What a momentous day yesterday was. Or wasn't. We had two announcements. First of all AB-InBev continued down their blind alley with the launch of Stella Cidre. If you didn't laugh, you'd cry. The cider bubble may not have completely burst yet, though there is at least an indication that the "over ice" segment is declining in an overcrowded market. While there is plenty legs yet in the traditional market and the market for real perry is a growing one, where does Stella Cidre fit? Will punters move to Stella on brand cachet? Doubtful if we look at Stella Black and Stella 4. Whichever way you look at it, seems like another plunge downmarket for the brand. You almost feel sorry for the hapless beggars.Pete Brown sums it up well.
The other announcement that had the over excited wetting their pants, was the takeover of Sharps by Molson-Coors. Sharps is an interesting case, grown from a small micro in 1994, to a 90,000+ barrel a year regional. This is almost all on the back of Doom Bar, a modest tasting brown beer which dominates in the South West and increasingly in London. I don't know if the brewery was still owned by Bill Sharp, the founder but when you look at the business, there was a company (90%) of output is Doom Bar, ripe for the picking and ripe for those investors who wanted to cash in.
What are the wider implications though? It is clear that unlike most of the international brewing giants, Molson-Coors have come to see a future of some sort in producing cask beer. Their investment in the William Worthington Brewery at Burton is evidence of this and they clearly see Doom Bar as a good fit for national roll out. I'd guess its likely quarry is Deuchars IPA, Courage Best, Greene King IPA and the like and will be a reassuring name at the bar, which will offend few and give an easy introduction to cask ale for the cautious. But there has to be a note of caution. The record of such things isn't a good one. If you'd like a salutary lesson from history about local beers expanding widely, I'd ask you to recall, Ruddles, Boddingtons and Theakstons. All three suffered almost terminally under the dead hand of international brewers. Is this different? Well possibly. Sharps may be Cornish, but they own no pubs, have no long history and can roll along nicely under new ownership. Nobody is going to be that upset about it. It will be business as usual, but on a bigger scale I suspect.
Of course it could be argued that the biggest asset acquired in the deal is Stuart Howe the Sharps Head Brewer. (Stuart Howe and Sharps nice modern brewery for less than the price of Andy Carroll - a snip, a bargain.) If Stuart is allowed to continue his development of very interesting beers that could then have the resources of Coors behind them, then this would seem to be money well spent. Coors may just have spotted an opportunity here to steal a march on not only their international rivals, but some of the Smart Alec's of British Brewing. They have created a wonderful opportunity for themselves, not only in cask beer, but in craft beer (or speciality beer) too.
The potential is there, so let's hope that despite history, they play this hand well.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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