Chris Mercer

The beverage business blog from Chris Mercer

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just-drinks closed for public holiday (plus news of Kim Jong-Il)

26 Aug 2011 16:01

just-drinks' virtual printing presses will halt on Monday (29 August) in honour of a public holiday here in the UK. However, to keep you amused in the interlude, here's some news on the brewing ambition of North Korea's leader.

Clearly tired of nuclear weapons, it now seems that Kim Jong-Il is turning his sights to beer. North Korea's 'dear leader' wants to build a brewery in nearby Russia, according to a report.

North Korea's leadership 'has previous' in the brewing world. Around ten years ago, Kim Jong Il acquired Ushers Brewery in the UK, shipped the parts over to North Korea and then began producing Taedong River Beer.

Other known favourites of the secretive leader include Nestle's Perrier water and Martell Cognac.

Until Tuesday.

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Diageo hopes 'charity tax' gets stuck at ferry terminal

25 Aug 2011 15:29

Diageo's CEO, Paul Walsh, has said he does not expect to give a one-off tax donation to the UK Government, as some of his counterparts in France have promised to do.

CEOs of some of France's largest companies, including Evian water producer Danone, have said that they are willing to pay a one-off tax contribution to help the country reduce its debt.

It is not clear whether this offer amounts to a personal or corporate contribution.

Either way, Diageo's CEO Paul Walsh seems in no mind to lead a similar charge in the UK. "I hope it stays that side of the [English] Channel," he told just-drinks in an interview today (25 August).

"This company pays enough tax and this individual pays enough tax and we're not going to pay any more," he said. That's that, then.

 

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French CEOs to pick up national tax bill

24 Aug 2011 14:58

CEOs of some of France's largest companies, including Evian water producer Danone, have said that they are willing to pay a one-off tax contribution to help the country reduce its debt.

No, we're not taking drugs. This is really happening, as evidenced by an open letter published in France's Nouvel Observateur magazine today (24 August) - how's your French?. Danone CEO Franck Riboud is among the high-level signatories of the letter, which says that the gesture to pay a one-off tax contribution comes amid concern for the economic future of France and Europe.

Shall we be cynical? Yes? What a fantastic bit of publicity this is, for both the companies and the government. Let's not pretend for one moment that the contribution will touch the sides of France's long-standing debt problems. 

That said, it is a very unusual move, and something similar has already been proposed by US billionaire Warren Buffet in his own country of birth. For symbolism alone, it is worthy of note.

Tomorrow, I shall be interviewing Diageo's CEO, Paul Walsh, on the drinks giant's full-year results. What odds would you put on UK CEOs following the French lead?

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No plants were harmed to make this Banrock Station billboard

19 Aug 2011 12:38

Banrock Station

Banrock Station's 'growing' billboard

Upside down plants are becoming trendy. They must be, because two cafes I know in the trendiest of trendy corners of London - Shoreditch - have installed them on their ceiling. It's probably ironic in some way; most things in Shoreditch are. How does this relate to Banrock Station wine? 

Well, last night a few of us curious hacks trekked to London's Westfield shopping centre to see Accolade Wines' 'growing' billboard for Banrock Station. Around 800 native British plants have been planted sideways on a giant billboard to create an advert for the wine brand. 

It took five hours longer than anticipated to do it, but Accolade thinks the benefits will be worth it. Around 1m people are expected to pass the billboard over the next two weeks, according to the company's research. 

When Accolade's creative types thought this up, they probably imagined a backdrop of clear blue skies, whirling swallows and hazy sunshine. Unfortunately, the British summer served up a deluge of heavy showers as we admired the billboard last night. At least it'll be good for the plants, which, by the way, shoppers can water for themselves using a cunning button situated below the billboard itself.

The whole idea is part of Accolade's plan to emphasise Banrock Station's environmental credentials (part of the Banrock Station vineyard property in Australia is certified wetlands). Accolade has signed media partnerships for the brand with the Guardian newspaper and Channel 4 online, as well as donated GBP30,000 (US$49,500) to Natural England. When the billboard is taken down at the end of August, the plants will be given to local communities.

Us journalists are playing our part, too. After a few minutes of admiring the billboard artwork, we slunk back into the Meat & Wine Co bar to boost Banrock's volume sales. Cheers.

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Heineken launches 'The Riot'?

09 Aug 2011 15:29

Heineken has received some impromptu product placement during the London riots. Following the launch of "The Date", do we now have "The Riot"? 

Ok, so it's not the latest ad to appear as part of the global brewer's 'Open Your World' marketing campaign. But, watch the below for your own amusement. 

 

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The Great British Beer Booze-Up

03 Aug 2011 15:29

I struggled to enjoy myself this week at The Great British Beer Festival and it doesn't have anything to do with the taste of beer.

