The Bearded Brewery
5 September 2019
Considered under the 5th Edition of the Code.
“Firstly, data from the National Health Service (NHS) has shown that over the past decade, the group at highest risk of suicide has been men aged 25-34 years old . Secondly, the Department of Health (DoH) has also acknowledged that alcohol misuse can influence suicide risk . Thirdly, ‘Suicyder’ has a strong alcohol content at 7.8 ABV. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that such a strong cider is targeted at male consumers. Given these facts, in my view, it is clearly irresponsible of The Bearded Brewery to produce and market a cider with a brand name that plays on the word ‘suicide’, uses iconography like a rope noose that is associated with suicide, and uses the strapline ‘juice from the noose’. These actions demonstrate that the brewery is making a clear association between their cider and the dangerous act of suicide. The dictionary definition of ‘dangerous’ is ‘involving possible injury, pain, harm, or loss’. With their brand ‘Suicyder’, The Bearded Brewery is making a clear association between their product and a dangerous act that could inflict injury, harm or loss. Given that the highest risk group for suicide are men aged 25-34, I find the targeting and brand positioning of ‘Suicyder’ by The Bearded Brewery to be reckless and dangerous in the extreme, and in breach of your Code Rule 3.2(b).
Member of the public
Under Code paragraph 3.2(b)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way suggest any association with bravado, or with violent, aggressive, dangerous, anti-social or illegal behaviour.
The company’s submission
The company stated that the first two points of the complaint related to facts surrounding suicide more widely, rather than the effects of its product ‘Suicyder’ and as such did not create or evidence any direct link between the two. The company also stated that alcohol in general, particularly when misused, could lead to behaviour that could cause injury and be harmful. The producer noted that the argument that alcohol is a dangerous product could be applied to any volume of alcohol in theory.
The company explained that Suicyder had always been its most expensive cider and the relative cost of the product, alongside its other ciders, reduced its affordability. The company stated that this higher price was implemented in part to take account of a suggestion from Public Health England that higher alcohol pricing could reduce related harms. The company acknowledged the strong alcoholic strength of Suicyder but explained that this had recently been recently reduced from 7.8% to 7.3% ABV due to the higher rate of duty.
The company explained that Suicyder was not consumed by, or directed at, a predominantly male audience and confirmed that none of its products were targeted at a particular gender. The company stated that the majority of its customers discovered ‘Suicyder’ through its Bar Bottle Shop tasting sessions and chose the product based on its flavour profile.
The company clarified that the name of the cider was based on a wordplay with the intention being to indicate the strength of the alcohol content. It was intended that this would encourage consumers to undertake caution when selecting the product and indirectly promoted responsible consumption.
The company explained that the branding for Bearded Brewery products used biker imagery and tattoos to reflect the personal style of the business owners/brewers and the non-traditional cider produced. The company also stated that the branding of ‘juice from the noose’ and the imagery of the noose in the logo next to the apple skull reflected a dual meaning, rooted in the previous careers of the founders. The company explained that these aspects of the brand derived from their work with the Forestry Commission, where they would use a noose to dismantle unsafe trees; otherwise known as Widow Makers. The company highlighted that this was consistent with similar details found in its brand logo which included a tree stump, axe and saw. The company explained that it used this imagery on Suicyder as it was the first cider it produced and believed that once consumers became familiar with the brewery the reference would surpass the initial logo.
Additionally, the company sought to provide further context to the product by drawing attention to the accolades it had received, including a Bronze award by CAMRA in the 2018 Falmouth Beer and Cider Festival which led to an invitation to compete nationally in the UK. The company also highlighted its charitable work, which included contributions to Rotary, Lions and CALM.
The company stated that it was a small, independent brewery with no intention of selling ‘Suicyder’ to larger shops and suppliers. It highlighted the wider use of the word ‘suicide’ in the branding of UK ciders, and noted that 244 beers, ciders and breweries also used the name internationally.
 Campaign Against Living Miserably: a movement against suicide, the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel noted that the Code Secretariat had both ordered the product and had also asked the company to send the product for consideration at the Panel meeting but neither request had been fulfilled. The Panel agreed that since the complaint was against the product name, they would consider this in combination with the product image presented on the company website.
The Panel discussed the product name ‘Suicyder’ and noted that this appeared in combination with a human skull, a noose and the wording ‘juice from the noose’. The Panel considered that these three elements in combination were unequivocally creating a direct link to suicide. The Panel discussed the presentation of the noose, skull and name ‘Suicyder’ and judged that it was uncomfortable with the combination of name and iconography depicting a clear method of suicide by hanging. The Panel noted that without the ability to see the back of the product packaging it could not understand whether there was any supplementary text which sought to address the clear link to an act of suicide. The Panel discussed the product name and imagery in the context of wider societal awareness of mental health issues and considered that it was inappropriate to link alcohol to suicide. The Panel also considered that it was highly irresponsible to portray death by hanging in such an obvious manner, linking the name with its play on suicide, with a prominently placed noose alongside the other elements of the brand logo.
The Panel carefully considered the company’s response and acknowledged the company’s point that the noose was used to reflect the owner’s previous career at the Forestry Commission where a noose was used to dismantle unsafe trees. Despite this link, the Panel noted that a consumer would have to understand this inside knowledge to displace the main connotation portrayed by the product name and imagery on the front label. The Panel considered that overall, the product backstory became distorted when considering the product’s name and iconography in combination and did not believe that the most consumers would be aware of this link. The Panel noted that it was the company’s intention to market the product based on its historical link to the owner’s previous careers as tree surgeons. However, the Panel felt that confusion was created by the otherwise commendable support for CALM, which was a suicide prevention charity; this suggested that the producers had recognised, in some way, a link between the name of their product and the issue of suicide.
The Panel noted the company’s point that multiple other producers reference suicide on alcohol products but sought to remind the company that it could only consider the product that was subject to complaint. In this instance, the Panel concluded that the product name ‘Suicyder’, when used in combination with imagery that depicted a hanging method of suicide, created a direct link between suicide, alcohol and dangerous behaviour and accordingly upheld the product under Code paragraph 3.2(b).
Action by Company
The company decided not to work with the Portman Group advisory service to amend their product in line with the Panel’s ruling. Therefore, the Retailer Alert Bulletin below was issued.