat Beer, Belgian Wheat Beer, London Porter and the Staffordshire IPA, my M&S is a small one and didn't have the full range, which is a shame because I fancied the Chocolate Porter but they did have a 4 for 3 offer I was happy to take advantage of - it's a shame they don't mention this on their website, in fact there's no mention of beer at all :o(

Being a hazy sunny afternoon I started with the Wheat Beer. Brewed by the Huyghe Brewery, brewers of the superb Delirium Tremens, I was hopeful of great things but sadly the beer never quite reached them. Like Blue Moon* this beer is brewed with orange peel and coriander along with malted barley, wheat and hops. It has a cloudy, hazy gold colour with a powerful herbal, spicy and citrus fruit aroma. In the mouth there are spicy, fruity and herbal notes balanced by creamy malt. Coriander comes to the fore in the finish, along with citrus fruit, creamy malt and gentle hops. Blue Moon  is brewed with oats for creaminess and this beer seemed thin by comparison and the orange flavours not as fresh

Next step was the the Belgian Cherry, another beer from Huyghe, and it's divine. I'm not usually a fan of anything cherry flavoured, with the exception of the occassional cherry bakewell, because I think it's a really tricky natural flavour to replicate and often ands up tasting dreadfully synthetic and over sweet but not this time. The beer is a gorgeous deep red colour with a pink foam and smells of fresh ripe cherries. It is sweet but not sticky in the mouth and there's just enough malt and hops to balance the fruit. It's only 3.5% ABV and a pudding in a glass, delicious. 

I expected the 5.5% London Porter to be the best of the bunch and it absolutely delivered. Brewed by Meantime of Greenwich and based on a 1750s recipe that uses seven malts, this is a fantastic beer that's worth the trip to M&S alone. It's jam packed with classic IPA flavours roasted malt, spiced fruits, liquorice and then some. The first mouthful is sweet but that soon gives way to bitter hops mixed with burnt treacle. I had it on it's own but I wished I hadn't put all the Roquefort in the cheesecake because that would have been a brilliant pairing. 

The Staffordshire IPA is brewed by Marston’s in the home of British brewing you would expect this to be good and it is, not a patch on the London Porter but very refreshing with a mix of digestive biscuit and citrus flavours.

All in all a great selection of beers and far better than you'd expect from any supermarket range, even if it is Marks and Spencers. They've clearly done their homework on and picked some great breweries to give them a really strong range. As well as the Chocolate Porter I'd like to give the Southwold Winter, Tripel Abbey and Welsh Honey a try, must find a bigger store!!

*Blue Moon has just launch on draught in 100 London bars (that reads like they received a very well written press release) - if you're down that way, try it - it's amazing

Thursday, 15 April 2010

A (very) brief foray into politics

I'm not much of a political animal and tonight's first ever live party leader debate clashes with DIY SOS I'm unlikely to see it. If like me you have a secret crush on Nick Knowles (yes, I do realise just how wrong that is) courtesy of the BBPA here are the specific extracts from the three main parties manifestos which refer either to alcoholic drinks or pubs.


We all have a responsibility to look after our own health, supported by our family and our employer. The ban on smoking in public places will be maintained. Wherever necessary, we will act to protect children’s health from tobacco, alcohol and sunbeds.

But people are still worried about binge drinking, problem families and anti-social behaviour. We are committed to tackling these problems, not talking them up to run Britain down. 
And alcohol treatment places will be trebled to cover all persistent criminals where alcohol is identified as a cause of their crimes.

Raise taxes on those drinks linked to antisocial drinking, while abolishing Labour’s new ‘cider tax’ on ordinary drinkers.

Liberal Democrat
Reduce the ill health and crime caused by excessive drinking. We support a ban on below-cost selling, and are in favour of the principle of minimum pricing, subject to detailed work to establish how it could be used in tackling problems of irresponsible drinking. We will also review the complex, ill-thought-through system of taxation for alcohol to ensure it tackles binge drinking without unfairly penalising responsible drinkers, pubs and important local industries.


To tackle the binge drinking which can leave people reluctant to venture into town centres at night, we have banned irresponsible promotions and strengthened police and council powers to close down rowdy pubs and clubs, cracking down on under-age and public drinking. We have brought in a right to petition local authorities to end 24-hour licensing where problems arise.

