Stage set for the battle of the Bests

IT might have seemed unlikely a decade ago, when premium lager was all the rage, but the keg ale market is suddenly alive with activity in Scotland. And it could provide the theatre for a ‘bitter’ sales war.

Tennent Caledonian Breweries, the home of Tennent’s Lager, confirmed months of speculation a fortnight ago when it unveiled a new ale to Scottish customers.
The notion of a brewer launching an ale isn’t usually the stuff of controversy.
But when you consider Caledonia Best’s ABV, appearance, smooth creamy taste and even aspects of its branding, it would appear to have one particular rival, Belhaven Best, in its sights.
What gives the news added spice (for those keen on the politics of Scottish brewing at any rate), is that for some years Belhaven has been an important route to market for Tennent’s.
TCB, however, has played down the suggestion the arrival of Caledonia Best will affect its distribution deal with the Dunbar-based firm, pointing out that it has similar arrangements with other ale and lager brands.
The Tennent’s owner, which has been in bullish form since its acquisition by Mangers owner C&C in 2009, is adamant the launch of Caledonia Best is all about extending its own portfolio and giving both customers and consumers extra choice at the bar.
That’s what brewers are in business for, after all. Quite whether Belhaven is seeing it that way is another matter.
From the neutral’s perspective, I think it’s going to be fascinating to see how the ‘battle of the Bests’ shapes up. As for the final result, I’ll be happy as long as the publican wins.

TALKING of winning, our congratulations go to all who triumphed and took the highly commended spots in the 2011 SLTN Awards, which took place at the Hilton Hotel in Glasgow last Thursday.
I know I’m biased but I have no hesitation in saying it was another wonderful night for the trade.
In an age characterised by currency crises, austerity measures and business insolvencies, it really is a tonic to have something to celebrate – and that is precisely what all our finalists and indeed all of the entrants to this year’s Awards provided.
In addition to celebrating achievement, the Awards provide another useful function: the opportunity to renew old acquaintances and make new ones.
On a personal note, it’s an occasion I look forward to immensely for this simple fact; the licensed trade is chock-full of energetic, talented and friendly people, individuals who provide the lifeblood for this great industry.
Times may be tough, but I think there’s no harm in pausing now and then to reflect on that.
At the time of writing, hangovers were no doubt still being felt in hotel rooms, bars and offices across the country. I sincerely hope the picture will be the same 12 months from now, as we look back on another great SLTN Awards in 2012.