BrewDog Vs The Portman Group

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Related tags: Portman group, Beer

James Watt talks about David Poley, chief of alcohol watchdog the Portman Group, as most people would refer to a cherished but eccentric old...

James Watt talks about David Poley, chief of alcohol watchdog the Portman Group, as most people would refer to a cherished but eccentric old uncle.

"You've got to love Dave," he says of the man with whom Watt's controversial brewery BrewDog has waged a verbal and legal war for close to a year.

This war hit its bloodiest peak when the Portman Group objected to the naming of BrewDog's beer Speedball and ordered its withdrawal in January. BrewDog head brewer Martin Dickie revealed that Speedball had been named after the cocaine and heroin cocktail that killed actor John Belushi as an act of protest against Uncle Dave.

The Portman Group had investigated complaints made about the naming of BrewDog's Riptide, Punk IPA and Hop Rocker for eight months before ruling in December that the beers would not have to have their packaging changed. "We thought we would give them something worth banning us for and we accept the name is slightly provocative," Dickie said when Speedball's withdrawal was announced.

BrewDog's provocations have raised many questions. Some praise the Aberdeenshire brewery for carrying the fight to an organisation briefed with raising pedantic objections to harmless marketing. Others say that, with irresponsible drinking in the authorities' crosshairs, there couldn't be a worse time to be making petty, ineffective - and perhaps even damaging - protests in the name of self promotion.

Watt claims the protest was justified. "The fact that the case against Punk Rocker was dropped by the Portman Group at the last minute vindicated our position all along," he says.

"Because of the fact that we got eight months of bad media coverage off the back of this thing when there are all kinds of bigger issues going on with other drinks companies' off-trade pricing, we wanted to show how ridiculous the whole thing was.

"Few people are willing to, or are in a position to, fight. We are."

When it comes to whether or not the timing was right, Watt says: "It was a measure that was designed to highlight the inefficiencies of the Portman Group. From our point of view, it did what it was designed to do, whatever the timing."

BrewDog is at the forefront of a so-called "extreme beer" movement. It has shaken up cask ale with a slew of innovative, unusual beers inspired by the adventurous US micro-brewing scene. Just as it is intent on pushing the envelope within what James sees as a staid UK beer market, it is equally bold in setting the cat among the pigeons of the industry's established institutions.

It is the Portman Group that comes in for most ire. "They're outdated, they're out of touch, they're acting like a cartel with the big drinks boys that fund them, and they're completely toothless to tackle the real problems around alcohol," Watt claims. Strong stuff.

We're not likely to have seen the last skirmish in BrewDog's battle with the Portman Group. An upcoming beer from the brewery will be titled after the variety of tea leaves used as an ingredient. Its name? Silver Needle.

Views on BrewDog vs the Portman Group

Nick Arthur, Everards operations director for brewing and sales

"It's distracting and they should concentrate on producing beers. It's very unproductive and time-consuming for a brewer to be stirring in the way that they are."

Iain Loe, CAMRA research and information manager

"BrewDog have not so much pushed the envelope as completely destroyed it. It's not welcome for brewers to deliberately be so controversial. However, I agree with their views on the Portman Group being petty."

Brian Yorston, Wadworth head brewer

"We would never have got in the position of having a battle with the Portman Group. I understand it's got them lots of publicity, but to be provocative is not useful at this time."

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