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Archive for January, 2008

We have discussed this before:

Euro MPs will debate whether or not to phase out the use of patio heaters today.

A ban on patio heaters would upset thousands of pubs which have invested heavily in heaters for outdoor smoking areas since the ban.

Lib Dem MEP Fiona Hall has compiled a report on energy efficiency which “urges the Commission to establish timetables for the withdrawal from the market of all the least energy-efficient items of equipment, appliances and other energy-using products, such as patio heaters”.

More in the Morning Advertiser.

For some reason I had no photos of patio heaters. But the beer is called Old Smokey.

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There is a discussion that has been going on for some time on various beer blogs and in forums like ratebeer about extreme beers vs session beers. Some beer writers and enthusiasts are tired of the imperial stouts and super hoppy IPAs and want to promote the more modest, traditional styles.

I have, especially when reporting from my travels, covered many styles, from the most modest lager to high strength porters. There is room for them all, but I have, obviously some preferences. Let me elaborate a little.

In countries like Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, you have traditional high quality lagers and strong traditions of sticking to your local brew. These beers are usually more tasty than the global brands, and if you are lucky you will find an unfiltered version or a bock in addition to the standard Pils or Helles.

This is fine if you are passing through a town or village or just stay for the weekend. You may very well find a lovely pilsener with a crisp hoppy aroma to chase your troubles away. On the other hand, you might find yourself with a limited choice of two zwickls, low in hops and with an unspectacular flavour, leaving you searching desperately for something more exiting.

Cross the English channel, and you find a similar situation. Lots of medium strength session ales, most of them run of the mill, some of them packed with flavour. And they have their zwickls, too – a classic mild is a beer I am unable to rave about. It is too … mild.

For everyday use, I would like regular access to high quality session beers. A hoppy German pilsener, a weiss or wit, a British cask bitter. These are fine to drink with food. They are just the thing for a balmy summer evening. And one pint too many does not leave you legless.

It is important to have quality in this segment instead of leaving it to the Danish/Dutch/US big guys with their featureless bland macros they try to pass off as premium. These quality brews can be local or imported, preferably a choice of both. A good example is Sweden, where the range of imports has exploded – but at the same time there are micros brewing amazing session beers – Jämtland and Nils Oscar are two breweries worth mentioning.

(to be continued)

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I was amused by the furious reaction of InBev over the Young’s Pub Company to throw out Stella in favour of other bland lagers.

Yes, it’s the pub arm of once proud and independent brewer Young’s of Wandsworth we are talking about. They have decided to to replace Stella with a number of other lager brands, including Heineken, Amstel and Pilsner Urquell. (Why they would want both Heineken and Amstel escapes me!)

This is from an InBev statement - you can see them foaming:

“Young’s is trying to generate some publicity for itself on the back of commercial negotiations which didn’t go its way. Millions of consumers and thousands of customers would disagree with Young’s view of the brand.

“We are still three times bigger than our nearest competitor, and a mark of a premium product is the number of people that are willing to pay more for that brand.

The brewer also suggested that the delisting be kept in perspective. The brand was stocked in 120 pubs in the Young’s estate, a loss which an InBev spokesperson described as “very, very insignificant” in the overall scheme of things.

“We can often win that number of new customers in less than a day,” the spokesperson added.

There is nothing about this on their web site, instead you find gibberish like this:

Brahma is serving up a laid-back slice of Brazilian street life with a memorable, new cinema commercial that will boost its appeal among a generation of lager drinkers.
Rather than focus on the nation’s renowned passion for football, Flip Pong portrays a novel game of al fresco table tennis played in true Rio-style with flip-flops for bats!

Premium products indeed! 

I could not care less about them choosing between Stella and Heineken. But it’s good to see some of the big players being snubbed once in a while. And if it’s insignificant, you should not rant like that in public… Maybe he had a pint too much over lunch? Or maybe he can’t drink Stella while watching Elvis on Fridays?

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Inland tourism

I went with my family to Røros for a long weekend, a town about six hours drive North of Oslo. It’s a beautiful drive up there, but it is a long way to go in the winter when the days are so short.

Nothing new when it comes to beer, though I see the beers from Atna have a good distribution in their home region, both in shops and restaurants. I never thought I’d see this in Norway, but I even found a petrol station selling the Atna beers in gift packs. I thought there was strict legislation stopping this.

Røros itself is beautiful. This is an old mining town with a rather tough winter climate.it’s The charming old wooden buildings have put Røros on the UNESCO World Heritage list, which means lots of tourism throughout the year, although most of the visitors seemed to be Norwegian right now.

Our hotel,  with charming rooms spread in several old buildings, focused on local produce – freshwater fish, lamb, reindeer and root vegetables, but cooked in inventive ways. They made an emphasis of recommending the Atna range.when you asked for an unspecified beer.

No beery pictures, just enjoy the winter scenery!

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Bologna, anyone?

You were not very helpful when it came to beery places in Riga, ladies and gentlemen. Perhaps you know more about Bologna?

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There is some interesting research being done on the various beer markets, but it usually comes with a hefty price tag. Take the reports from Minte, who have recently published an overview of imported beer in the US market.

On their web page you’ll find just the table of contents and an outline, with a few items that caught my eye:

  • Why domestic craft beer threatens market sales and what its popularity can teach imported beer manufacturers
  • Beer energy drinks – the rise of a new segment (Son of low carb? Ed.)

To read the rest, I would have to fork out $ 3500, money I would rather spend on beer.

Luckily, there are publications writing about reports like these, and I found some coverage in the Marketing Daily.

Between 2001 and 2006, imported beer’s market share increased by 2.3%, which the consultancy says is the highest market share gain among all alcoholic beverages.

