There has been a mighty strop over the admission by Molson Coors that the bottled version of Sharp’s Doom Bar, one of the biggest-selling beers in the country, has been brewed for the past two years not in Cornwall but in Burton-on-Trent. The problem is compounded by the fact that this information is not clear from the label.
The front label announces in large type “Rock Cornwall”, which is where the brewery — founded in 1994 and bought by Molson Coors in 2011 — is based. The neck label enthuses about Sharp’s striving “to raise the bar for British brewing by producing exceptional beer for the enjoyment of all” and again concludes with the tag “Rock Cornwall”.
On the back label, when you have waded through information about the treacherous sand bank off the Cornish coast that gives the beer its name, followed by tasting notes and suggestions for food pairing, you may spot in small type “brewed in the UK”. This is followed by the address of Sharp’s in Cornwall.
There’s no mention of Burton-on-Trent, Molson Coors’ main base. The consumer will draw the reasonable conclusion from all the labels adorning the bottle that this is a true
Molson Coors responded to the news about bottled Doom Bar by pointing out that the draught version of the beer is still brewed only at Rock. But that doesn’t solve the problem of consumers being misled about the origin of the bottled beer.
Molson Coors is not the only transgressor and I wonder why no action is taken to clear up misleading beer labelling — on draught as well as packaged — when the law is quite precise on the matter. Government guidance on the Food Labelling Regulations of 1996 — and beer is treated as food — says in clause 37.2 “particulars of the place (not necessarily the country) of origin or provenance of the food must be shown if failure to give such information might mislead a purchaser to a material degree as to the true origin of the food.”
And clause 38 adds: “Care should always be taken to ensure that, if a name given to a food or its brand or trade name includes a reference to a place in such a way which, when taken with other written and illustrative information given on the label, could imply that the food comes from, or has been made in, a particular place or area, this true place of origin is made clear.”
Heineken was rapped on the knuckles by the Advertising Standards Authority in 2011 for misleading — the ASA’s term — consumers by talking up Kronenbourg 1664’s French heritage. And Heineken wrongly implied that the lager on sale in the UK is brewed in France.
“Plus ça change, plus ça la même chose”, as the French say: the more things change, the more they stay the same. A current box of Kronenbourg 1664 declares “brassée avec savoir-faire depuis 1664” — brewed with know-how since 1664. The use of French plays up the authenticity of the product. Only on the side of the box will you find, in English and in small type, “brewed in UK”. As a writer in the Guardian pointed out, the brewery is “just off the Preston-Blackburn road and near the M6”. Watch out for French onion sellers on bikes if you’re driving that way.
As a result of years of TV advertising for AB InBev’s Stella Artois, with actors speaking in exaggerated “franglais”, most drinkers believe it’s a French beer. It’s not only Belgian in origin but comes from Leuven in the Dutch-speaking part of the country. Boxes for Stella announce “Leuven — over 600 years of brewing experience, anno 1366.” Now that’s heritage — except the Stella consumed in the UK is brewed at Magor in Monmouthshire at a brewery built not in 1366 but just 36 years ago.
Foster’s is another lager beer promoted with stress on its origins, in this case Australia, with the slogan “Think Australian, drink Australian”. Recent TV commercials show parched Aussies in the late 19th century watching as cool crates of Foster’s are unloaded for their delectation. The message waxes lyrical: “When William and Ralph Foster arrived in the searing heat of Melbourne in 1888 they had one thing in mind. To craft a beer that could refresh the thirstiest men on earth”.
Such authenticity, except you’d be hard pressed to find Foster’s Down Under because it’s a minor brand there. It’s brewed by our chums at Heineken in their beer factory near the M6 in Manchester. Fair dinkum!
Why are our legislators so feeble in letting this exist? Confusion remains for drinkers at a time when more consumers are concerned about the provenance of what they eat and drink. They want to know, and deserve to know, where products are made. They won’t be impressed by labels that shout loudly about “Rock Cornwall” when the beer in the bottle is brewed several hundred miles away in land-locked Burton.
■ Despite efforts by Roger Protz to contact Molson Coors, the brewer did not respond with a comment.