The local pub and social club are also hubs of community life. Too many pubs have closed that could have been sustained by local people. We will support pubs that have a viable future with a new fund for community ownership in 2010-11. Councils must take full account of the importance of pubs to the local community when assessing proposals that change their use, and we will make it more difficult to demolish pubs. Restrictive covenants applied by pub companies to property sales will be curbed and flexibility for pubs to provide related services promoted, making it easier to have live entertainment without a licence. A non-tie option should be available for pub tenants; we will act if the industry fails to make progress on this. 

Rural villages should never be left without essential services. Councils now have to ensure that the importance of local services to the community is taken into account before granting planning permission to change their use, and we will strengthen this to protect viable shops, pubs and community facilities. We will continue to encourage and support imaginative solutions in rural communities to the provision of locally owned services.

Under Labour’s lax licensing regime, drink-fuelled violence and disorder are a blight on many communities. We will overhaul the Licensing Act to give local authorities and the police much stronger powers to remove licences from, or refuse to grant licences to, any premises that are causing problems. In addition, we will: allow councils and the police to shut down permanently any shop or bar found persistently selling alcohol to children; double the maximum fine for under-age alcohol sales to £20,000; raise taxes on those drinks linked to antisocial drinking, while abolishing Labour’s new ‘cider tax’ on ordinary drinkers; ban off-licences and supermarkets from selling alcohol below cost price; and, permit local councils to charge more for latenight licences to pay for additional policing.

Nothing underlines the powerlessness that many communities feel more than the loss of essential services, like post offices and pubs, because of decisions made by distant bureaucrats. Our new ‘community right to buy’ scheme will give local people the power to protect any community assets that are threatened with closure. 

Liberal Democrat
Cut red tape for putting on live music. We will reintroduce the rule allowing two performers of unamplified music in any licensed premises without the need for an entertainment licence, allow licensed venues for up to 200 people to host live music without the need for an entertainment licence, and remove the requirement for schools and hospitals to apply for a licence.


Restrictive covenants applied by pub companies to property sales will be curbed and flexibility for pubs to provide related services promoted, making it easier to have live entertainment without a licence. A non-tie option should be available for pub tenants; we will act if the industry fails to make progress on this.

There are no policy proposals in the Conservative manifesto on the tie.

Prior to publication of the manifesto, a spokesman for David Cameron was quoted as saying:
“The Conservative Party supports the idea that should the industry fail to deliver self-regulation by June 2011, the Government of the day should end up consulting on putting the Code of Practice on a statutory basis. The Government have agreed to this and we are happy with this position.”

This statement is a clear reference to expectations around the implementation of the Industry’s Code of Practice, not a commitment to take specific action on the tie.

Liberal Democrat
There are no policy proposals in the Lib Dem manifesto on the tie.

Obviously it's all meaningless to me because as a lady, if the Daily Mail is to be believed, my vote will go to whichever party leader's wife has the nicest toe nails.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Pink, the way to a girl's heart?

Hot on the heels of Carlsberg Eve, comes the launch of Carnaby Brown, another brand that seems to think ladies will buy anything as long as it's pink.....oh please *claps hands together with girlish abandon* can I have a straw in mine, that would be just SO fabulous!!

Carnaby Brown promises to plug a gap in the market for a women wanting a drink that is as refreshing and has the low ABV of cider but with the sophisticated image of wine. It's a 5.5% ABV drink made from perry blended with white and Muscat grapes (they are calling it “lightly sparkling fruit wine”) and is available in white and rosé in 75cl Bordeaux-style wine bottles.

Carnaby Brown is the brainchild of one Aisling Young who claims "it’s fruity, it’s pink, it’s girly, it’s fun…" and that it's been developed after talking to women all over the country - I'd be intrigued to know which women exactly, I can only assume they were ambushing ladies in Bargain Booze as they reached for the Lambrini if this is the outcome. 

Maybe I don't get it because I'm not target market (bitter, who me???) - it seems they are after 20 to 30-year-old women who want a sociable drink they can share with friends.

Ummmm, hello........I have this idea...... it's called beer, the most sociable drink there is. As well as the most refreshing and with a lower ABV to boot, I know which I'd rather choose. 

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

He marched them up to the top of the hill.........

