22 January 2009

XB me

A shortcut through Marks & Spencer the other day took me across the booze ghetto that all Irish supermarkets have now established under threat from the government of being forced to erect physical barriers between the alcohol and all other stock, as allowed for in last year's Intoxicating Liquor Act. On my way, I noticed a staff member unloading a trolley full of Sussex Bitter onto the shelves. It's one of M&S's bottle conditioned range and a beer I'd not seen on sale before. There was no price tag on the shelf, but an opportunity to give two fingers to the government's attempt to stamp out impulse buying of alcohol in supermarkets is not to be passed up. I took a bottle to the checkout.

It wouldn't scan. The cashier went off to investigate and came back in deep discussion with a troubled colleague. The gist of their conversation was that this wasn't on the system, that it was only for sale in the UK, and that it should never have been shipped to Dublin, never mind put on display. So, after waiting patiently for five minutes for my beer I was informed they couldn't sell it to me. And I know that if I asked someone higher up why the beer I wanted isn't available to Irish customers I would be told that there's no demand for it. Reasoning as circular as a tub of M&S mini scotch eggs.

The fact that, according to Thom, Hepworth's M&S Sussex Bitter is actually worth drinking barely factors at all. Back home I sought consolation in a bitter from my stash of personally-imported English ales.

Theakston XB does not share my bitterness. In fact, the dark amber ale is surprisingly sweet -- filled with strawberries and redcurrants. The aroma is heavy caramel, but the beer itself is quite light, almost verging on thin, I'd say, with an unfortunate amount of fizz for a bitter. Still, there's the caramel and the earthy English hop character that reminds me a lot of Old Peculier, but in a lighter, 4.5% ABV, mid-week kind of way.

And at under £2 in Sainsbury's it was a hell of a lot cheaper than the Sussex Bitter would have been. The thought of all that M&S beer sitting in a yard waiting to be collected instead of being enjoyed is galling, however.

15 comments:

  1. So nobody managed to notice that it was there? Not the regional manager? Not the store manager? Not the logistics guys? Not the warehousing guys? Not the guy in charge of beer?

    None of these people knew it shouldn't be there? Nobody noticed there was no price and had the initiative to ask before putting it on the shelf? Or was it a case that they had not bothered to enter it into the system yet?

    I am certain I saw it for sale when I was in Dublin.

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  2. I don't think they have a guy in charge of beer -- as the photo shows (just about) this large central Dublin branch has half of four small shelves occupied with mostly-canned beer and cider.

    But yeah, I'd have thought the boxes of bitter would have been scanned somewhere along the supply chain and an error shown up, and it's perfectly possible it used to be on sale -- they certainly did Yorkshire Bitter very briefly last year. But there seems to be no coherent policy on the bottle conditioned range in Ireland.

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  3. At least you have it - according to our local Marks and Spencer "partner" they are not allowed to sell beer, only wine and cider.

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  4. Australian supermarkets tend to own all the liquor outlets but have to operate them as seperate shops due to to alcohol laws. I feel that Ireland may be going the same way.
    Impulse buying whilst walking down the grog isle of my local Tesco is an all to real reality. On Tuesday night I picked up a bottles of Leffe Bruin, Brew Dog Punk IPA and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for £1 a bottle.

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  5. I think the independent off licences will survive -- there'll always be a market for them, even if it's almost entirely wine. But yeah: an end to mixed traders is the current regime's ideal.

    What we're likely to end up with is what they have in Northern Ireland: a separate gated area inside the supermarket. Nanny says "Don't touch: bad".

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  6. I had similar feelings about Theakston XB. Nice beer but I don't want another. It just seems slightly off in some really subtle ways, the wateryness, the fizz etc.

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  7. Didn't some supermarkets have a policy of "if we can't scan it, you get it free"? Did Dunnes or Superquin do that?

    Bloody stupid.

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  8. Yes, Superquinn still do that. M&S have no such policy.

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  9. Maybe sending it back and forth across the Irish Sea will make it mature in a spectacular way. Like the Linie Aquavit, which crosses the Equator in old sherry casks..

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  10. That's a pity, could they not just leave you have the bottle?

    I love that we don't stock that because nobody wants it excuse. I ask for mead in every off license I go to. Most ask what's that and then they all say we don't have it because there's no demand. The fact that I'm in front of them asking for it seems to make no difference to the argument.

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  11. I made my very best "could you not just let me have the bottle?" face, but the supervisor lady was clinging to it like it was a kitten I'd announced I would like to eat.

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  12. XB is probably one of their less good beers though I still drink it when it's available. The rest of their beers are top notch.

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  13. Actually, now that XB comes to mind, it was for sale in a British bar here in Muenster (well, it's billed as a Yorkshire bar). Same place I had a bottle of Riggwelter. I must go back!

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  14. The Sussex Bitter was pleasant enough for a quick sup, but don't get too broken up about missing it.

    I benefited from Superquinn's policy last week when I got a bottle of Sam Adams Boston Ale for a quid after it wouldn't scan.

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  15. Paul Garrard10:46 p.m.

    In my humble opinion M&S Cornish IPA is their best, A really fantastic beer.

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