Mexicans, barbarians and 4000-year-old beer
By Musty Bunches | 20 March 2002
No parties, no decent socials, the months after Christmas seem to go on forever. Gathering gossip in these sober times could prove taxing for a gossip columnist less well connected than Musty. But this month she has travelled as far afield as Mexico, mixed with barbarians and drunk 4000-year-old beer, in search of the weird and wonderful of the drinks world. Oh and Allied is up to its old tricks again...
God Bless America, says Musty, waving her Stars & Stripes with all the energy of a politician counting his backhanders. For truly, it is a living example of the benefits of the free market. A shining beacon of the work hard, play hard benefits of capitalism. A country that believes in small government and big business. Oh yes. A land of milk and honey, where the product does the talking on the most level of playing fields, untainted by political interference.
Except for steel, obviously, where it's more important to look after your own.
Or, apparently, for ickly-sweet fizzy drinks such as Coca-Cola.
What? Coca-Cola? That company whose very existence is a shining beacon of said 'work hard play hard' benefits of capitalism?
The very same.
Having been a big fan of La Coca for many years (particularly mixed half and half with vodka to take the edge off the sugar) Musty was distraught to see that Mexico's anti-trust commission has recently ruled against the sticky fizz giant, accusing them of "abusing their dominant position".
Coke, it turns out, offers tiny retailers fridges, pretty light-up signs and merchandise, in exchange for exclusivity. And, fridges, light-up signs and bottle openers are worth a good deal in a country with Mexico's shaky economy, particularly when your 'shop' is a suitcase by the side of the road, and the free fridge can double as a handy two room flat.
All clever stuff, even if it does mean that über-capitalist Coke is actively pursuing a Free Market of the kind that operated in 1950s Soviet Russia.
While we are on the subject of business structures from the last century, Musty was surprised (and impressed) to hear of a new initiative by a conglomerate of leading French wine industry members, aimed at recapturing some of the ground lost to New World Producers in the last decade.
The Groupe Stratégique will be bold, decisive and prepared to think the unthinkable. For instance, questioning the idea that French wines are inherently better simply because they have silly accents on the label.
"The aristocratic ideas of the French wine sector… need to disappear, and the French wine industry needs to listen to markets," intoned Jean-Louis Piton, one of the six members of the group.
And who is heading these open-minded free-thinkers who have so much respect for their Australian and Californian competitors and the world market at large? Jacques Berthomeau, a government figure who last year described these same international wine fraternity as "the Barbarians…at the gates," when describing the threat of the New World to France's position.
When it comes to the Old World, of course, it doesn't come much older than Egypt - a civilisation famous for pharaohs, pyramids and people with their heads turned sideways. Oh, and beer, which is believed to have been invented there.
Now, Japan's Kirin brewery has decided to play the, ahem, powerful "Egyptian beer heritage" card in a big way.
The discerning Japanese beer drinker, they have decided, doesn't want more alcohol, less taste or fancier packaging for his brew of choice.
No, they want beer with authenticity, with history. Beer produced the same way that the Egyptians made it 4,000 years ago. ie a brew made from hard scraps of bread, processed into a gruel and fermented.
The Egyptio/Japanese hybrid (based on information derived from wall paintings) will, believe it or not, actually come on the market some time next year - presumably as long as the stuff doesn't actually turn out to have been a recipe for embalming fluid.
Should the Pharaoh Phizz not turn out to be quite the success Kirin hopes, it could probably always sell the stuff to Allied Domecq, who clearly don't view non-toxicity as an essential ingredient in the 21st century drinks world.
Over the last few years, AD has been something of a disappointment for Musty. It has hardly made any ridiculous decisions, hardly wasted any money and hardly provoked any mirth or frustration in the City.
Most disconcerting - and most unlike Allied of old.
Then, just when Musty was beginning to pine for the good old days, the sleeping giant rouses itself from its moribund state, lets out a mighty roar of intent and collapses with a coughing fit.
Which is precisely what you will do if you are foolish enough to try its latest offering. Magma - AD's new entry into 'yoof culcha' - is a sugar-filled shooter the colour of dental mouthwash with the consistency of engine oil. On the palate it is a winning combination of wet cardboard and cough medicine, while the finish is like having your throat scrubbed by a cheese grater.
"It's hot, it's cruel… it'll drive taste buds into melt down," screams the press release.
To which Musty would like to add the observation that gargling benzine could be described the same way - and there's a very good reason that no drinks company has seen fit to put that in a bottle and sell it.
Or is that next year's campaign boys?
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