By Andy Young

Justin Hemmes revealed the reasons behind his decision not to serve Victoria Bitter at his latest venue The Newport and dismissed reports of an exclusivity agreement with Lion.

Earlier this week a consumer started a petition after visiting the newly opened The Newport and discovering that the venue did not serve VB. Despite widespread media coverage of the petition only around 300 people have signed it and a quick look through those names reveals that many are either duplicates or spoofs.

In response to the news a spokesperson for Merivale told TheShout: "We have close relationships and partnerships with several local and national brewers. We believe our beer offering suits the venue perfectly.”

Then yesterday morning in response to the growing coverage, Merivale owner Hemmes spoke to 2GB radio host Alan Jones and explained that his reasons for not stocking VB go back 23 years to when he was just starting out as a venue owner.

“It was about 23 years ago when I opened my first bar in the city,” Hemmes told Jones. “Within the first few days of trading a couple of guys came in in suits and they identified themselves as being from Carlton and United Breweries. In those days there were actually only two breweries that really controlled 99 per cent of the beers, which was CUB and Tooheys. Carlton had the lion’s share at about 65 per cent in those days and Tooheys were the underdog at about 35 per cent or 30 per cent share. 

“And these guys from Carlton came in, introduced themselves and started telling me that I had to re-arrange my fridges and display Crown Lager in about 80 per cent of my fridges, change my beers around and take certain beers off etcetera. Which I didn’t take kindly to.

“So I said to them, ‘what happens if I don’t comply?’ and in no uncertain terms they sort of said ‘well, if you don’t comply we won’t supply you our products’.”

Hemmes added: “Well, I wasn’t really going to go ahead with that. Then coincidentally two guys came in, and I remember them perfectly like it was yesterday and they were from Lion Nathan, the underdog at the time. They introduced themselves and said to me ‘we wanted to introduce ourselves and ask you what can we do to help you?’.

“And from that day on I formed a fantastic relationship with those guys and I formed a loyalty to Lion Nathan.”

And when asked by Jones if Lion had asked him for exclusivity, Hemmes replied: “Definitely not.”

Hemmes added: “We sell Australia’s largest selling craft beer Coopers, which is a brilliant beer. There’s 4Pines from Manly who are fantastic operators, and the same with Modus from Avalon. 

“I have nothing against VB and I know the company is a very different one today than it was 23 years ago, but I’ve formed a great relationship with the Lion Nathan guys and they have supported me all the way and I like to support them.”

A spokesperson for CUB told TheShout: "We genuinely respect Justin as a publican who is doing really good things for the beer industry. He has a great team with him who are running some of the best venues across the country; hopefully we get to do more business with him in the future."

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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