The trials and tribulations of getting your favourite tipple

Patience Gould puts in a good word for the multinationals who are promoting spirits and helping to bring them more into the mainstream

My jottings this month are decidedly UK supermarket-centric and while the big chains have taken a battering in recent times – mostly due to changing shopping habits and the dizzying rise of discount stores such as Aldi and Lidl – for once I am in praise of the multinationals. The reasons for this about-turn I hope will become apparent.

I think I’ve mentioned the ludicrous lengths I have to go to in order to remain loyal to my preferred brands of gin and tonic. Just to recap, the local Co-op stocks the gin that is Beefeater, while the local Sainsbury’s stocks the tonic that is Fever-Tree. The respective stores are positioned at either end of the little town, which, in more ways than one, is an uphill battle on foot and in the car requires parking twice.

I should add that the Co-op does not appear to be that bothered about stocking Beefeater – it was a single bottle display tucked at the end of the shelf so had to be hunted down. And the pricing policy has been scatter-gun to say the least. So, that was the local scenario – until one afternoon when I had an email from the customer care team at Sainsbury’s asking me how my shop had gone that day.

You can imagine that my reply was candid – it ran along the lines of: “You bother to stock the best tonic in the world so why not list the best gin?” 

The response was very polite and pointed out that there were constraints on shelf space and there were no plans to put Beefeater in store, but that it would be mentioned at the next re-stocking meeting – so one ray of hope at least. 

Imagine, then, my glee several weeks later while scanning the gin offerings for the umpteenth time in Sainsbury’s when I spied Beefeater on shelf in all its red and white glory. At last! I literally did a double-take before bundling two bottles into my basket. 

At this there was a loud utterance from the lady in charge of alcoholic beverages as she boomed: “Are you the customer who asked us to stock Beefeater?” Somewhat taken aback, I nodded vigorously, acutely aware that fellow shoppers were registering more than a passing interest. I mean to say, a woman buying gin at 10.30 in the morning? Whatever next? The spirit stigma is alive and kicking – had I been buying two bottles of Oyster Bay, no one would have batted an eyelid.

This puritanical attitude to spirits drives me up the purple board. It’s perfectly acceptable to buy a case of wine – indeed it’s considered sophisticated – but to buy a case of spirits: “My dear – it’s just not done.” 

Well I can report it is!  

I was trolling round this Waitrose store (you might be forgiven for thinking I spend my entire life in supermarkets various, but I hasten to add that all this took place over a four-month period), which rather bizarrely sports the car park on its roof – and yet the store itself is not underground. I was feeling somewhat discombobulated because of this and even more so when I came across a shelf of current offers which included a case of Beefeater. A whole case, I hear you cry. 

It was empty, but the strategy was plain. Currently Beefeater is on an extremely attractive price offer, so why not make the most of it and buy a case – that is six bottles. I did precisely this, and whereas it’s not the first time I’ve bought Beefeater in small ‘bulk’, it is the first time I have seen it promoted like this in any supermarket - and I hope that it is not the last. 

Indeed, I would go further and applaud ongoing offers on a case of any spirit. Why not a mixed box that would be great at Christmas time? And all this would bring spirits more into the mainstream alongside wine and, of course, beer.  

After all, alcohol is alcohol whether it is spirits, wines or beers, and if folk took more notice of equivalency campaigns they would be very surprised. 

In the UK one standard drink or unit of alcohol is defined as 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol, which equals one 25ml measure of spirits (40% abv), or a third of a pint of beer (5%-6% abv) or half a standard (175ml) glass of red wine (12% abv). So wine is not quite the ‘sophisticated innocent’ that society has deemed it. 

And remember that beer and wine are downed in far bigger quantities than spirits... it’s a digression I know – but nevertheless true.