JD Wetherspoon raises a glass of Marston’s over row with brewers

Tim Martin hopes to replicate Wetherspoon’s British success in Ireland

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JD Wetherspoon’s Tim Martin laughs that his spat with two of the world’s biggest brewing multinationals has had a happy side-effect: Irish drinkers are shunning Guinness and Murphy’s in favour of Marston’s Stout.

If, like most outside Marston’s Midlands heartland, you’ve never heard of its Revisionist Craft Stout, you’re not alone. Most Irish beer drinkers hadn’t either, until Wetherspoon started an unprecedented scrap with Diageo and Heineken which has meant neither Guinness nor Murphy’s is available in its pubs.

Mr Martin, the founder and chairman of Wetherspoon, has begun setting up a 30-strong chain of pubs in Ireland, attempting to repeat the cut-price model that has served him so well in his 920-strong UK chain.

Guinness’ brewer, Diageo, and Murphy’s maker Heineken had other ideas. They have long enjoyed a stranglehold over Ireland’s small pubs businesses. So, first, Diageo refused to supply Guinness at Wetherspoon’s prices, then Heineken followed suit with Murphy’s – taking umbrage at Wetherspoon’s €3 (£2.35) a pint prices.

For his first two pubs in Ireland, Mr Martin was left with no choice but to offer a British alternative: “We have found a new mega-product which the Irish are consuming in vast quantities at a €2.50 a pint. Marston’s stout.”

The row hit the media last month when Mr Martin furiously pulled all Heineken’s beers from his pubs in Britain. But yesterday, a rapprochement was reached. Heineken agreed to allow Wetherspoon to sell Foster’s lager, Beamish stout and Symonds cider in Ireland at discount prices. In return, Mr Martin reversed his UK-wide ban on all Heinenken brands – which include Kronenbourg, Strongbow and, of course, Heineken.

But Murphy’s stout and Heineken remain off limits in Ireland: “It’s not worth trying to force a supplier to sell you something he doesn’t want to,” Mr Martin said.

Will he strike a similar compromise with Diageo and Guinness? Unlikely. “I just had a good look through my Christmas cards and didn’t find one from Diageo,” he said.

“We have to take a philosophical approach: there is no law requiring Diageo to sell us Guinness in Ireland at the same price as in England.”

For all his blithe take on the situation, the row with these two super-brewers must play on Mr Martin’s mind as he plots a €50m investment in his Irish expansion programme.

For now, though, he appears undaunted, referring instead to Barack Obama’s 2011 Irish Guinness photo opportunity. “If the president pays a visit to one of our pubs in Ireland, we’ll be delighted to serve him – or her – a delicious pint of Marston’s stout.”

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