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Heart to Hart

21 March, 2014

Rob Hart’s not really into gimmicky beers. “Old Badger’s Arse and that sort of thing?” he half asks and half laments, shaking his head. The credo of his Harts Family Brewers is to produce good beer, present it well and turn a profit, without being married to a style, whether it’s old-fashioned chestnut bitters aimed at 60-somethings in the golf club or Belgian-style saisons to be sipped by hip young readers of The Chap in Shoreditch craft beer bars.

Lost in France

21 March, 2014

If you take a stroll down the wine aisles of a British supermarket these days, you’re bound to be struck by the diverse origins of the offering. It’s a veritable United Nations out there, with representatives from Australia, Chile, Spain, the US, Italy and South Africa jostling for shelf space with Austria, Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary and Uruguay. Twenty years ago, the picture would have been different. Those shelves would have held a far scantier range of wines, and would almost certainly have been dominated by one country: France.

Sweet sorrow

21 March, 2014

The wine trade loves Germany. In fact, it’s quite possible that anyone who has tasted even a smallish range of what the country has to offer loves its wines – they’re great quality, they cover pretty much every price point and they come in all shapes and sizes.

Score a win

21 March, 2014

On any given day 5.5 million pints of Guinness are downed across the globe, but that figure more than doubles to 13 million pints on St Patrick’s Day, according to Diageo sales figures.

According to this year’s Good Beer Guide there are 1,147 breweries in the UK, with almost 200 opening in the past year, taking levels to a 70-year high. Established national and local brewers have been joined by exciting start-ups that have helped change the taste, quality and style of the beers we drink. But which one’s best? Only one way to find out ... with the latest in our Hot List poll of leading retailers and opinion-formers in the field.

The world in miniature

21 March, 2014

The snacks market has gone mad for sharing sizes over the past few years, but as successive duty hikes have combined with economic and ecological factors to drive prices up, wines and spirits have begun to embrace individual serves.

This central Birmingham independent has a plush wine bar upstairs and a wine shop with sampling machines downstairs.

It's hip to sip

14 March, 2014

Comedian Dylan Moran once said that to drink gin you have to be 45, female and sitting on the stairs, because gin isn’t really a drink – it’s more a mascara thinner.

Aiming high

11 March, 2014

Fears of a poor 2013 harvest in Spain have not materialised and the country looks set to remain the European favourite for wines at what retailers and producers are euphemistically calling “key price points”.

The new, old Napa

11 March, 2014

Ask a Napa winemaker what they thought of the 2011 vintage and you’re likely to get one of two answers. For some it was an opportunity, for others a disaster.

Green shoots for ale

14 February, 2014

For the first time in a decade the UK beer market has shown two consecutive quarters of growth – led by retailers who champion premium bottled ale. The British Beer & Pub Association produces a quarterly beer barometer survey and it shows the total beer market grew 5.2% in the third quarter of 2013, its best performance this century.

Status flow

14 February, 2014

A piledriver is a wrestling manoeuvre that sees a spandex-clad behemoth pick up his opponent, turn him upside down and slam his head into the ground. It is favoured by a wrestler called The Undertaker, and it always results in a knockout.

Take a chance on France

14 February, 2014

With prices under pressure from duty, short harvests and an exodus of growers struggling to make money from grapes, French wine suppliers face a balancing act. On the one hand it is a struggle to maintain value for money at entry level – but on the other, many are benefiting from consumers trading up.

Land of contrasts

14 February, 2014

Sales have dropped sharply, but retailers love Portugal, saying it’s “in a good place”. On average its wines are cheaper than many of its European competitors – but the complexity of its regions and grapes can put off the uninitiated.

Go nuts for Brazil

14 February, 2014

More than 20 million UK viewers regularly tuned into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, suffering the heartbreak of England’s crushing defeat by Germany and enjoying the drama of Spain’s extra-time win in the final.

