THOUGHT PIECE the carling team

Who Owns What In The UK Brewing Scene In 2023?

We last looked at who owns what back in spring of 2019. That was pre Covid, pre the world economy bouncing back but the supply chain failing to keep up which led to price rises and pre Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine which pushed the price of grain and oil further upwards. We have had another World Cup and pub sales were said to have kept UK economic growth figures positive although some pubs reported a pretty bleak Christmas period afterwards.

During the pandemic with pubs shut there was a significant shift to drinking at home. Many smaller brewers were quick on their feet and introduced home deliveries in milk containers and the more adventurous installed manual can lines while there was no demand for their usual cask output. With pubs fully open again but struggling with staff in short supply and costing more, heating bills a lot higher, brewers putting prices up as are catering suppliers and customers pulling their horns in, times are tough. The planned excise duty rises have been deferred but government support for energy costs is due to reduce soon leaving some to pay double. There are bound to be more pub closures. It will be interesting to see the 2022 split between the on and off trade to see how it has shifted in a full year of open pubs.

The Guinness No4 brewhouse in Dublin commissioned in 2019

90 odd breweries closed last year but still new ones are opening. Are they incurable optimists or do they know something that we do not? 8 Sail currently underneath the famous eight sailed windmill at Heckington in Lincolnshire is moving so that it can to expand to 2000hL; Ludlow is set to double capacity and wants to brew a lager while alcohol free Jump Ship is seeking crowd funding to build a new brewery in Edinburgh. Wild Beer went bust but Curious has picked up the brands, Leeds beers will be brewed by Kirkstall and Skinners has actually found a buyer. The industry is not moribund but still rather shaky.

Wadworth’s 1885 brewing tower in Devizes

So has all this altered the ‘who owns what’ scene? Heineken put Caledonian Brewery up for sale citing how its efficiency and emissions targets could not be met in an old building. Wadworth in Devizes will similarly be moving into a building with a brew volume it can turn down to 15 brls against the current 70 in the 1885 Victorian tower.

Jennings at Cockermouth currently up for sale

Carlberg Marston’s announcement about ending almost two hundred years of brewing at Jennings in Cumbria also highlights the parlous position of historic buildings in modern international brewing groups.

We have to go back well pre pandemic to find the previous major change which was the takeover of the Fuller’s brewing operation by Japan’s Asahi and the joint brewing venture of Carlsberg and Marstons.

This article will now try and record the current structure of the UK brewing industry and how it has changed since those heady days back in 1980 when beer sales were at an all-time high of 67mhL and 88% of beer was drunk in the pub.

The defunct Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh has been there since 1847

Today, the market post Coronavirus is worth 45mhL and just under half is sold in pubs and clubs. The six large vertically integrated brewing companies back in 1989 have given way to pubcos and four international wholesalers. Only Heineken still owns any pubs.

Beer sales declined from 1980 and pub owning brewers started to realise that there were more returns from retailing and property than producing the amber nectar so formed dedicated divisions to look after the outlets. Household names for centuries, Bass, Allied (Ind Coope, Ansells and Tetleys), Courage, Watneys, Whitbread and Scottish (Youngers and McEwans) & Newcastle dominated the marketplace. Things came to a head in 1989 when Lord Young during Mrs Thatcher’s administration was ‘minded’ to accept that brewing was a complex monopoly not necessarily in the public interest.

New plant at Hall & Woodhouse in Blandford Forum

The Beer Orders forced the big brewers to sell off half of the pubs they owned in excess of 2000. Bass originally with 7700 would have to come down to 4850. With so many, often lower end, pubs on the market, sales directors fearing for their jobs helped form pubcos with high levels of corporate debt but tremendous buying power. A provision for a guest beer in the big brewers houses did not bring a lot of variety as supply deals were done with the larger regionals.

