As a Northern Irish student escaping the febrile atmosphere that characterised undergraduate Oxford, I was lucky to have a fellow student whose father had a house in London.
Thanks to price rises and the move towards drinking products with a more expensive price tag, off-trade alcohol sales are steadily increasing year on year, but volumes remain relatively static.
You may have heard by now that it’s coming home. Football, that is. For one or two people in the beer business, there’s also the possibility that chickens are coming home too – to roost.
Two unbelievable truths: every wine shop should sell top-end Bordeaux, and the wine trade is excellent at innovation. And I can prove one via the other.
Sun’s out, buns out. British summertime has begun and that means it’s barbecue season. By rekindling our innate relationship with fire, barbecuing reconnects us all with our prehistoric ancestors. Before TVs, radiators and microwaves, there was only fire. Man gawped at fire, heated himself with fire and cooked animals (and maybe a few vegetables that didn’t require running after) using fire.
There’s no doubt that enforced product reformulation is the weapon of choice for so-called “public health” in its campaign to make us all as slim as racing snakes.
One of my favourite books is the Savoy Cocktail Book, which sits not on my bookshelves with all my other books, but on my drinkshelf with various bottles of gin, rye and rum, not to mention maraschino, triple sec, bitters and much else besides.
We are heading towards the longest day of the year and I hope the sun continues to shine. We’ve had a mixed bag of weather so far and we know all too well that this can either boost or play havoc with alcohol sales. Let’s look at how the weather has impacted sales so far and predict what we can expect.
There is a subtle, inquisitive thrill to sitting down to blind taste a dozen glasses of unknown liquid. Even repeated eight times over five days, as at the latest Decanter World Wine Awards, the excitement doesn’t wear off. Twelve shades of lemon or gold, ruby or garnet, and among them, perhaps, a wine of real beauty, interest and distinction.
Good news, everyone: life is generally better for everyone today than it has been at any point in history. Break out the corkscrews. That might sound like the sort of aphorism on A-boards outside off-licences, but it also happens to be true. Globally, population growth has slowed, extreme poverty has halved in the past decade, and crime has fallen rapidly since the 1990s.
It will soon be time for the World Cup, which kicks off on June 14 when host nation Russia takes on Saudi Arabia. Even with over four weeks to go, we are already starting to see the retailers get behind the tournament with special packs, sticker albums, football merchandise and team kits in stores.
Sir Anwar Pervez didn’t earn a place on The Sunday Times Rich List without spotting a good bargain – and in the fallout from the monumental collapse of Conviviality he’s got one in both name and spirit with the acquisition of Bargain Booze.
Nobody would willingly defend the merits of crack cocaine. Apart from drug dealers, perhaps. Recently it has been recommended that the maximum stake playable on fixed-odds betting terminals should be reduced from £100 to £30. These casino-style games machines theoretically allow gamblers to bet more than £10,000 every hour, earning them a reputation as the crack cocaine of gambling.
London recently played host to the seventh annual edition of Raw, the most influential wine fair of the decade. We’re all familiar with Raw’s polemical stance on natural, low-intervention wine – it has generated a lot of strong feeling in the wine world. But leaving aside the question of whether such wines really are healthier for us or the planet, it is now clear that we are living in a post-natural wine world where traditional assumptions about wine are being decisively challenged.
The Scottish government initially passed legislation for minimum pricing of alcohol back in 2012 and, following a lengthy legal challenge, it will be coming into force at the start of May. Once in place, it means that a single unit of alcohol cannot be sold for less than 50p, so the stronger the drink, the more expensive it will be.
Following the recent cold snap, I’ve decided to focus on what is just around the corner – summer, which brings thoughts of longer days, warm weather and enjoying a nice, cold beer in the sun.
We’ve all had impressed on us the idea that we mustn’t judge a book by its cover. It’s one we tend to repeat at opportune moments, while singularly failing to follow it when buying books, or anything else.
Like the vast minority of the population, my comfort zone for wine is around £10-£25 per bottle. In that price range, I can find wines of very good quality in almost every style – and when I get a disappointing bottle, I don’t feel like I’ve been ripped off too much.
Sorry to brag, sorry to lord it over you like this, but we were reading the Guardian the other day.
When you get overexposed to a smell, you no longer notice it. Anyone who’s taken wine exams is familiar with the creeping dread of repeatedly nosing an unidentified wine as the aromas only become more and more elusive. Similarly, it’s easy to become accustomed to the quirks of the wine trade as a whole. It is riddled with absurdity, yet that soon becomes normalised when you immerse yourself in the culture and language of wine. So much so that it takes an outsider to point out its bizarreness – that there’s a funny smell in the room, but you can’t detect it.
When I was the manager of a wine store, I hosted a weekly tasting based on a theme. At the end, I would gather up the tasting sheets to see what people really said in their notes.
I appreciate that in the age of a man-child US President, suicidal UK Brexiteers, tinderbox Middle Eastern politics and impending nuclear Armageddon in Asia there are more important things to lose sleep over, but I am quite worried about gin.
Of all the months of the year, January has the best intentions. It reminds me of Eddie in Ab Fab, late for work, horribly hungover, coming down the stairs in oversized sunglasses to frumpy Saffy sitting at the kitchen table. “Health, health, health, darling!” she sings. But the illusion doesn't last for long.
Of all the topics this column has returned to, I wish that anti-alcohol rhetoric wasn’t the most frequent. But it remains one of the most threatening issues the wine trade is facing, and the one which our industry seems to find most challenging to counter effectively.
I were to sum up alcohol sales over Christmas 2017 in one word, it would be “gin”. At Nielsen, we define the Christmas period as the 12 weeks to December 30 and in that time gin sales were £199.4 million, which means they increased by £55.4 million compared with Christmas 2016. There’s no sign the bubble is about to burst either. Growth at Christmas 2016 was £22.4 million, so gin has increased its value growth nearly two-and-a-half times in a year. The spirit added more value to total alcohol sales than any other category, with its contribution dwarfing that of the next biggest grower, wine, which increased sales by £23.8 million. Among our team of alcohol analysts, no one can remember such an impressive performance for a single-category spirit during the Christmas period, and if current growth rates continue, gin looks likely to overtake blended whisky by next Christmas.
The campaign name There’s A Beer For That may have got cynics like me trying to think of things there wasn’t a beer for, but broadly speaking it was a force for good.
Disagreeing about wine is a fact of wine-trade life, like drugs in sport or corruption in politics. Because taste is entirely subjective, debates about our personal preferences are as inevitable as they are interminable. Indeed, these long-winded, wine-fuelled arguments are precisely what make our jobs so much fun.
At this time of year, the activity of an independent wine merchant has the quality of a time lapse in a David Attenborough documentary.
The judges met last week to sort out the winners in the independent categories of our 2018 Drinks Retailing Awards. The results are top secret until the awards dinner on February 6 but it’s giving nothing away to report that the overall standard of those that will be revealed in the shortlist of finalists in the January issue of DRN is higher than it’s ever been.
In the not-too-distant future, when all humans are born with inbuilt VR headsets and Trump is Supreme Commander of the Known Universe, how will students of wine look back on the present era of retail in the UK? And, in such a dystopian world, why would anyone care?
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