Last year The Pub Curmudgeon posed the question "should children be allowed in all areas of pubs?" and 72% of respondents voted no, all pubs should have a child free area, (with a further poll seeing 83% of people claim noisy children as the most off-putting thing in pubs)  and I was one of them - although strictly I wanted a fifth answer, children should only be in pubs that cater for children. That doesn't mean offering a range of small, deep fried meals on your menu, it means offering proper activity designed to entertain little people.

There are no such things as bad children, only bad parents and if your next quiet pint is interrupted by a menagerie of screaming brats running amok it's because their parents have subjected them to spending their day somewhere that's no place for kids. I can understand why people drag their kids along to their local pub having spent several years subjecting myself to Wacky Warehouse type outlets, drinking warm beer out of plastic glasses where the only thing that makes the food seem not so dreadful is the abysmal level of service illuminated under overly harsh lighting, but in the main pubs are no place for kids.

But finally I have found the perfect pub for parents and children alike and it is brilliant. Amidst all the talk of pubs closing and industry doom and gloom comes the best example of a pub understanding and responding to it's target market than any I have been lucky enough to stumble across lately, The Duke.

What strikes you first about the Duke is just how stylish it is (I am a bad blogger and didn't have a camera with me so have borrowed pictures from their website, am sure they won't mind, I'm going to say very nice things about them) and you would expect it to be so, Leamington Spa is a stylish town and to tap into the weekend circuit crowd they need to be stylish and they've made it so with an eclectic mix of modern retro and gothic furnishings and designs. But what they obviously really get is appealing to a weekend crowd gives you a very short trading opportunity - maybe 12 hours a week, so they have really looked at how else they can attract customers.

They open from 10:00am and serve coffee, good coffee, at £1.50 a cup served at the table by friendly staff so they can rival Starbucks and tap into morning shoppers and business meetings (I'll be knocking the Caramel Macchiatos on the head in future for local meetings). They have a great food menu, it's not a la carte by any means but a great range of pub food, all locally sourced, prepared fresh and delivered fast with the most expensive item being £10.00, and you can phone ahead and have it ready for when you walk in the door so they can fill their tables again after the coffee morning crowd have left with local business lunches. I had the chicken noodles and at just £6.00 it was fab, loads of fresh veg and plenty of meat, a great size portion and served in one of those fab cardboard noodle boxes like they have in American TV . Jorge opted for a bacon sandwich on doorstep (she could have climbed it) bread with enough bacon to fill the bread to the edges and lashings of ketchup and was a very happy girl indeed.

And here's the best bit - they get families and they get kids, they don't just allow them in they positively embrace them and provide all the entertainment they need to really have a great time. They start at a basic level with books and board games displayed on a bookcase that you can help yourself to (remember when Scream used to make you hand in one of your shoes for a game of Jenga, which seemed funny till you needed to go to the toilet........) everything from Connect 4 to Frustration and in addition they have live sports on 3 huge screens, pool, private booths with PS3 consoles and a Nintendo Wii on a 120” screen - as Jorge said "wow, this is the BEST pub ever". When we went in it was the Easter holidays and there were a lot of kids in but not a screaming, snotty one climbing the walls in sight - they were all entertained, well fed and well watered (they do fab milkshakes, Jorge tried all 3 and apparently strawberry is the best).

In these tough times for the industry pubs could learn a lot from The Duke, I've talked before about some of the changes I'd like to see in pubs and they have them all and then some, they've clearly worked out how to extract every ounce of value out of their opening hours and I'd love to see more places do the same.

But, and for me it's a big but, they do fall short of being perfect because despite everything else they have an appalling beer choice - Stella, Stella 4% and The Duke Lager. My taste buds recoiled at the very idea of own label lager so I opted for a gin & tonic when what I really wanted was a beer. For any pub to get topmarks from me they'd need to put as much thought into their beer menu as they do the rest of their offer, it annoys the hell out of me that it's often seen as such an after thought, but if I'm out with Jorge looking for somewhere child friendly to stop in town there's nowhere better.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

I'm still backing beer............

Sadly the Government have shelved plans for the "massive" cider duty hike in the run up to the general election no doubt making members of the NACM throw their flatcaps in the air with joy. Good news for cider producers and good news for drinkers too if their chair, Henry Chavillier, is to be believed who was quoted post budget saying,
"Depending on how retailers deal with the duty this will add significantly to what consumers pay for a pint of cider. We have no control over the retail price of cider, but it could mean up to 10p a pint."
10p a pint you say....that does seem like an awful lot.....supported by disgruntled of Taunton on Radio 5 the following morning predicting the death of the cider industry as a result of the budget hike because it would mean punters had to pay a whopping 15p per pint more at the pumps.

