I’d like to thank …

10 December, 2010

The Wrong Type of Snow Award for the Most Spurious Excuse for an Attempted Drinks Ban?Winner: Westminster City Council?Requesting that shops stop selling spirits miniatures was the council’s latest weapon in the battle against crack cocaine in the Soho district of London. The empty bottles are apparently part of a crack addict’s drug-taking paraphernalia, though we’re reliably assured that plastic inhalers, aspirin bottles and even car antennae can be used for the same purpose. Although the council didn’t have the power to enforce a ban, we detect the faint whiff of looking for an excuse about this one. After all, is anyone asking gentlemen’s outfitters to stop selling belts to halt heroin use???The Gordon Brown Award for Outstaying Your Welcome?Winner: White Lightning?The white cider brand was finally withdrawn from the market by Heineken UK in March after numerous attempts to encourage more responsible consumption, including the removal of extra-fill cans and 3-litre bottles, and two reductions in abv. The penny finally dropped at Heineken HQ that perhaps the only way to lead the white cider industry into oblivion was to have its once market-leading brand fall on its own sword, a move it took a mere five years after taking its first measures to clean up the brand’s image.

The Doris Stokes Happy Medium Award?Winner: New wine shop chains?First Quench may have demonstrated the ultimate folly of trying to run 1,200 drinks stores with little in the way of property assets and a supermarket price war round every corner, but at least its demise paved the way for a clutch of entrepreneurs to show that a new, medium-sized way of doing things could signal a bright new future for independents.

Existing chains such as Corks Out and Cambridge Wine Merchants went from strength to strength, while the likes of Vino, Winehouse/Cellar No 1, Wine Shak, the new Wine Rack and Jubilee Wines all emerged from the First Quench ashes. There was also Spirited Wine giving new impetus to Nicolas stores outside London, and brash young operations such as Naked Wines and Find Wine giving new life to internet wine shopping. The future for independents certainly looks happier than this time last year.

The Cheryl & Ashley Award for Public Dirty Linen Washing?Winner: The Australian wine industry?Wine Australia UK’s regional director Lisa McGovern began the year saying: “It’s not Bridget Jones anymore, it’s more rich and complex,” in an attempt to explain the country’s generic push around regional diversity.

By September, she’d quit, quickly followed by Paul Henry, the Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation’s general manager for market development, whose job it was to find McGovern’s replacement.

Cue an outpouring of unbridled opinion about the merits of the regional programme versus big brands. Henry made a parting shot against the use of generic marketing funds to finance supermarket discounts: “Allowing big retailers to be in charge of where the industry is going is like putting King Herod in charge of Mothercare.”?The When Is a Door Not a Door? Award?Winner: Smirnoff in the Accrington branch of Asda?Or more precisely, when is a bottle of vodka not a bottle of vodka? Answer: when it’s a bottle of water.

Shoppers in the Lancashire town were a bit miffed to discover that bottles of their favourite brand contained all the potency of England’s World Cup strikers.

What may at first have seemed an extreme attempt at preventing harmful drinking on behalf of brand owner Diageo turned out to be stock that had been tampered with. Investigations initially stalled after the first bottle to be submitted for evidence smashed in the post.

The I’m Sorry I’ve Got to Go and Visit My Nan Award Winner: Various London International Wine Fair absentees?The Fair suffered a clutch of high-profile pull-outs though it remained one of the high points of the UK trade’s work-related social calendar. At least Constellation came out and said its decision to pull out of the annual Excel vinfest was “based on current economics”.

Gallo’s more cryptic excuse was that it was “working with customers and media in different ways”, which sounded like everything had gone a bit Derren Brown at its Uxbridge HQ.

The Take That, Back For Good Award?Winner: Champagne?Bubbly has long been held to be a barometer of wider economic fortunes, so a return to growth for the world’s favourite celebratory drink seemed as inevitable this year as Robbie’s return to the Take That fold.

But the dramatic fluctuations in Champagne’s fortunes were a reminder that Everything Changes in a recession, and it will take Patience to establish a long-term recovery.

