Sales of caffeinated wine surge after Catholics denounce Protestant-themed marketing

A few years back, I wrote a piece here about Buckfast, a notoriously strong (and cheap) fortified wine with caffeine that's popular in Scotland in Northern Ireland — so popular, in fact, that nearly half of the people imprisoned in Scotland had drank the hooch shortly before they were arrested. Rather than examine the relationships between poverty, criminality, and cheap strong booze, the savvy investors at Belcondie Ltd realized that they had a ripe market to exploit, and launched a new product to compete with ol' Bucky in the marketplace: King William Fortified Wine.

This new hooch leans heavily into the imagery of William the Orange, an icon of Ulster Protestantism for his defeat of the Catholic king James II during the Williamite–Jacobite War in the seventeenth century. While there are presumably some fine English folks out there who celebrate the Big Orange Billy for more wholesome reasons, his iconography is also associated with the sectarian violence of various Ulster Loyalist groups in Scotland and Northern Ireland — and as such, some people are pretty pissed about this new booze.

In fact, some parties complained to the Portman Group, the UK's alcohol trade association, accusing King Billy of offensive imagery. For Belcondie's part, the company behind the King William Fortified Wine argued that no one complained when they launched their King William Gin, in honor of the Orange fella's historic "liberalization" (their words) of the gin industry. "We have no idea which football clubs our customers support but our previous products have done well in areas within west central Scotland. It seemed a natural choice for launch," Belcondie said in a statement. (The King William Fortified Wine is 16.90% ABV, supposedly in honor of William's passing of the Distilling Act in 1690.)

The Portman Group ultimately upheld the complaint, saying that, while King William was indeed an historical monarch and thus not inherently offensive, "The presentation of the packaging, particularly the overt references where the product's ABV had been used to signify a year that linked the product, and King William, to a specific conflict associated with sectarianism was likely to cause serious offence to certain communities."

Belcondie has agreed to change the label … but in the meantime, sales of the booze have skyrocketed. From The Belfast Telegraph:

"We've seen a huge increase in sales and I have been flat out restocking suppliers who are running out of existing stock," a spokesman for the firm said.

"We are seeing a lot of BT postcodes when it comes to online orders, which account for around 90%. One stockist needed three extra deliveries within 24 hours.

"The surge in sales is probably driven by a lot of people wanting to get a bottle before they change."

So hey, sounds like Belcondie won after all.

Sales of King Billy 'Buckfast rival' soar in NI after sectarian complaint upheld [Brett Campbell / Belfast Telegraph]

King Billy likely to stay, 1690 scrubbed, when changing 'offensive' labelling on fortified wine [John Breslin / The Irish News]