Blimey - just how "massive" was the proposed hike - actually not that massive at all when you compare it with beer duty. These being the facts.......

Beer                                                                    Cider
old duty per pint of 4.0% - 37p                old duty per pint (irrespective of abv up to 7.5%) - 18p
new duty - 39p/pint, increase of 2p           new duty - 20p/pint, increase of 2p

Now I've never laid claim to being any kind of mathematical genius but even I can work out that even at the 13% post budget level the duty rise on cider is 2p  per pint (at cost) which is equally to that of beer and still means that cider benefits from an 19p per pint benefit over beer - suddenly not so "massive" after all, making the planned drop to a 5% increase on the pre-Budget level even more frustrating.

But what of those small apple growers and artisan cider makers lovingly pressing apples by hand in the West Country, surely they'd all be out of work I hear you cry if cider duty increases - that's why cider has a  lower rate of duty, to protect craft producers surely? Well that may be why it's in place but  today's cider industry is very different, with the vast majority of UK cider sales now being efficiently manufactured by two multinational drinks companies, accounting for more than 8 in every 10 pints of cider sold in Britain's pubs.

Pringles made the headlines last year following a long running battle with the taxman to avoid paying VAT on Pringles by claiming that they are not a crisp but more like a cake or a biscuit because they are made from dough. Not a crisp? But they're in the crisp aisle, targeted at crisp eaters, priced the same as crisps, surely they must be a crisp, why would Pringles not want them to be called a crisp? Well here's the key issue,  foods are usually exempt from VAT, but one of the few exceptions is the humble potato crisp and Pringles did everything they could to stop themselves being classified as a crisp and therefore benefiting from an outdated tax system - sound familiar? Fortunately the court of appeal saw sense and Pringles are now subject to the same rate of VAT as their crisp counterparts.

And the same should happen to cider duty, this isn't about beer getting one better - it's about creating a level playing field. Similar products, targeting the same audience should be subject to duty at the same rate. Just like P&G, the big multi national cider producers are benefiting from an outdated tax system encouraging beer drinkers to switch brands and exacerbating the decline in beer sales. In fact, 70% of new cider volume in 2009 came as a direct switch from lager.

But what of those artisan producers? The Government should absolutely still support them as they do with smaller breweries. The Labour Government introduced Progressive Beer Duty in 2002 that allows smaller breweries to pay less tax on their product and this should be extended to include smaller cider producers while subjecting the bigger producers to the same duty rates as major breweries. Like I said, creating a level playing field.
As Brigid Simmonds from the BBPA very eloquently put, it's time the Government did as much to support the beer industry as they do cider makers. I am already tiring of the pre election hysteria and unlikely to maintain any degree of enthusiasm come polling day - let's hope whoever wins on the day sees sense  and addresses this out dated tax legacy of a bygone era.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

It's all Greek to me.............

When it comes to naming a beer it's important to check out how it translates in other languages or markets that you want to export to. We once nearly named a beer, that shall rename nameless, the equivalent of a leading Spanish tampon brand before someone pointed out the error of our ways, but it seems not every brewer goes to the same lenghts to check names.

From the Macedonian Thrace Brewery in Komotini, Greece, comes a beer that promises to taste great, with a top fermenting yeast that offers tastes of cloves and banana. But it's unlikely that I could ever order one without collapsing into hysterical, childish giggling at the name.....Vergina.......

According to their website, Vergina (sniggers) is available “in the best clubs and cafes in New York and Chicago”  and there are a range of Vergina (hee hee) beers. Hopefully if they ever branch out into the UK they'll do a little consumer testing first on the name!

How to keep a man..........

I haven't blogged much of late (well at all really), that's because I've been too busy cooking dinners, ironing, darning socks and cleaning the house all whilst maintaining a fresh face of makeup and wearing a full set of Agent Provocateur underwear that I'm ready to allow my hunk of a man to rip off with his teeth whenever the fancy takes him.......

Well if this ad from Stella Artois is to be believed I have.......