Regular supermarket price wars on Champagne still leave producers asking consumers: “How Deep Is Your Love?”, and they’d do well to Never Forget that, as the banking crisis of 2009 showed, It Only Takes a Minute for fortunes to be reversed – especially with a double dip still a possibility for next year.

Arguably the best thing they can do is Pray [That’s enough Take That puns – ed].

The Hello Magazine Flavour of the Month Award?Winner: Ginger?Own up, who really saw that one coming? Ginger food and drinks used to be about as popular as Nick Clegg at a student disco. Now, you can barely get anything on the shelves for the multitude of drinks flavoured with the spice that, handily for us, lends itself to all sorts of variations on the “going nuts about ginger” headline/caption.

Crabbie’s alcoholic ginger beer started the ball rolling – swiftly followed by Frank’s – before launching a soft drink version, while Fentimans did the reverse, bringing out the Hollows “hard” ginger beer to go with its softy. But Halewood’s was the real champion of the category, going as far as bringing out a range of ginger, er, nuts to create a beer and nibble combo.

The Lord Sugar Says “You Should Have Done Your Research” Award?Winner: Sailor Jerry?The spiced rum was relaunched in March to become “more rounded and less sweet” and “to allow the spices to come through”. Response: a 26,000-strong online petition and the threat of a boycott, led by disgruntled bartenders and spirit nerds, though it was unclear whether the post that suggested it tasted “very similar to another spiced rum called Morgan’s Spiced” was a complaint or an endorsement. To be fair, First Drinks had done copious research among bartenders who had pointed to the new spirit’s “improved versatility”, but they just appeared to be the wrong bartenders.

Harry Hill’s I Wasn’t Expecting That Award for the Least Likely First Quench Brand Acquisition?Winner: Francis Rossi?The Status Quo frontman was served up a Rusty Nail cocktail made with Thresher’s own-label whisky Glen Rossie while on tour, by someone who thought he’d be amused by the similarity to his name. Rossi was so impressed that, in a Remington moment, he took a 30% stake in Brand Cellar, a company which bought the rights to the Scotch. Rossi told OLN Glen Rossie was “very pleasant”, thus sparing the nation’s leading whisky writers a few sleepless nights.

The Who Said Politicians Don’t Keep Their Promises? Award?Winner: The Lib Dems, shockingly?Yes, hard as it is to believe, Nick Clegg and his cohorts adopted policy on a ban on below-cost selling of booze a full week before the General Election and now appear to be following through. With the Tories taking a similar line – despite David Cameron’s confused stance on local minimum pricing deals – a generation of supermarket promotional planners looked forward to a major overhaul of their spreadsheet templates.

The Hughie Green* Make Your Mind Up Time Award Winner: Three-for-£10 offers?Asda and Sainsbury’s came off what one supplier called the “three-for-£10 drug” in May, only for the former to do a juggernaut-sized U-turn six months later. The original intent had been to raise quality and price after customers told Asda that’s what they wanted, but it seems there may have a been a bit of that classic market research phenomena of people saying they want one thing and then doing the opposite.

In a rare outbreak of both enigmatic and philosophical PR-ship, an Asda spokesman told OLN: “If a week is a long time in politics, then it’s even longer in retail.”?*Presenter of Britain’s Got Talent forerunner Opportunity Knocks in the 1960s!??The Up and Down Like the Assyrian Empire Award for Tax Uncertainty?Winner: Cider?Not that the cider industry had much to do with controlling its own destiny.

First it was getting hammered by Alistair ­Darling, then there was a cooling-off period until after the general election, before the Tories abolished the increase altogether, but negotiated a whole new set of rules determining what a cider is, just to stop anyone from being tempted to bend the rules in future.

Producers ended the year at least knowing which playing field the game was taking place on, even if their competitors in beer weren’t entirely convinced it was flat.

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English wine: a happy harvest for Christmas

All across England and Wales, vineyards are being harvested. Down winding country lanes come armies of welly-wearing conscripts wielding secateurs and buckets, ready to reap the rewards of our vines. Happily they come, their cheeks ruddy with pride. Half an hour later they’re crawling over muddy clods with lacerated hands, drenched in claggy juice and cold sweat, as if ploughing through an endurance race.

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Is blended Scotch overshadowed by single malt in retailers?

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