Mintel says imported-beer sales in the U.S. will grow 5.9% through 2012. A full 26% of beer drinkers imbibe imported beer.

The firm says import beers are benefiting from consumers’ upgrading to brands like Stella Artois, and “consumer inclination to try new and small [import] brands.” The firm says that Chinese brand Tsingtao, Czech brand Pilsner Urquell, German brands Hacker-Pschorr and Paulaner Biers, Italian brands Moretti and Peroni, Japanese brand Sapporo, Dutch brand Grolsch, and British brand Newcastle Brown Ale all have boosted U.S. sales and market share since 2002.

Mintel says the up-grade trend is being driven–as in other CPG, appliance, and auto market segments–by the expansion of higher-income households in the U.S. The firm notes that from 1999-2006, the number of households pulling in over $75,000 increased by 50%, or nearly 12 million.

The consultancy also says import-beer growth is being spurred by demographic diversity in the U.S., with Hispanic and Asian populations “considerably more likely than the average” to call for a beer from their country.

Mintel says four Mexican brands–Corona, Carta Blanca, Modelo Especial, and Tecate–contributed 41 million cases, or 55% of the total growth of 76 million cases, during 2002-06.

The challenges to import beers and domestic mass-market brands come from spirits and wine, and from the proliferation over the past decade of microbrewery “craft beers” like Magic Hat, Brooklyn Breweries, Sierra and others. Mintel quotes the Brewers Association’s stats saying craft beer volume sales grew 12% in 2006.

Mintel says craft beers attract both beer drinkers and wine and spirits drinkers because of the broad–sometimes wild–array of flavors and types, sophistication, full-bodied taste and higher-than-average alcohol content.

Interesting. To give my interpretation of this, it means that there is a part of the market that want beers similar to the ones they know. They want a B** with a foreign label, and Tsingtao, Moretti, Peroni and Sapporo can do that nicely. No flavour or aroma to offend anyone. To a certain extent you can charge higher prices for what is believed to be premium as well.

But to face the challenge from the domestic craft beers, some of the players have to look to European craft beers, too. Sure, there are small importers who focus on this, and there are Belgian beers widely available. But there is a potential here for real premium beers from Europe. For some brewers I think it is a question of taking the risk of scaling up their operation.  If they want to, now is probably the time to do it.

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And you can get your outfits from the official Oktoberfest site:

Their alternatives for men are not quite as interesting:

But they have cuckoo clocks, gingerbread hearts, mugs and glasses and whatever else you fancy. Lots of paper accessories to make your living room into a parody of a biergarten, too. Their cookery book is only in German, so you may have to look elsewhere for how to prepare the sauerkraut.

Need music? Try the groundhog yodeler.

Don’t tell them I sent you.

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Riga, anyone?

I try to do some planning.

Anyone know of good pubs, beer shops, restaurants, fun places for families to go? Come to think of it, I need to book a hotel as well.

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I would say it is not my fault, but if we should, for once, believe what we read in the Sunday Mirror, there are 67 pubs in Britain closing every month.

Bars are selling 50 million fewer pints of beer a month than they were a year ago.

Beer sales dropped by almost 10 per cent during December – normally the busiest time of the year.

The dramatic decline leaves many of the nation’s 58,000 locals in trouble.

Last month’s nine per cent decline in sales follows a 9.7 per cent drop in November the worst on record while October fell by 7.7 and September by 8.2 per cent. Between June and December, 470 pubs disappeared 2,000 have closed in the last two years.

The industry blames two factors: The smoking ban and cheap supermarket alcohol.

There are still 58.000 British pubs left, so I should be able to find a pint for a few years yet.

As for the smoking ban, I think it is being used as a scapegoat. I have written about the success of similar legislation across Europe, and, apart from some grumbling from Ireland, the pubs and bars seem to be doing quite all right.

When it comes to the British Isles, I think the gap between supermarket prices and pub prices has made a heavy impact. There are now predictions about the £4 pint arriving in 2008, and you don’t have to have a maths degree to see that this will hit the marginal pubs. 

And, realistically, there are limits to what you can do with legislation. If the market will not sustain the present number of pubs, there is not a lot you can do to preserve them all. The most English way of facing the problem was a letter to the press by Stanley Johnson, father of London candidate for mayor Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson (Senior) is of the opinion that a reduction in the drink-drive limit would kill off many pubs in remote rural areas.

The British pubs, like other businesses, have to adjust and change to appeal to new generations. Or course there is a unique heritage that appeals to locals and visitors, and let us hope that most of the best ones survive. At the same time, there are new, good pubs opening and there are old ones adapting, offering a better range of beers, better food etc. Some of the splendid bank buildings that have been converted into pubs, like the Old Bank of England in Fleet Street, show that it’s not all decline.

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I am scraping the barrel for London pub reviews now, but I had to give a mention to the Chesham Arms in Hackney. This was a bit tricky to find, hidden snugly away in a back street, but it is not far away from the busy main streets.

This is an old fashioned pub without being scruffy. One corner had enough noise from the TV and a gaming machine, but there was plenty of room elsewhere. The menu seemed to be pickled eggs plus a Sunday roast. Happy hour between 5 and 7 means a pint of real ale at £2, which is very decent.

The pub was run by an elderly couple, the recruitment of young and bored Russian ladies has fortunately not reached here.

4 Nethergate ales plus two others on hand pumps. The best one I sampled was the Red Santa, a lovely bitter with an edge of fruit. A little pleasant yeastiness, long lingering dry bitterness with some sour cherries, or, rather lingonberries. This would have been wonderful with rich Christmas Food.

What else? Probably the cleanest loos in London, there should have been awards for that, too!

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