Taste for beer in flagons dries up

By David Eames

The good old flagon of beer - otherwise known as the half g or'goon - is in its last throes, kept alive only by the loyalty of "traditional" drinkers.

For years the two-litre jug, in glass or plastic, was as synonymous with all things boozy as the curvaceous pub jug, the dimpled pint and a copy of Best Bets wedged in the back pocket.

Now it seems the'goon is a goner, doomed to go the same way as the six o'clock swill.

It's a "generational" thing, says DB Breweries corporate affairs manager Mark Campbell. "Certainly fewer and fewer younger drinkers use it.

"It is probably a more traditional way that beer was sold in the past. It's on the way out."

Unlike earlier times, when young drinkers were less demanding about their wholesale suds, as long as they did the job, today's younger set wants to be seen consuming the right stuff.

"Certainly fewer and fewer young drinkers use it ... younger drinkers like to be seen drinking what's fashionable," Campbell says.

Super Liquor franchise manager Sue Lewis agrees: "The 20-year-olds would never go and buy a flagon of beer."

Problems with ageing and storage of the beer for dispensing into flagons means breweries are not keen on the product, but in stores where they are still popular - suburban and (more likely) rural areas - breweries are happy to maintain supply.

But there's "waste, spillage and poor margins", Lewis says.

Lion Nathan does supply a few outlets with kegs for flagons, but it is a "very, very small market", says corporate affairs manager Liz Read.

It is also predominantly a South Island phenomena, she reckons.

Existing stores will keep supplying the service but it is doubtful that flagon-filling will be a feature of bottle stores in years to come, Lewis says.

"New stores would think very, very carefully about putting the facility in."

If there was a "base of support" for flagon sales in a particular area, that is one thing, "but if you are opening a new place, you wouldn't bother".

It is a time-consuming job - and an added construction cost - to install the pipes, taps and chilling equipment required to furnish the perfect flagon.

Such services take up precious space, which could be better used displaying the glamour beers and ready to drink products enjoyed by the junior drinker.

Super Liquor Holdings chief executive John Sutherland - a 36-year veteran of the industry - cites two reasons for the fate of the flagon.

The fact consumers are getting a pretty good deal in packaged beers should not be overlooked, he says.

Also, "potential health problems with the dispensing of the product into the container" has been another nail in the coffin of the flagon.

In their heyday in the 1960s and 70s, flagons were considered less carbonated than the bottled product, therefore more of a purist's tipple.

They could also be filled over the hotel counter.

But in those days flagons were constantly being filled, so kegged stock did not have to last for long.

Nowadays, a keg kept for filling flagons could take awhile to empty, resulting in a lesser-quality ale.

But Mr Sutherland is philosophical about the flagon's demise.

"It's just changing times. It's just the way the whole industry goes ... people are starting to move up the ladder a bit more.

"The young ones don't even want to be seen with a flagon."

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