Marston’s Buys Ringwood

product_oldthump_pump.gifRingwood have been taken over by Marston’s, as this article in the Times explains. Mike Benner, Chief Executive of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) says:

As one of the larger companies buys a brewery and expands its estate, competitors start hunting for their next purchase to keep up. Our fear is that an increasing number of smaller breweries will be lost if this race continues and consumer choice will suffer as a result.

That’s an astute bit of market analysis. Marston’s seem to think they’ll make more money out of allowing the smaller breweries they buy to remain independent and local, rather than bringing production of their beers “into the mothership”, as Charles Wells and Greene King have done:

Ralph Findlay, Marston’s chief executive, said that while the wider ale market was declining, many niche brewers were still doing well. “There is good growth in brands with strong imagery and a strong presence in their locality,” he said.

This is a topic we’ve posted on before — the value to the “big boys” of having some smaller, more credible brands to hide behind — but it’s worrying to think that if the market changes, those smaller breweries could be snuffed out, or at least neutered, overnight.

Of course, the former owner of Ringwood can’t be blamed: he’s pocketed nearly £20m, which is what the Godfather would call an offer you can’t refuse.

Ruddles Rebranded

Marketing magazine (July 11, p.6) says that Greene King is rebranding Ruddles — they’re changing the slogan from “serious country” to “proper country”, so they can “run a range of fun activities”. They’ll be giving drinkers the chance to win a tractor, for example.

They’ve also come up with a new “fun” variant on the beer: I don’t know about you, but I’m almost as excited about the exclusive “rhubarb flavoured” Ruddles they’ll be selling in branches of Tescos as I was to see “Greene King IPA — Extra Chilled” on a pump the other day…

If you do have a yearning for a real country beer, I’d highly recommend anything from the Cotleigh brewery in Wiveliscombe, Somerset.

More boring lagers launched

Carlsberg have decided to distribute Polish lager Okocim on tap, across the UK.

Okocim is not an especially exciting beer. It is not even the best Polish lager — and Polish lagers are a sorry bunch, to be honest.

It’s an attempt to tap into the market for “world lagers” — a bizarre sub-category much loved by chain pubs, which includes San Miguel, Kirin Ichiban, Peroni and so on.

I wish someone would distribute Jever Pils, for example, or Kostrizer Schwarzbier. That would be news.

Heineken UK relaunch

Today’s issue of Marketing Week carries a story about Heineken, who are apparently relaunching in the UK with a more “continental” image. They want people to drink Heineken in smaller measures, with a thicker head, as a “premium beer”.

This won’t do anything about the actual taste of their beer – it’s still “cooking lager” – but it is an interesting step away from British lager culture.

Marketing Week also points out how badly Heineken goofed when they relaunched last time, putting their beer’s ABV up to 5% just when everyone got upset about binge-drinking. They spent a fortune on announcing “new, stronger Heineken”, and then a year or so later their competitors were all announcing, for example, “new, weaker Becks”, or Stella, or Carling.

They’re also announcing a new “draught keg” for home use. Er… Party Seven?

Government strategy on binge-drinking

The UK Government have announced a new “alcohol strategy”, with the title “Safe. Sensible. Social.” [Link to 1mb PDF]

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said:

It is unacceptable for people to use alcohol and urinate in the street, vomit and carry on.

It’s almost regarded as acceptable to drink to get drunk and we want to change that attitude.

Apart from the fact that I don’t know exactly what “carrying on” means (laughing? swearing?) I broadly agree with these sentiments.

I also think, though, that cheap, nasty beer which it’s impossible to drink for any other reason than to get drunk, is partly to blame. There’s a good reason why you don’t hear much about “ale louts”, isn’t there?

More nice tasting beer; smaller measures; in nicer glasses; and a beer “tasting” culture, would all help to combat so-called binge-drinking.

Times article

BBC news online