Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
Claims on www.brewmeister.co.uk featured a product page, which featured a label on a bottle that stated "Snake venom THE WORLD'S STRONGEST BEER". There was a yellow label visible on the neck of the bottle. Text below stated "Snake Venom 67.5% ... Contains special ingredients to achieve such a high volume of alcohol including smoked peat malt and two types of yeast: beer yeast and champagne yeast. Unlike Armageddon, Snake Venom is not designed to mask the taste of the alcohol. The alcohol is very strong but the beer still tastes like a beer rather than a spirit. It's hoppy, malty and very pleasant. Snake Venom is so strong that we have put a warning label on the neck of the bottle warning drinkers to beware. To get the correct ABV each batch is tested in the brewery with random batches being checked by external labs". On the "our beers" page, text on the label of an image of the product stated "Snake venom THE WORLD'S STRONGEST BEER". Further text stated "SAY GOODBYE TO BORING BEER!".
1. The complainant challenged whether the claim that the product had an ABV (alcohol by volume) strength of 67.5% was misleading and could be substantiated
2. The ASA challenged whether the ad implied the drink may be preferred because of its alcohol content or intoxicating effect, and whether the factual information about the strength of the drink had been given undue emphasis.
1. Brewmeister Ltd provided a certificate of analysis of the product, which had been performed by a public analyst.
2. Brewmeister said a warning label had been placed at the neck of the bottle, which stated "This beer is strong, do not consume more than 35ml in one sitting". They explained they were promoting a drink that was high in quality and, therefore, should be drunk in smaller quantities, unlike a standard beer.
The ASA considered that, without additional explanation, consumers would interpret the claim "Snake venom 67.5%" to mean the product had an alcohol volume of 67.5%, as per the standard ABV measure, without having been through any other additional processes to standard beer. While we noted the certificate of analysis provided by Brewmeister showed that the product had an alcohol volume of 67.5%, we also noted it stated that the product had its fermented alcohol content concentrated by a process of freeze distillation and that it was possible that ethyl alcohol had been added to increase its ABV, which we understood, in both cases, was different to the process used for standard beer. Because that was not made clear, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
We noted there was a warning label shown on the neck of the bottle but that the text on it was not clear in the ad. Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the concerns set out above, we considered the claims "THE WORLD'S STRONGEST BEER" and "SAY GOODBYE TO BORING BEER!" placed an undue emphasis on the product's high alcoholic strength and implied the product was preferable because of its alcohol content. We also considered the claims "Contains special ingredients to achieve such a high volume of alcohol", "The alcohol is very strong but the beer still tastes like a beer rather than a spirit" and "Snake Venom is so strong that we have put a warning label on the neck of the bottle warning drinkers to beware" contributed to the overall impression that the product might be preferred because of its claimed alcohol content or intoxicating effect. For the reasons given, we concluded the ad was in breach of the Code.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule
Marketing communications may give factual information about the alcoholic strength of a drink. They may also make a factual alcohol strength comparison with another product, but only when the comparison is with a higher-strength product of a similar beverage.
Marketing communications must not imply that a drink may be preferred because of its alcohol content or intoxicating effect. There is an exception for low-alcohol drinks, which may be presented as preferable because of their low alcoholic strength.
In the case of a drink with relatively high alcoholic strength in relation to its category, the factual information should not be given undue emphasis. (Alcohol).
The ad must not appear in its current form. We told Brewmeister Ltd to ensure claims about the alcohol content of their products were not misleading and that future marketing communications did not place undue emphasis on the alcoholic strength of a product or imply that a drink may be preferred because of its alcohol content or intoxicating effect.