Thursday, 3 July 2014

No Silver Spoons for Guinness

Guinness-free (not free Guinness)
JD Wetherspoons is opening its first pub in the Irish Republic next Tuesday: the Three Tun Tavern in Blackrock, County Dublin. Because of a dispute between Diageo, owners of the Guinness brand, and Wetherspoons over price, they will not be selling Guinness, but will stock Murphy’s and Beamish instead at €3.95 (£3.15) a pint.

“We like to sell our drink to customers at a certain price and the price that Diageo wanted us to sell the product at was too high,” a spokesman for the pub company said this week. The wording here is significant, as it makes clear that Diageo wanted to dictate the price charged by JDW (so much for the free market economy that's supposed to benefit us consumers). I suppose that if you do have such a massive market share with almost monopolistic powers to dictate prices, you don't want one pub to sell sell your product significantly cheaper in case customers begin to question your profit margins everywhere else. Diageo claims its pricing is competitive, but its actions with JDW suggest that it is anything but. They duck out of further explanation by citing commercial confidentiality, the usual method of closing down discussion.

Other Diageo brands the Three Tun Tavern will not be selling include Smirnoff vodka, Bushmills whiskey and Baileys Irish cream liqueur, but it will stock craft beers from Eight Degrees Brewing, including Howling Gale, Knockmealdown Porter and Barefoot Bohemian Pilsner. Cask will be represented by two Adnams beers, Hobgoblin and a guest ale from local Irish brewers. The presence of Tetley Smoothflow, also at €3.95 a pint, is puzzling.

As usual, JDW has linked the pub to local history by reviving the name of a former eighteenth century tavern which had been "kept by one Bishop, a worthy host and was renowned for its good cheer" and, according to the Irish Times, by including "a reading room, with 'panelled ceiling and vintage books dedicated to Blackrock’s most famous author James Joyce.'"

I've read several reports about how shocking the lack of Guinness will be to the average Irish drinker, and while I understand the predominance of Guinness in the Irish beer market (one third of all pints sold), I can't help wondering whether there is a bit of stereotyping going on there. JDW has a further site lined up in Cork and is seeking others: will Diageo change its mind as Spoons expands, or will Irish drinkers anxious for a reasonably-priced pint simply find that they can do without Guinness? I'm rather hoping for the latter.

Having just posted this, I've noticed that Curmudgeon has written on the same subject, but with quite a different approach.


  1. I think Spoons are trying to make a point here. In the UK, they sell Carling, the market-leading standard lager, for about £1 a pint more than Carlsberg. Nobody has to pay it, but if you think Carling is that much better, or someone else is buying, you can if you want.

  2. I think something similar occurred in the UK with Carling

    I few years ago spoons dropped it claiming it was too expensive only to later re introduce it but placed at the top end of their pricing, with other cooking lagers noticeably cheaper.

    A few beers often dismissed by beer geeks are fairly strong brands among punters and asked for by brand. Many punters being willing to pay a premium for them.

    Sam Smiths managed to knock Guinness on the head with it's own budget offering. Other brewery pubs seem to have had less luck. Robinsons tried it with a keg stout based on a cask stout that was popular as a seasonal. Didn't seem to dent Guinness, many drinkers of which ask for it by brand and seem to prefer it regardless.

    If punters are willing to pay top dollar for Guinness I suspect Spoons will volte face. If Beamish shifts, and punters seek value, they will stick with it.

  3. Great minds think alike there, Cookie.

    I don't follow lager prices in Spoons closely, but I think Carling is actually dearer than some of the 5% premium brands.

    I was in a Brains pub last week that had their own stout but no Guinness, so they must be making it work to some extent.

  4. it gutting for cooking lager enthusiasm, Mudge.

    finding Carling going for buttons these days is tough. Carlsberg, Fosters, no probs. Beck Vier, cheap as chips often enough. tesco recently flogged Carling dearer per ml than the Weissbier.

    If only there was a consumer campaign for cooking lager.

    1. A blog might be a good starting point for that, CL.

  5. Wetherspoons have form for this. In the early days they didn't sell Guinness as Diageo wouldn't meet their price point. Eventually they came a-courting and I suspect they will again this time even though Diageo are on home turf.

  6. Brains Black is the stout that the brewery offer as their alternative to Guinness


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