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!!