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Wednesday, 21 January 2009

BrewDog rapped for Speedball beer drug connotations

This happened yesterday:

Scottish brewer BrewDog has had its Speedball beer brand pulled from UK shelves following a complaint about the product's intimated link to drugs.

UK drinks industry body The Portman Group said today (20 January) that its independent complaints panel has upheld a complaint under the group's code of practice, brought by Alcohol Focus Scotland, claiming the beer's marketing is associated with illicit drugs.

Speedball is the name given to the practice of combining heroin and crack cocaine to give both sedative and stimulant effects, the Portman Group said.

The drink is marketed by BrewDog as a "class A ale" containing "a vicious cocktail of active ingredients" which creates a "happy-sad" effect.

"The blurring of alcohol and illicit drugs fosters unhealthy attitudes to drinking and trivialises drug misuse.," said David Poley, chief executive of the Portman Group. "BrewDog is profiteering from the scourge of illegal drugs, mocking the misery caused by misuse.

"We are taking urgent action to protect the public from exposure to such negligent marketing."

A retailer alert bulletin will be issued to retailers in the UK, urging them to remove the drink from sale until its marketing is altered to comply with the code.

The co-founder of BrewDog, Martin Dickie, defended the company's behaviour. "The Portman Group has attacked us for our marketing instead of going after the companies who are mass-selling products cheaply and causing the nation's alcohol problems," he said.

"This is a drink which, in the UK, had a release of 1,184 bottles and cost GBP3 a bottle, so Speedball is for those who enjoy a quality beer responsibly and enjoy a premium drink at a premium price.

"Technically, the name fits within the product. The ingredients are natural stimulants including guarana and kola nuts with natural depressants Californian poppy and hops, so it is a speedball of a combination."

Love the beer, love the brewery. Agree with the point the lads are making. But at the same time, I'm not sure it was a great idea to launch this beer with the specific intention of getting this result. Yes, it gives them an opportunity to put a case forward, but in an attention-deficient age where most people read the headline and skim the rest of a story, I worry that if you just get the barest facts or read reports like this one half way, then you're going to walk away on Portman's side. Am I being an old fart about this?


Velky Al said...

Do the Portman Group have nothing better to do than worry about the names of beer and their potential connotations? Or is their version of "protecting the consumer" more akin to wrapping people in cotton wool and taking away their critical faculties?

The Bocking Kellys said...

That it happened on the same day as Brewdog featured on the Oz Clarke / James May drinking their way round Britain TV show (touchy subject I know) is a bit unfortunate as well isn't it?

Sid Boggle said...

I suppose Portman have been wanting to stick it to Brew Dog again, and Brew Dog themselves seem to believe that all publicity is good publicity, and that its a laugh to wind PG up. I can't see how this helps though.

If they were going to market something that exposed Portman's hypocrisy, that would be useful. This seems like an easy knockdown that could spin off into a bashing exercise for lazy tabloid journos.

The Beer Nut said...

A bit. I see where you're coming from, I see why there are objections to this, but on the other hand FFS, it's a beer. It will not lead anyone into taking class A drugs.

And besides which, the drinks industry doesn't excactly have the high moral ground on the drugs issue, since misuse of the one they sell causes far more human misery and social problems than any of the others put together.

Fatman said...

I was glad to see the PG kick out the complaints regards BD's other beers before Christmas, and in general, if you check the decision history on their site, you'll see they are a balanced bunch - far more balanced than some of the plaintiffs. (That doesn't excuse some of their owners that still take the p*ss out the code and get away with it).

But on this one the PG are spot on and BD have lost a little of my respect. This is an important issue, for pr reasons as much as anything - the industry is being attacked constantly and social responsibility must be practiced and seen to be practiced. 'Jacks Old Fallover' isn't funny anymore anyway.

So I agree, BeerNut, that it is only a beer but this time BD looks foolish. The campaign to help Orkney and Skullsplitter out involved the all parliamentary beer group and Robert Humphries making a lot of noise about it - it did make a big difference. They will distance themselves from this issue altogether if other micros continue in this needlessly provocative manner.

That said, anyone know where I can get a bottle?

zythophile said...

Though I think the Portman Group is run by po-faced idiot, I can't have any sympathy for BrewDog over this one - most people in the UK, if they hear the word "speedball", will think of drugs. CAlling a beer Speedball is just handing your enemies a stick with which to whack you.