Clearly as a woman my only reason for being, like beer, is to please a man......seriously......even someone with my colourful vocabulary doesn't know enough naughty words to express just how bad this is. There are far better and more creative ways to shoot a beer ad than to rely on the out of date 1970's sex sells route, Guinness are able to do it with every ad they make, shame that more beer brands don't follow suit.

Just when I thought nothing could beat the blatant sexism of the Devassa ad along comes this beauty to trump it, shame on you Stella Artois!!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Pub Tokens

I spied on TV this morning a new advert courtesy of Pub Tokens. The ad itself won't win any awards (not even the worst ad, that spot is owned by the dreadful We Buy Any Car) but I do think they have a great product which makes up for the lack of ad creativity.

The Pub Token is a gift token that can be redemmed against food and drink in pubs and already they have Greene King, JW Lees, Shepherd Neame, Daniel Thwaites and Young's on board. I'm all for it, anything that ecourages people back down their local pub can only be a good thing and it's good that they already seem to have a good National spread of pubs taking part already.
You can buy them online in multples of £10 or £20. If Santa or the birthday fairy start listening this early I already have more assorted bath products than I have cupboard space and I do love a trip to the pub, I'd be delighted to get these as a present.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Paris Hilton at it again..........

Awhile ago I wrote about the Brazilian beer Devassa  and their choice to hire Paris Hilton as an 'ambassador' for their brand. 

 Devassa, which means sexy in Portuguese,  features a scantily clad lady with come to bed eyes on all of it's packaging so it's no surprise that they have produced an advert that features the aforementioned Ms Hilton writhing provocatively against a window whilst rubbing herself all over with a can of beer.   

Now I'm no prude but it does really bother me that beer ads continue to treat women as sex objects, which in turn stops women choosing to drink beer. And this time it seems I'm not alone as the advert has created a lot of conroversy in Brazil with a government official for women's affairs calling for the ad to be taken off air due to its sexist undertones.

"It's an ad that devalues women - in particular, blonde women. The problem with the ad isn't a lack of clothing, but its sensual nature," said a spokesperson.
So what do you think, are people being over sensitive or should the ad be banned?

What's in a price

Yesterday I Spotted on Twitter this comment about the difference in pub and supermarket beer pricing which was apparently quoted in a Parliamentary debate on the Future of the Pub...................
"When Labour came to power beer in pubs was priced 2 times the price in supermarkets. Now it is 7 times the price. #ukpubs"
According to My Supermarket  Carling is currently an average of £1.05* per pint in the supermarket, for @arfurd to be right then pubs must be punting out pints of Carling at £7.37 a pint!! Actually the truth is that the average price of a pint of Carling (according to Nielsen) is £2.54 and even in fancy London town only reaches a peak of £2.79, so either @arfurd is drinking in very posh pubs or maybe things aren't actually that bad.

This week I presented at a BII forum on how to attract more women into pubs and over lunch sampled some Kasteel Cru which went down very well until one licensee asked me if it was available in supermarkets. When I sad yes he put the bottle down in disgust and said "well I'll never be able to sell it in the pub then" which to me seems short sighted - do we honestly believe that on and off trade prices should be the same? I do think that supermarket pricing needs to be addressed, using alcohol as a loss leader should be stamped out and a minimum pricing policy be enforced to build the right level of respect for alcohol but to suggest on and off trade pricing should be the same undermines the pub service offer.

At home I drink Sainsburys Italian Coffee at £1.95 which is about 13p a cup and it's very nice, I've experimented with other coffees and this one's my favourite. But, almost every day I stop at my local Starbucks and part with, by comparison, a whopping £3.20 for a Grande Skinny Caramel Macchiato (with full fat syrup of course, credits and debits after all). Now I could recreate this at home, Starbucks sell all the things I need to do that, but I wont because what I'm paying the extra for is the service that comes with it - the fact that a barista they've taken the time and expense to train makes it for me, that they use their electricity instead of mine and they offer me a muffin to go with it.

And the same goes for pubs, if I went into my local Sainsburys and they asked me what beer I wanted, offered me a seat at a table their staff had cleaned, went out the back and got a bottle they had chilled for me, poured it into a glass they had washed and allowed me sit there and enjoy it whilst using their heating and lighting then I'd be prepared to pay a lot more for it. A good pub with a good service offer must be able to command a significantly greater price than the supermarket for the same product, if they cant and customers wont spend the money they need to look at their offer and make sure they are offering value for their drinkers and a reason to be drinking in their pub, not at home on the sofa.

