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Guinness Black Lager verdict: Cut the price

Jim Teeney has some advice for Diageo Plc, as he sips Guinness Black Lager: cut the price.

The beer is on trial at 400 bars in the North. The lager, which shares the iconic stout’s name and color, may be rolled out across Europe if the trial is a success.

It sells for £3 (€3.45) per bottle, about two-thirds more expensive than a standard pint of lager.

“I like it,” said Teeney, a 42-year-old postal worker, in the Duke of York bar in Belfast. “But I won’t be switching to it. I can get a pint of lager for nearly half the price.”

Guinness Black Lager is the brewer’s latest attempt to bolster beer sales in its battle with rivals Heineken NV and Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, which controls Budweiser. European Guinness volumes fell 3pc in the second half of 2009, the company said in February.

“People either love Guinness or wouldn’t go near it, whereas lager is accessible to most people,” said Andy Blain, an analyst at Shore Capital Group in London. “Guinness is a strong brand, but they need to look at new areas.”

Guinness has tried to extend the brand in the past. Earlier varieties included Guinness XXX Extra Strong Stout, Guinness Gold and Breo White Beer. None of these are on general sale any longer. A half-strength Guinness Beer which began testing in western Ireland in 2008 is now sold at 300 Irish outlets.

Diageo says the latest offering is different. “This isn’t a variation on stout, this is a completely different product,” said Pamela Selby, marketing manager for Guinness in Ireland. “We aren’t looking to entice Guinness drinkers to the new product as such, we are looking at lager drinkers.”

Drinkers at the Duke of York pub in the Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter have mostly reacted positively to the new beverage, said bar manager Danny Cushenhan.

“This is quite a clever product,” he said. “It has the Guinness tag, but it’s appealing to the crowd who like lager.”

The drink, aimed at men aged between 25 and 35, is sold in 330 milliliter bottles. A pint of lager - which is 568 milliliters - sells for about £3.20 (€3.69) in the city.

Not all drinkers are convinced. “I don’t like it,” said Fintan Gray, 37, a school teacher from Belfast. “If I want a lager I’ll go for something fizzier and something I can drink from a pint glass instead of a bottle.”