That aside, did anyone notice the contradiction/error in the story? It starts by asserting: "Scottish brewer BrewDog has had its Speedball beer brand pulled from UK shelves", and then says seven pars later: "A retailer alert bulletin will be issued to retailers in the UK, urging them to remove the drink from sale until its marketing is altered to comply with the code." So BrewDog hasn't had its brand pulled from the shelves - retailers have merely been requested to remove it ... was this the Portman Group spinning its press release to try to disguise the fact that it actually has no power to pull anything from anybody's shelves at all?

The Beer Nut said...

I bought mine in ├ślbutikken, Fatman. It's well worth a visit.

I think this case works on exactly the same principle as the one for Skullsplitter or Rip Tide -- it's the label of a beer for grown-ups, not a glorification of illegal drugs, nor an attempt to lure kiddies into binge drinking. If we start banning any beer labelling which can be associated with any illegal activities, it becomes a slippery slope. Hemp beers will be next, then rauchbiers.

I think Shepherd Neame's "Killing Germans Is Funny" campaigns are much worse than this.

Velky Al said...

Surely the Portman Group should compaign that Rip Tide might encourage drinkers to swim in dangerous waters, which is clearly irresponsible.

Fatman said...

Thanks for the tip Beer Nut and you do have a point. But it's one of freedom and that isn't an option.


Arthurcaskey said...

In my drug taking days a speedball was one of those concoctions one would try and avoid, wasn’t one of them that killed John Belushi or someone like that? It’s not a point of being careful or politically correct but would you have a beer called junkie (or John Keys as The Fall used to sing), crackhead, smackhead, base-jumper or downer? It all sounds a bit loser-ish, or maybe like those grandads who relive their punk days by getting what is left of their hair done into a mohican and dancing to the UK Subs (surely the UK’s worst ever band). Punk’s dead after all. Given that the lads are based up in Scotland this smacks (pun intentional) of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s confrontational approach back in the 1980s, so you could say they were just being edgy and Trainspotterish; there will be leather trousers given out with the beers next.

BLTP said...

drug connotations aside am I the only one who finds humorous beer names a bit tiresome and sad. the whole "pint of old dirty dick" side of beer i find off putting and a bit dull.
I don't mind a bit of creativity but I wouldn't have bought speedball for all it's craft beer virtues because it's got a rubbish name.
I'm not too cool for school but I can't be bothered ordering a beer with some half pun or double entendre on the label.

Alan said...

I don't know, me laddos. I think if your goal is to give an insult, make sure it sticks. Put your big boots on. The shadowy Portman Group is one of the weirdest forms of nannyish tisk-tiskery I have ever come across and this is all just a morality play about who is the real fool here.

Put it this way: if there was a bad 80s big hair heavy metal band who released an album called Speedball as part of a comeback, there would be no outrage and no fear of backlash even though many more folk would get their hands on a copy. It would just be a laugh. This is simple self-importance from the SPG and serves, apparently successfully, as a useful distraction from the source of the real problems with kids and booze.

The Beer Nut said...

I think not buying a beer because it has a stupid name is exactly the same as buying a beer because the person drinking it on telly is clever or attractive.

BLTP said...

Fraid can't agree Beer nut we make a miriad of descision/choices when buying a pint from the look of the pub, the look of barman, the label, the colour of the beer, it's name, place of origin etc. What the brewer decides to call a beer says alot about how they view it and how you in turn should view it. Of course what the beer taste(assuming you can taste before you buy) like matters but dismiss the above is to dismiss the basis most human descision making. And yes if someone you like is drinking the same thing on telly that will influence you as well. If all the above wasn't true tv ads would just be list of the relative benefits of products and there would only beone kind of ketchup in the world, Heinz which clearly is the best on every level including the name!

The Beer Nut said...

That's strange, BLTP. You say you don't agree with me, and then outline pretty much exactly the argument I'm making:

"the look of the pub, the look of barman, the label, the colour of the beer, it's name, place of origin ... if someone you like is drinking the same thing on telly that will influence you as well"

That's exactly my point.

BLTP said...

sorry Beer Nut i thought you saying we should only make our descisions on the basis of the beer not on other factors. I can on off on one given half a chance well 1/8th of a chance well pretty well any opportunity really

The Beer Nut said...

I wouldn't be so arrogant as to tell anyone how they *should* make their beer decisions :)

I'm just saying that the name of a beer is marketing, just the same as the guy drinking it on telly is marketing. Whether either of these affects one's decision to purchase is up to oneself -- my point is just that they work in exactly the same way.