It’s a storyline straight out of BBC TV’s Olympics spoof “Twenty Twelve”, Dutch brewing giant Heineken’s demands that go with their beer sponsorship of the Games caused a furore amongst English Beer fans. It raises some silly and some serious points.
BBC Comedy “Twenty Twelve” with Hugh Bonneville as “Head of Deliverance”
Brief recap, as could have been spoken by 2012 narrator, David Tennant:
“Dutch brewing giant and Head Of Beer for London 2012, Heineken, caused frothing at the mouth of many British real ale fans by banning Head of England Cricket Beer Sponsorship, Marstons, from Lords, the home of English cricket. This is thought of as a pity by Marstons, even though Lords will be home of archery during the Games.”
The ex-Doctor Who would have intoned, in his role as Head of Narration for Twenty Twelve.
Heineken are said to have paid 10 million quid to Seb Coe’s lot, which gets them the right to be sole purveyors of beer identifiable by a name. And not just at Lords, everywhere. OK, not everywhere, just everywhere to do with the Olympics. Except London Olympia, at which venue, in a delicious irony, CAMRA will be hosting the Great British Beer Festival during the games.
What does this sponsorship buy? As well as getting rid of Marstons, “sole pourers” rights means there will be no other beer except the Heineken-owned John Smith’s Smoothflow, which suffers the indignity of not even being available under its own name. It will be identified as “Bitter”. As I suspect will CAMRA, and two of my inspirations in beer writing, Pete Brown (Head of Beer Wit & Boycotting) and Roger Protz (Head of Good Beer Guide & Apoplexy), who both write about it. Read Roger’s piece here.
On top of all this, portraits of former Head of England Fast Bowling, Matthew Hoggard, will be covered up, because he’s Marstons’ “beer ambassador”.
But for all the outrage, isn’t this all rather silly and self-defeating of Head of Beer, Dutch brewing giant Heineken? It’s like saying “Our beer is not good enough to stand on its own against other names (even from our own “portfolio”), so we’re going to make it look like nothing else exists.” Heineken’s “attitude” amounts to beer brand carpet-bombing. This idea has more holes in it than a target at the end of an Olympic archery competition. Drinking beer should be about much more than brands.
Or is this just a bunch of CAMRA bods whinge-drinking? Real-ale fans going “I don’t like lager”. For the record, I do like lager, and will go on about the subject shortly.
More seriously, Brewing in Britain, for all the progress and excitement is vulnerable; undermined by threats from the beer duty escalator and pub closures. Of course, Pete Brown, Roger Protz and Mike Benner (Head of CAMRA) are correct; 2012 is an opportunity to showcase Britain’s brewers and cask ale – one beer event in which Britain would be guaranteed a gold.
But who in British brewing could have afforded to compete with the whack that Heineken stumped up? Evidently not Marstons, and not Fullers, whose London Pride would have been an appropriate choice. Greene King’s sponsorship budget runs to Crusaders – a Welsh rugby league team (no disrespect intended).
So what can we do to draw attention to great British beer during the Olympics? There are calls for a Boycott of Heinken, but I’d rather see some more positive action. Perhaps we could offer archery watchers Matthew Hoggard masks. I hope somebody gives Matthew Hoggard tickets to Lords to watch the archery. Heineken can hardly cover him up, can they?
Maltjerry, Head of Over-stretched Parodies of British Sitcoms
What you can do to support British beer: