To delist, or not to delist

27 June, 2008

That is the question when it comes to overly strong alcoholic beverages

Is there such a thing as an irresponsible drink? It's a question that has

been with us for a while now.

In certain areas of the drinks industry

clear guidelines are laid down to remove ambiguity around this idea.

These would imply that a drink itself isn't irresponsible, but the way

it is marketed might be. The Portman Group is constantly reviewing the way

drinks are packaged and advertised and, while

its decisions sometimes leave as nasty a taste as the latest exotic fruit-based RTD, their efforts are generally well


Some say

the organisation's latest spat with Aberdeenshire microbrewery BrewDog over the use of the words "aggressive", "twisted", "merciless" and (oddly) "nourishing" is a step too far. Others are surprised that the text has been targeted rather than the brewery's

cartoonish labels. Personally, I feel

BrewDog's beers are exactly


we should be encouraging younger drinkers (and by younger, I of course mean 18-25 years old) to try.

That way we might actually nurture a generation of discerning, knowledgeable beer drinkers. Just one sip of these

and it's obvious

they are n't aimed at youngsters.

If you were an industry watchdog in a particularly bad mood, you might want to argue that the text on the label is designed to summon up bravado about being able to drink such an uncompromisingly, aggressively tasty beer. If so,

these juvenile gourmets would be in good company; the exact quote eludes me now, but I'm sure Graham Greene found his first sip of ale to be repellent, but forced it down "to appear manly", and enjoyed subsequent beers with an enthusiasm that never failed him. No, BrewDog's beers will remain on our shelves.

But that's not to say that we never delist products. We sold our last few RTDs recently, lone sentinels of a bygone age, and we won't be restocking them. I've got RTDs to thank for a lot of things - mainly

getting this column after a series of Baden-Powellesque exchanges on the letters page - but did they bring new, curious , wealthy customers to our premises? No, they did not.

And have we suffered as a result of not stocking giant, chubby plastic bottles of turbo cider? No, of course not. And did delisting huge flagons of cheap, sparkling, fruit-based beverages drive us to the brink of ruin? Hell no - it just meant

we didn't have to put up with an incessant stream of teenage girls asking: "Don't you sell [generic product]? Why not? You should do, it's gorgeous."

So why am I even hesitating about delisting a well-known brand of extra-strong lager? About half the people who buy it have become such a nuisance that we've taken the unusual step of removing it from display , forcing people to ask for it by name. If they happen to be in the "pain in the arse" category , we can apologise and

say we've run out .

For the others, who can enjoy a strong beer without behaving as though the fall of civilisation has just started, we're happy to grab some out of the back room.

Think about it. It's a judgement call, with all the legal, moral and social factors

the phrase implies. Irresponsible drinks don't

exist in isolation: they


when combined with irresponsible retailing and irresponsible consumption.

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