Seeing the writing on the wall, the Big Six started to abandon brewing. Bass went into hotels and floated Six Continents which eventually became the International Hotel Group (Holiday Inns etc) and pubco Mitchells and Butlers. In 1999 its brewing interests were sold to Belgium’s Interbrew which had just bought Whitbread’s breweries. The government forced Interbrew to shed the English rump of Bass which was purchased by Coors from Colorado. The Tennent’s plant in Glasgow passed to C&C from Ireland which is better known for its Magners cider. Interbrew became the world’s number one brewer as Anheuser Busch InBev and then took over No2 world brewer SABMiller. The latter only had a single UK brewing interest in London’s Meantime and that was sold on to Asahi as part of the settlement.

Whitbread took over Boddingtons in 1989 but morphed into a restaurateur and hotelier (Premier Inns), only finally disposing of its Costa Coffee operation to Coca Cola in 2019. Watneys had been a division of conglomerate Grand Metropolitan since 1971; it ended up with Courage’s pubs and Courage got Watney’s breweries in 1991. Grand Metropolitan sold its pubs to Japan’s Nomura and merged with IDV to form Diageo. Courage had been stalked by the Australians of Elders IXL in 1986 and eventually merged with S&N in 1995.

Rotary kegging line at John Smiths , Tadcaster

Carlsberg wanted S&N’s Baltika interests in Russia and got into bed with Heineken to carve up the whole company with Heineken getting the UK breweries and the Bulmers cider operation. Allied sold its breweries to Carlsberg forming Carlsberg Tetley in 1993. Meanwhile Guinness ceased production at Park Royal in London and all UK black stuff comes from Ireland thus ending decades of arguments about whether Guinness was better in Bristol and Liverpool as it came from Dublin; now it all does! Large regional Greenall Whitley closed its brewing operations in Warrington, Wem in Shropshire, Davenports in Birmingham and Shipstones in Nottingham in 1990.

Mega breweries of the late 60s and 70s at Luton (Whitbread), Runcorn (Bass) and Berkshire (Courage) built to make vast volumes of nationally advertised brands came and went. The big six had 39 breweries before the Beer Orders; only eight are still operating.

Inside a new fermenting square at St Austell in Cornwall

So 80% of Britain’s beer comes from four foreign owned brewers. A-BI has plants in Magor and Samlesbury; Carlsberg is at Northampton. Molson Coors is at Burton on Trent and Tadcaster while Heineken brews at the Royal in Manchester and John Smiths in Tadcaster.

Larger regionals have also exited brewing; Charles Wells, Youngs, Thwaites and Fullers. Thwaites has built a mini brewery to do niche brands outside Blackburn and Wells has its Brewpoint beer hall and mini brewery on the same aquifer nearby in Bedford.

Greene King now has 2900 pubs and brews at Bury St Edmunds and at Belhaven in Scotland. This large estate means that its IPA brand is the UK’s third biggest seller in cask at 91,000hL. G-K was acquired by Hong Kong billionaire Victor Li through his CK Asset Holdings group in 2019.

Marstons of Burton on Trent and Wolverhampton has around 1500 pubs and has mopped up the Thwaites brands. It also operates out of Wychwood in Oxfordshire and Ringwood in Hampshire. All these plants are still brewing as the company formed a JV with Carlsberg in 2018 to form the Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Co which pooled UK brewing and distribution assets. CMBC has since closed Jennings at Cockermouth and sold the old Charles Wells plant in Bedford (acquired in 2017 and rechristened the Eagle Brewery) to Spain’s SA Damm which aims to gain a foothold in the UK to counter the phenomenal success of Molson Coors Madri which has no Iberian heritage at all apart from its name Madri(d)!

Other sizeable operations on account of contract brewing, supermarket supply deals and the number of pubs they still own are Camerons at Hartlepool, Samuel Smith at Tadcaster, Shepherd Neame at Faversham and Hall & Woodhouse at Blandford Forum. Robinsons at Stockport has 260 pubs and plans to relocate all brewing to its packaging site at Bredbury a few miles away in 2024.

Wooden casks at T&R Theakston in North Yorkshire

The rest of the long established regionals are tiny in comparison but happily are still brewing.

