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Brewer battles regulator over responsibility concerns

By Neil Merrett , 09-Feb-2009

A battle of biblical proportions is being pitched in the UK between a leading independent brewer and a national social responsibility group that could impact industry policy on self regulation of drinks promotions.

Scotland-based beer maker Brewdog claims that it has entered into ‘a David vs. Goliath’ struggle against industry regulator the Portman Group by taking up a defamation action in the courts regarding claims relating to its Speedball beer.

However, a spokesperson for the Portman Group, which sets limits on what imagery and messages can be used in advertising alcohol, said that the motion by Brewdog was a setback for industry self-regulation. The group has won some plaudits in the EU for its work to control drinks promotions and sales last year as one of the fifty top measures to combat alcohol abuse.

The Portman Group spokesperson told BeverageDaily.com that it would remain committed to applying its advertising and sales guidelines on all alcohol products and would not be reviewing its policy in light if the defamation allegations.

Scotland drink-drive

While Scotland has pushed a number of proposals over the last year to tighten drinks regulation, including potential measures to increase the drinking age limit, alcohol legislation around Europe as a whole has become a big issue amidst fears of irresponsible consumption.

The proposed legal action continues an ongoing battle between Brewdog and the Portman Group, with the drinks maker alleging that although industry led, the regulator is biased towards larger drink makers.

Defamatory allegations

The Brewer claims that comments made by Portman Group regarding calls for retailers to drop Speedball beer, due to potential confusion between the name of both the brand and a mix of illegal drugs, were both defamatory and damaging to its business.

Brewdog says that it is therefore taking legal action as it seeks a public apology, a return of legal costs, and a donation to an alcohol charity in recompense.

James Watt managing director of the brewer, which says it has a burgeoning reputation in markets like Sweden and the US, claimed that the Portman Group had spent months targeting the brewer instead of wider social problems regarding alcohol in the UK.

“The Portman Group remains completely toothless in the face of the real issues and problems, which underpin irresponsible alcohol consumption in the UK,” stated Watt.

Portman response

In responding to the claims, a spokesperson for the Portman Group told BeverageDaily.com that the claims made by Brewdog were ‘completely ridiculous’ and that it would contest any claims made against its operations.

The group added that the criticisms of Speedball had been put forward by independent research into the sales of alcohol brands in the country.

“Most people will be appalled at [Brewdog’s] crass attempt to market a drink using the theme of illegal drugs,” stated the company. “Instead of wasting time on futile legal action, they should concentrate on promoting those drinks we've not banned."

Under it guidelines the Portman Group calls on drink makers not to market their products at consumers under 18 years of age, while also encouraging them not to promote rapid or heavy consumption of the product through use of ‘sexual imagery’ or ‘bravado’.