MacAskill sorry about 'cooking lager' jibe

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HE TALKS tough about Scotland's booze shame, but now Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, has been forced to grovel to the brewers of the country's best-known lager.

The MSP apologised after referring to Tennent's as "cooking lager" during an interview. Senior figures from the company behind the drink, InBev UK, accused Mr MacAskill of being "at best flippant, and at worst derogatory" about a firm they say is committed to helping tackle the country's problems with alcohol.

Mr MacAskill vowed to rid the country of its record with alcohol abuse and the crime that stems from it. But in e-mails from him to the head of external relations of InBev – released under freedom of information laws – he admitted Tennent's was his "drink of choice". And Mr MacAskill even offered to make a public show of downing the lager.

The brief row erupted after he spoke in an interview in March about the nation's drink shame. In it, he said: "I was in the pub the other Friday night with my son. I had three pints of Tennent's cooking lager and a glass of wine when I got home."

But the remarks angered the brewing firm and Rob Bruce, then the company's head of external affairs, wrote directly to the justice secretary.

Mr Bruce said: "Do you think it's appropriate for a Scottish Government minister to talk in such a derogatory way about Scotland's only indigenous lager brand of note? A lager brand that supports hundreds of jobs?

"One that has arguably been instrumental in creating a modern cultural landscape our country can be proud of? A brand which has been the longest-running commercial supporter of football in this country?

"Do you think your comment was appropriate? Helpful? Did it add anything to your message about responsible drinking?

"It is a shame that it's about you being at best flippant, and at worst derogatory, about a brand which is committed to helping you and your government tackle our nation's drinking problem."

Mr MacAskill responded to the e-mail within just six minutes – and asked to be reminded of what he had said. He then wrote: "It (Tennent's] is my drink of choice and if I said something inadvertently then I unreservedly apologise. I don't need persuaded of what you guys do."

Mr Bruce said, "call us anything else except Tennent's lager being cooking lager", and within 20 minutes relations had been smoothed over.

The justice secretary stated: "Very sorry. It was meant as a whimsical aside and reference to higher ABV (alcohol by volume] continental drinks that I now don't touch. I accept that it was out of order – so sorry once again. It was actually meant to be supportive though misplaced.

"Happy to sup a pint for you sooner or later … happy to be seen with your product as that's what I consume in Leslies Bar."

Mr Bruce accepted the apology and suggested a meeting over a "pie and pint". Mr MacAskill offered a coffee at Holyrood. Mr Bruce has since left InBev and was unavailable for comment last night.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "While the justice secretary is well aware of the need to tackle Scotland's cultural problem with alcohol, he also recognises that alcohol is part of our culture.

"The industry has a key role to play in helping to combat our binge-boozing culture and we welcome the opportunity to work with them to tackle the complex issues surrounding alcohol."

BATTLING THE BOOZE BINGE

KENNY MacAskill, the justice secretary, has made alcohol abuse and Scotland's binge-drinking culture a focus of his first year in the post.

Just last week he warned that the time for excuses for a "bevvy culture" had passed.

He said: "We cannot go on as we are – the damage in our communities, as well as to our health and economy, is too great.

"We need each and every Scot to stop, think about and, if necessary, reduce their own alcohol consumption."

The justice secretary has said the Scottish Government will not shy away from tough action on the issue, despite opposition from some parts of the alcohol industry. There have already been moves in the Scottish Parliament to end cheap pub deals.

The government is drawing up an alcohol strategy, but seems unlikely to raise the legal drinking age from 18 to 21. A higher age limit on the purchase of drink, as well as setting minimum prices to bring an end to "cheaper than water" discount deals from shops and supermarkets have been proposed by campaigners.

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