Bittersweet infamy

14 February, 2014

They’re calling it a ticking time-bomb, the hidden menace and the new nicotine – as addictive and dangerous as cigarettes.

This village off-licence and deli in a Victorian former schoolhouse has become a destination shop, thanks to its real ale and cider range, including a rolling choice on draught. Bottled beers are sourced from local microbreweries and craft brewers around the country and further afield, while the bottled cider range focuses on premium, niche and boutique products.

The ritual of celebrating Christmas with fizz has become as common as leaving a glass of sherry out for Santa. Yet, like cheap ice-cream deals when temperatures rise, the prices plummet just at the time people are most likely to buy Champagne.

Pushing premium

17 January, 2014

We would like to apologise to any of our readers who are cricket fans for mentioning the “A” word at all. Not only did England hand the Ashes to the Aussies on a plate, but we were probably drinking their wines while we did it. Well, not the cricket team as such — but the rest of us.

Keeping an eye on Austria

17 January, 2014

If you heard there was a wine-producing country growing at 30% in the off-trade, you’d be running for the fireworks, wouldn’t you? You’d at least be cracking open a bottle of something special to celebrate.

The OLN Hot List: Vodka

17 January, 2014

Vodka’s inherent neutrality of flavour makes it a fiendishly difficult drinks category for brands to stand out in. Not too long ago the battle lines were drawn around numerical distinctions in distilling and filtering, but — perhaps realising the limitations of this strategy — producers are testing the boundaries of packaging, incorporating subtle shifts in ingredients, sharpening up back stories and highlighting meaningful aspects of provenance to inject the category with a new level of excitement.

Inspiring Indies: Vino

17 January, 2014

Vino is a chain of four independent off-licences that rose from the ashes when Wine Rack went into administration in 2009. Three stores opened in 2010 and a fourth in 2011, with the aim of taking the best parts of the old Wine Rack business to create a place where customers feel comfortable — a shop environment that is easy to navigate, with well-trained, accessible staff.

The Northern Light

18 December, 2013

They call Booths the Waitrose of the north. But in reality, it feels more like Harrods’ food hall has moved into Morrisons’ Market Street.

Independents are being urged to be extra vigilant after a number of wine specialists reported being delivered older vintages of white wines that would be best drunk fresh from the vine.

Let battle commence

22 November, 2013

"Wine has been and will continue to be one of our hero categories. I can’t dispute its growth and it shows no real sign of letting up,” says Simon Cairns, wine trading manager at the Co- operative Group.

Survival instinct

22 November, 2013

Almost two years after adding the Nicolas stores in London to the Spirited Wines chain he set up in 2010, Benoit Thouvenin has a leaner estate but confidence in the future. He says business is much better than it was 18 months ago – but that has come at a cost. Rising rents and challenging trading have forced him to close 14 stores, leaving him with just five of the shops outside London that he began trading with.

The OLN Hot List: Gin

21 November, 2013

We asked a host of opinion-formers to score their top gins to give us the first OLN Hot List, and the top 10 coolest names at the forefront of the sector’s renaissance.

The dairy godmothers

21 November, 2013

While spirits sales grow, cream liqueurs are in the doldrums. This year’s First Drinks Market Report put off-trade sales value in the 12 months to April 27 level with a year earlier, and volumes down by 3% (Nielsen). The performance contrasts with non-cream liqueurs, driven by a new generation of in-home cocktail makers, with sales up 14% in volume and 19% in value.

Putting the 'ale' in female

21 November, 2013

The 2014 Good Beer Guide reported that real ale club Camra now has more female members than ever, with women making up 22% of its membership – an increase of 20,000 in the past decade.

Not just a commodity

21 November, 2013

It is not a research company’s job to try to sex up a market, but when Nielsen – to be fair, probably led by the brewers it was researching – called the burgeoning 1.3%-3.3% abv lager market “commodity” it was so dreary a tag as to make the “standard” lager category sound like a Hollywood A-lister.