But, said the BII man, the reason that supermarket beer is so cheap is not the difference in offer but because the brewers sell it to them for them for next to nothing. But is that really the case or are the supermarkets prepared to lose money on beer to drive punters into store in the hope that they'll also buy toilet rolls and milk and a whole host of other things they can off set the loss against.

Using the average selling prices above what is the actual difference in cost price to retailers........

So why the difference I hear you cry - well firstly the VAT, obviously the higher the retail price the more the government want to grapple off retailers. The biggest difference is the retail margin £1.11 of the £1.49 difference because pubs need to charge much higher margins as they have to cover all their costs (cost of beer, staff, cleaning, rent, rates, electricity etc) from this margin. The supermarkets obviously have similar costs but spread over a huge range of products - beer makes up a fraction of their total sales.

That leaves about 15p difference on average on the price of beer sold by brewers between pubs and supermarkets - not such a great difference after all eh? Especially when you consider how much more it costs a brewer to service a pub versus a supermarket - extra distribution costs (delivering to lots of individual pubs is more expensive than one supermarket distribution centre), the cost of dispense equipment, engineers and that 15p difference is very quickly spent.

So the brewers are making the same amount of money from pubs and supermarkets, if we want supermarkets to charge more for beer we need to be lobbying the government not the producers.

And if pubs really believe they cant charge any more than supermarkets for beer then it's time they reviewed their service - that's what should set them apart not having completely different products.

*at the time I wrote this, it changes all the time as they pick up new offers.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Beer, the choice of women in comfortable shoes...............

This week The Ormskirk Baron kindly brought to my attention that  Black Sheep Brewery are hosting a Ladies Food and Beer evening as part of National Cask Ale Week. The idea of a ladies beer tasting event is a great one and one I'm fully behind, with so few women drinking beer anything that makes more try a beer is a great idea in my book but the poster they have pulled together to advertise it is quite simply, dreadful.

There are a lot of reasons that women don't drink beer but one of the biggest rejection factors is beer advertising. Historically we've come to expect juvenile humour, girls in bikinis and adverts that do one of two things when it comes to women, objectify them (this Heineken ad is possibly one of the most sexist ever) or, like this completely patronize them like this ad.

But this is a good activity, according to Pete Brown's Cask Report more women than ever are enjoying cask beer with  30% of women now claim to have tried  cask ale - up from 16% a year ago and the number of women who now claim to drink cask ale has doubled - but my worry is with this approach to the advertising it will turn off women who never drink beer. For me it perpetuates the myth that beer is the preserve of women in comfortable shoes and not a serious consideration for today's modern woman.

CAMRA are also planning a FemAle Day (see what they did there) as part of National Cask Ale Week and often use the oh so attractive image of a woman with a pint for a head in their Beer magazine - is this really going to appeal to a potential new generation of consumers???

The biggest challenge the beer category faces is attracting women under 35 because they think beer is an old fashioned, unstylish, blokey drink enjoyed by their dads and so are downing Pinot Grigio by the bucket load and if these two images are anything to go by we're not doing anything to convince them otherwise.
What we need to do is position beer as a stylish, credible drink alternative and break down the myth that it's only for fat, chav lesbians if we want to see serious growth in women drinking beer. The interest in cask ale is fantastic but the fact is that 60% of women still don't drink beer ever, so lets see more events like the Black Sheep Brewery tasting but lets see them advertised in a way that makes women want to go and makes them see beer as a great choice.


Gone Bananas.......

Bananas are a fruit I struggle with. I know they're good for me, packed full of vitamins b and c and, as a highly toned athlete, I obviously welcome a rich source of potassium. But bananas present me with a very short window of opportunity, too hard and I gag, too soft, ewwwwwwww, and I really gag. I buy them every week but rarely eat them so unless you can inhale the health benefits through the skin as you throw the rotten bananas in the recycling bin I'm missing out.

But this week I decided to try and use up the soft bananas and a quick google search found me a banana cake recipe courtesy of  nibb'lous which has to be one of the easiest and yummiest cake recipes I've ever tried. It's this.........

