Beer giant Carling has avoided a £50 million tax payment from the HMRC after it admits to putting a higher ABV on its product than is actually brewed.

Molson Coors, owners of the Carling beer brand, has told the court that the alcohol content of Carling is lower than advertised to consumers. The ABV was reduced in an effort to avoid the higher tax rates which apply to high strength beers under the excise laws in the UK. The advertised ABV on the pack is of 4% whereas the beer was actually being produced at 3.7%. Thus, the brand could successfully avoid the higher tax rate and save themselves some money, however many consumers may feel that they were being duped by the brand and thought they were drinking 4% lager.

Vice president of Molson Coors Europe, Philip Rutherford, reportedly said during the tribunal that the reason for neglecting to change the packaging to advertise the correct ABV was purely monetary, that changing the packaging would lead retailers to demand “a slice” of the money saved. This move has allowed Carling and Molson Coors to retain a profit margin on the product, though it is unclear whether or not these retailers will have something to say now that the deception has come to light.

A statement from Molson Coors reasserted that “the trust of our consumers is paramount”, but this deliberate misprinting of the ABV seems to undermine this. However, the statement also affirms that there is a slight variation range for the drink of 0.23%, and “It is completely normal for consumable products to have a slight variation”, which is why the company feels it does not need to change its advertised alcoholic content.

Despite the movement from 4% to 3.7%, Carling is still firmly within the mainstream regular strength beer segment, and this is unlikely to change thanks to its status as something of a household name in the UK beer market. However, there has been an overwhelming trend to move away from mainstream brands such as Carling towards more craft or brands perceived as of a higher quality. For the moment, Carling remains the most popular mainstream brand in the UK, as found by the latest GlobalData research, though it will remain to be seen what affect this news has on sales for the brand.