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Carling ‘lied about the amount of alcohol in its lager’

Weaker: Carling says drinkers have not been misled

‘It’s good, but it’s not quite Carling,’ according to the advertising slogan.

As it turns out, it’s not as good as it says it is on the label.

The company behind the lager has dodged a £50 million tax bill because the drink is weaker than advertised.

Carling is marketed in Britain at 4 per cent alcohol strength, but brewers Molson Coors have admitted it is weaker for tax reasons. Court documents reveal the lager has been made to a strength of about 3.7 per cent for the past five years.

But Molson Coors did not change the strength recorded on Carling labels to prevent drinkers from ‘demanding a slice’ of the saving, tribunal documents said. The brewer insists customers have not been misled and its labelling was ‘entirely consistent with the law’.

The details emerged in a tax tribunal brought against the beer makers by HMRC over an alleged unpaid multi-million-pound duty bill.

The brewers won the case at the Royal Courts of Justice in London by revealing it changed its flagship British lager’s alcohol content in September 2012. The admission was made in a tribunal in March before the brewing firm won on appeal, industry magazine The Grocer reported.

The company is one of many beer giants who have cut alcohol content to lower tax duty bills in recent years.

Philip Rutherford, vice-president of tax for Molson Coors Europe, told the hearing that the brewer had cut the tax it owed by lowering the alcohol content. The tribunal papers also revealed how tests were carried out on a range of strengths from just below 4 per cent to 3.7 per cent ‘in an attempt to establish the level at which there might be a negative reaction’, it was reported.

Carling's marketing director Martin Coyle said drinkers even ‘preferred’ the weaker lager

Carling’s marketing director Martin Coyle said drinkers even ‘preferred’ the weaker lager

The brewer’s marketing director Martin Coyle said drinkers even ‘preferred’ the weaker lager.

The tribunal papers said: ‘(Mr Rutherford) said a key driver for the decision not to change the labelled abv was to protect Molson Coors’ cost base saving as many of its customers would “demand a slice” of the saving.’

Despite the brewer’s successful appeal, the court made several ‘recordings of fact’ – including that the firm did not change the alcohol content on the label so it could make the savings without alerting drinkers.

In other cases, Heineken has reduced the strength of John Smith’s Bitter from 3.8 to 3.4 per cent. Strongbow cider has gone from 5.3 to 5 per cent, while lagers Stella Artois, Cobra, Budweiser and Carlsberg Export all have fallen from 5 to 4.8 per cent.

Carling said: ‘Due to their natural ingredients, all beers are permitted to have a slight variation between the finished product and the alcohol content stated on the label. For most beers, the allowed variation is 0.5 per cent.’


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