I love the idea of The Great British Beer Festival; I think that it's good for the industry-at-large that the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is able to showcase so many small-scale cask ales in one place - and even (whisper it) quite a few bottled beers.

So, why is it that I always emerge from Earl's Court in London with a sense of disappointment? 

This year, after another night roaming the bars, I think I've nailed it. The atmosphere of the place stinks, literally if you stay there till closing. From the concrete floors to the giant wheelie bins parked in the aisles to the amount of people who clearly can't handle as much beer as they thought to the way that CAMRA bangs on about food matching only to allow people to sit on the floor eating out of takeaway boxes. 

Both my girlfriend and (I'm sure he won't mind me saying this) managing editor Olly Wehring's 'Mrs Wehring' have vowed never to attend the Great British Beer Festival again - after one visit each. My fear for the industry is that more people think the same: whole swathes of potential beer drinkers instantly alienated, leaving the same old rump to soldier on. 

I don't dislike CAMRA. Like most other beer drinkers, I think they've played a very important role in keeping an interesting section of the beer industry alive. And, it's a body founded on conservation, so it's not hard to see why tradition is so fundamental to its thinking. 

That said, I think the CAMRA of today needs to look at what is happening. There's a whole new generation of people interested in beer. They want to get involved, but some parts of the industry are in danger of allowing these people to slip through the net. 

The Great British Beer Festival an advert for beer? My head says 'yes', but my eyes say 'no'.

 

 

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Molson Coors extinguishes the embers on Foster's?

02 Aug 2011 15:27

Does Molson Coors' decision to spend US$1.2bn to buy back its own shares deliver the knockout blow to lingering thoughts about the brewer acquiring Foster's Group?

I think the answer is yes, if that blow has not been delivered already. I think we can forget about Molson's potential tilt at Foster's, whether via a tie-up with Grupo Modelo or anyone else. 

It seems unlikely that Molson would have the resources to fund both.

In reality, it has been distancing itself from the Australian brewer for some time. Late last year, Molson announced it would sell its 5% stake in Foster's.

Where does the buyback leave Molson Coors' acquisition strategy? With not many big players left to buy, the group will be looking for add-ons in the emerging markets, most likely. It recently acquired the stricken Cobra beer operations in India

 

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Rule Britagne? The new face of English wine

05 Jul 2011 15:26

Can we call off the search for a generic name for English sparkling wines? Don't be too hasty.

Wine industry deity Christian Seely, one half of producer Coates & Seely, thinks that all English wine producers should adopt the name "Britagne" to define their wines as one category.

"We don’t believe that “English Sparkling Wine” or “Quality Sparkling Wine” does our product justice – it’s too literal and bland," Seely was quoted as telling the Telegraph newspaper.

He's got a point. But, 'Britagne'? Really? Isn't that a bit, well, French-sounding for the English wine industry?

Apparently, Seely said that this is intentional.

Ah, that's ok then.

By a similar token, perhaps the Californians should have called their most famous wine region 'Napali Valley' (instead of the rather mundane 'Napa Valley'), in honour of 'Old World' Italian winemaking.

 

 

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A Wild Turkey Night

30 Jun 2011 10:43

I spent yesterday evening in the company of 77-year-old Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell.

It's an old phrase, but it seems wholly appropriate to say that what Jimmy Russell doesn't know about Bourbon, isn't worth knowing. I met him last night in the Skylon bar and restaurant over some of the new Wild Turkey 81, Wild Turkey Rye whiskey and a couple of mint juleps.

One of the most interesting things was hearing about the Bourbon sector has shrunk down the years. When Russell started, there were close to 30 Bourbon companies and nigh-on 50 distilleries. Now, though, there are only six companies and nine distilleries.

Compared to Scotch, Bourbon is tiny. Yet, more and more people want a piece of it - as Gruppo Campari showed by snatching Wild Turkey from Pernod Ricard a couple of years ago.

Our evening was made more amusing by watching Russell, at the end of night, trying to persuade a team of Diageo employees (randomly, on the next table) to appreciate the finer aspects of Wild Turkey. Once a charmer, always a charmer, it seems.

Of course, it's ok for Diageo employees to drink any Bourbon that they choose. It's one of the few categories in which Diageo is not present....Yet.

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Lafite Rothschild for how much?

28 Jun 2011 15:28

I'm not just talking about the wine, I'm talking about whole chateau, turrets and all.

The guys over at Liv-ex have been working on valuations for Bordeaux's top chateaux; something that is obviously not that easy to do due to the private ownership that prevails in France's most famous wine region.

However, through various means - largely via a calculation involving current market production, previous transaction prices and current market prices - Liv-ex has come up with a chart of figures.

Topping the list, largely thanks to Chinese thirst, is Lafite Rothschild, which Liv-ex values at EUR3.7bn. Lafite is way out in front, with Latour in second place on a value of just EUR1.28bn.

Interesting stuff.

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