4oz butter (I always use Lurpak for baking, it's the best)
6oz sugar (granulated, caster, or mix in some demerara, whatever you have to hand)
8oz self raising flour
2 eggs
2 large or 3 medium, very ripe bananas (I used 2, any more and I reckon the cake would be a bit wet)
(I also added 100g of dark chocolate chips after the daughter turned Peter Kay at the thought of the original cake - banana cake? cake with banana.....dirty b*st*rds....)

Heat the oven to gas mark 4; 180C and grease a 2lb loaf tin.
Mash the bananas with a sturdy fork.
Cream the butter and sugar together and mix in the eggs
Mix together the two yellow sludges you now have and mix in the flour.
Scrape into the loaf tin and bake for 40 minutes then lower the temperature to gas mark 2; 150C and cook for a further 30 minutes.

Cake baked, domestic goddess bit over and it's time for a beer, but what beer to match such a scrummy cake. I went for a complimentary beer, Grolsch Weizen.  If you haven't had the joy of a Grolsch Weizen yet it is yum, somewhere between a spicy, lemony Belgian wheat beer and the heady banoffee character of a German Weissbeer, with a rich caramel aroma that made it a perfect match for the sweetness of the banana cake. The beer has a lovely refreshing mouthfeel that you don't often get in a wheat beer that lifts and cleanses the palate in between mouthfuls of cake that stops any sweetness being too much.

And there's still bananas left over (I obviously buy too many in the hope that I'll become a health freak) so next is a Banoffee Cheesecake that I tried at our national conference and was just divine. The mix of sweet banana and caramel making it difficult to tell where the pudding stopped and the beer started - divine.

Butter Shortbread
125g butter
63g sugar
250g flour

Mix butter with the sugar and add flour, mix until combined
Roll out onto floured surface, place on baking tray and chill for 10 minutes in the fridge
Cook in oven for 15 - 20 minutes at 160 degrees

Vanilla Cheesecake
240g milk
216g sugar
drop of vanilla essence
100g patis mousse
400g cream cheese
600g whipped cream
4 sliced bananas
1 tin of condensed milk
Put the can of milk, unopened, in a large pan, cover with water, bring to the boil and boil for 4 hours, topping up with boiling water from the kettle as needed. Remove and leave to cool and it will have turned to toffee
Heat milk, vanilla essence and sugar, add patis mousse and whisk until thickened slightly
Add milk mixture to the soft cheese and mix until smooth
Beat in a third of the whipped cream
Fold in remaining cream
Layer up in a dish, ring or flan case - shortbread, toffee, cheesecake cream and bananas

Am not sure I have the culinary skills to match the professionals that whipped it up on the day but if I get it even half right it'll be divine, I think I need to buy bananas more often!!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Grauniad Dibnukeng Bree Mthys

It's been a little while since I've blogged so apologies if you've been waiting on tenterhooks for my latest musings - you can now breathe again.

Inspiration was brought to me today by Felicity Cloake  who is debunking beer myths over at The Guardian. Obviously not as big news as Cheryl Cole finally seeing sense and dumping the awful Ashley but still caught my eye nevertheless as a lot of it is things I spend my whole days talking about.

The first thing that Felicity challenges is that all beers are the same, and for me this is a key education point for women if we want to encourage more of them to drink beer. When women say that "I don't like beer", I think what they really mean is that "I don't like the beers that I've tried" which in the main will probably be Becks, Bud, Carling, Fosters and Corona, probably all badly served warm in an ugly glass and this has shaped their view of the whole category. 

Challenge is that how do you say to women "well have you tried ALL beers" without sounding like an arse but I'd love women to realise the wealth of beer styles and flavours on the market, there's over 2,500 beer brands available in the UK, you'll find one you like if you're prepared to try a few and experiment. And trust your own instincts, if you like something that's ok, whatever the pongy ale drinkers might tell you, or as Felicity puts it;
Don't be fooled into believing that ale is always better either: whatever the folks at the Campaign for Real Ale say, handcrafted lagers are making some headway in this country.)
Something tells me that she's not making a case for Carling drinking but I do love the fact that she's recommending all beer styles - a lady after my own heart!! Interesting to read one of the commenters taking umbrage at the suggestion that lager is a beer, somewhat proves the point and as I've mentioned more than once before I'd love to see that kind of attitude leave the beer market. 

