Super-strength lagers face scrutiny

Kestrel Super, the Wells & Young’s-owned brand, has been rapped by drinks industry body, Portman Group, because its 9% super-strength lager could encourage irresponsible drinking.

The Portman Group found Kestrel Super in breach of its self-regulatory code because the strength of the drink is used as a dominant theme in its marketing. The brewer has been asked to amend its packaging.

The ruling follows a complaint by homeless charity Thames Reach against 500ml cans of super-strength lagers including Inbev’s Tennent’s Super, Carlsberg UK’s Skol Super and Carlsberg Special Brew because it believes the brands encourage drunkenness. The charity complained that cans of lager with an alcohol content exceeding the Government’s recommended drinking levels are encouraging irresponsible drinking.

The charity says that all these drinks contain 4.5 units despite the Government recommending that men should not regularly drink more than three to four units of alcohol a day and women two to three units.

The Independent Complaints Panel says it interpreted the Government’s sensible drinking advice as guidelines rather than strict limits. It also expressed doubt over whether they could make a reasonable and objective distinction between cans of strong lager and bottles of cider and wine, which also contain a high number of units and are not easily re-sealable.

David Poley, Portman Group Chief Executive, says: “While Panel members appreciated Thames Reach’s concerns, they decided that restricting container size would be inappropriate and liable to lead to inconsistencies. The phrasing of the Government’s sensible drinking advice raises questions over the rationality of treating four units as a strict threshold. The Panel also recognised the difficulties of distinguishing between cans of lager and bottles of wine or cider.

“The Panel decided though that Kestrel Super contravenes our Code because its strength is a dominant theme of its marketing. The packaging alludes to the drink’s strength in several places and this impression is reinforced by the prominent image of the kestrel. The brand’s owner, Wells and Young’s Brewing Company, has agreed to amend its packaging to comply with the Panel’s ruling.”

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