At last summer seems to have shown its face and gave us temperatures which are not prefixed with a minus character.  This means that for one weekend a month until August we can sit outside in the beer garden wearing just a t-shirt and enjoy our beers in the fresh air.  However summer also means the onslaught of bastardised ciders and lagers tainted with flavourings which effectively turn them into alcopops.  I wrote about the new wave of flavoured ciders not too long ago and again the push has started on these products in force.

Both Carlsberg and Fosters are really pushing their “posh shandies” this summer with Carlsberg Citrus and Fosters Radler being watered down versions of their parent beers (2.8%  and 2% ABV respectively) mixed with some variation of citrus flavouring.   Carling are extending their Zest range to include a ginger variation, joining its citrus brethren with a similar watered down strength of 2.8%.

Breweries love to create new terms to avoid having to use the words “low strength” or “shandy”, and this years is “New Mid Strength Moderation Category”.  Heineken are using this term to describe this market.  It is not, as I have discussed before. Mid strength would typically be a 3.5% – 4.5% ABV beer or cider, anything which sits at 2.8% of below is low strength, hence the reduced rate of beer duty.  They cannot use the term “low alcohol” for the reasons described below, but a more accurate and acceptable term would be “lower alcohol” which can be used for products of this strength.  This mealy mouthed term created to mask the true weakness of the beer by Heineken is simply marketing gibberish.

These companies will fall back on the newly issued Portman Group Guidance on Alcohol Marketing regarding claims made concerning strength when defending this terminology.  This says that defines low alcohol as “a drink with an abv of above 0.5% but not more than 1.2%”.  Using this definition almost no beer or cider based products could be defined as “low alcohol”.  The new guidance allows for a term “lower alcohol” to be used where the strength of a drink is of a lower percentage than a typical “similar beverage”, currently 4.2% for beer and 5% for cider.  There is also a lot of guidance included regarding the naming and branding of strong alcohol drinks, but nothing regarding the middle range and breweries are using this grey area to their advantage.

The Portman Group is “the social responsibility body for alcohol producers”. Its membership is made up of nine of the largest brewers, spirit and cider makers in the country, including AB InBev, Carlsberg, Diageo, Heineken and Molson Coors.  These big companies make up most of the advertising spend regarding alcohol promotion in the UK.  The same organisation also operates the drinkaware website which you see referenced in most alcohol advertising.  They, as a body, periodically publish code of practice guidance for suitable advertisements in the alcoholic drinks sector and also administer the Independent Complaints Panel which deals with possible breaches of the code of practice.

However, despite non membership, alcohol producers who are not part of the big 9 may be referred to this panel who can request the “offending” advert is pulled from circulation within a reasonable time if they find it breaches the code of practice.   Recent complaints which have been upheld include those against Hardknott Brewery Vitesse Noir because of its use of the phrase “it’ll be just the tonic that you needed.”  which implied a health benefit from consuming the product.  They also objected to use of the phrase “this beer is so packed full of beans it could have you dancing on the ceiling’”.  They disliked this phrase as it implied the Vitesse Noir “could affect physical capabilities”.

A lot of the other upheld complaints are mainly related to the promotion of “knocking back” drinks, disproportionate attention being given to the high strength of a beer / cider / ready to drink product and marketing which could be seen as targeting younger persons than the legal age of consumption.   All these I agree with, however the complaint against Hardknott seems to lack a sense of humour, if you really believe you will gain anti gravity abilities by drinking a bottle of this, you are probably on something else already.  If the brewery can prove this claim, its price would rocket up overnight and I would be ordering several cases.  The Portman Group should give adults some credit and assume they have a grasp on reality. Minors certainly need some protection, but adults can make their own decision.