One thing I see on a regular basis is that there just  isn't enough information about beer on offer in bars which puts people off ordering it, especially women, and doesn't help break the myth that all beers are the same. I would love to see beer menus in pubs and descriptors on the shelves in the beer aisle. Or maybe just make the beer aisle a nice place to be - the wine aisle in your supermarket is a nice place to shop, it's interesting, the wine is stocked in a way that helps you make informed choices, and there's recommendations - wine of the week, what goes with food. But you swing your trolley round into the beer aisle and suddenly you're in a dirty warehouse packed high with big boxes of beer - no wonder you don't see many people browsing there, it's hardly an inviting place to spend time. 

But it could be, it's not rocket science, it happens all the time in the wine aisle, if we just invested a little more care and time in showing beers in their best light, highlighting different flavours and styles seems like a really simple way to get more people trying more beers.

I guess there's a real learning for beer marketeers, wine didn't become so popular by chance, as an industry they've worked hard at it, maybe we should steal a few things..............

Monday, 15 February 2010

I'm Backing Beer (obviously!)

An unashamed corporate plug that I feel very passionate about - if you feel the same then join in.

For too long, beer has been competing with major cider brands with one arm tied behind its back – a tax legacy of a bygone era when most cider was produced in small craft presses in the West Country; a very different picture to the highly efficient, brand led industry of today.

It’s time to level the playing field to ensure beer can compete fairly.  The Chancellor indicated his willingness to address this question when he announced a review of cider duty ahead of the next budget, in March 2010.  There are no foregone conclusions, however, and we need to ensure that a clear case for beer stands out in the duty debate.

We want our local MPs to understand the issues around duty and have the opportunity to lend their weight to the case for a level playing field for beer.  All you need to do to send a letter to your local MP is click on the link below, follow the simple instructions and an MP letter will be automatically generated for you…..

A simple action that could make an enormous difference. Am not sure that the link will work for people outside of Molson Coors. If it doesn't here's the letter, why not send a copy to your MP. 

Dear ,


As one of your constituents, I am contacting you to ask for your support of Britain's brewing industry which is being threatened by daily pub closures and an uneven duty playing field for beer.

As a brewing employee, I also wanted to make you aware of some of the anomalies which prevent fair competition between beer and cider brands in the UK.

Brewers are willing to compete on a level playing field, but cider's 29p per pint tax advantage over beer (at 5% ABV, which is the average of all cider sold in the UK) has subsidised an unfair marketing advantage for too long, encouraging beer drinkers to switch brands and exacerbating the decline in beer sales. In fact, 70% of new cider volume in 2009 came as a direct switch from lager, yet the major cider brands pay less than half the duty rate paid by lower ABV major lager brand competitors.

Indeed, if cider brands paid duty at the same rate as beer, Government duty revenue from the 8m hectolitres of cider sold in 2008 would have increased by more than £400 million.

I understand the low rate of cider duty was justified to support small apple growers and cider makers in the West Country and I appreciate the need to create a workable way to protect craft producers. We believe that small cider makers should benefit from a relief mechanism similar to the Progressive Beer Duty system which has provided a welcome stimulus to microbrewers across the UK, since 2002.

However, this requires us to recognise that the structure of the modern cider industry is very different - with the vast majority of UK cider sales now being efficiently manufactured by two multinational drinks companies, accounting for more than 8 in every 10 pints of cider sold in Britain's pubs. Surely it is not the intention to subsidise these large scale manufacturers at the expense of Britain's brewing sector?

As you will be aware, beer duty increases in line with ABV, whereas cider has a flat rate to 7.5% ABV. In practice, this means that 4% beer pays over 37p per pint versus cider at 18p and a 5% beer pays 47p per pint versus cider, still at 18p per pint. I find it especially alarming that a 7.5% alcohol cider should pay only 18p per pint duty when the equivalent ABV beer attracts a duty rate of 70 pence per pint.

I want to see beer and cider duty rates aligned at the next budget to ensure fair competition between beer and cider brands and to help to promote a sensible drinking culture.

This would provide a much needed boost to UK brewers and barley farmers, close the loop hole that allows the sale of extremely cheap white ciders and substantially increase duty revenues to the Treasury over the coming years.

I am aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is reviewing cider duty ahead of the next budget and wanted to ensure you understood a brewing employee point of view so that you can contribute fully to the debate and lend your weight to the argument for a fair and level playing field for beer.

Yours Sincerely,