Adnams, Southwold
Arkells, Swindon
Batemans, Wainfleet
Bathams, Brierley Hill
Brains, Cardiff has sold the brewery it bought from Bass has moved to new plant near the docks.
Elgoods, Wisbech
Everards, Leicester – once in Burton on Trent, it moved back to Leicester and recently opened the Everards Meadow beer hall nearby.
Felinfoel, Llanelli
Harveys, Lewes
Holdens, Dudley
Holts, Manchester
Hook Norton, Oxfordshire
Hydes, Manchester moved to smaller
premises when it stopped contract brewing
Jersey Brewery sold its Ann Street site in St
Helier and moved to the outskirts
J. W. Lees, Manchester
McMullens, Hertford
Okells. Isle of Man
Palmers, Bridport
St Austell
Theakstons, Masham
Timothy Taylors, Keighley brews No2 cask beer in the form of Landlord at 103,000hL in 2022.
Wadworth, Devizes is looking to move to a new plant and vacate its 1885 plant in the town centre.

What about the micro brewers I hear you cry. There are 47 breweries mentioned above yet SIBA’s (The Society of Independent Brewers) new tracker which discounts beer cos and cuckoo brewers (who use someone else’s equipment) reckons there are some 1858 as at January 2023. Most are very small and face a very competitive market place as many pubs are tied in some way to a fixed beer supplier. The growth of micro pubs and specialist beer shops has given a bit of help but the market place remains difficult. SIBA also reported that the percentage of its members output in cask has dropped from 67% to 46% while the volume now in can has trebled. A third have on line shops and 40% have bricks and mortar shops. It also has an audit scheme for its members to improve brewery procedures which impact beer in the glass, but elsewhere beer quality remains somewhat patchy.

Hop pockets at Black Sheep

Success attracts the vultures; London Fields was bought by Carlsberg, Camden Town by A-BI, Four Pure and Magic Rock by Australia’s Lion while Heineken has bought all of Beavertown and Brixton. The Carlsberg and Lion acquisitions did not fit into long term international strategies and were put up for sale. Odyssey Inns bought Magic Rock and Four Pure but London Fields has yet to find a buyer. Butcombe is now owned by Channel Island’s Liberation Group (Jersey Brewery). St Austell bought Bath Ales with its brand new brewery while Black Sheep bought the York Brewery out of administration. Fullers took Dark Star, but that plant was closed by new owners Asahi which moved production to Meantime at the end of 2022. Innis & Gunn took over Inveralmond in Perth but still have plans for a 400,000hL brewery beside Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh on hold. Halewood International gobbled up Hawkshead and Sadlers while Molson Coors bought Sharps in Cornwall and Thomas Hardy at the old Burtonwood brewery, which it is currently trying to sell. Sharps Doom Bar is the nation’s biggest selling cask beer at 163,000hL in 2022.

Mashing at Four Priests micro at Middlewich in Cheshire

Unlike in the States, output figures are not published over here so it is hard to give a definitive list of the up and coming players. A 50hL plant is not necessarily used five days a week but the following are doing nicely; Abbeydale, Acorn, Anspach & Hobday, Big Lamp, Black Sheep, Bristol Beer, Cloudwater, Dartmoor, Evan Evans, Fyne, Harviestoun, Hogs Back, Ilkley, Innis & Gunn, Joules, Kernel, Kirkstall, Lancaster, Marble, Moorhouses, Moor Beer, Northern Monk, Oakham, Ossett, Purity, Rebellion, Rhymney, Roosters, Rudgate, St Peters, Siren, Stewart, Thornbridge, Titanic, Triple fff, Twickenham, West, Williams Bros, Windsor & Eton, Wiper & True and Woodfordes. The huge success story is BrewDog with three breweries worldwide, a fourth is planned in China and a string of over 100 bars worldwide including the UK’s largest called The Sidings at Waterloo Station with 27,500 sq ft of trading space. Only founded in 2007, it produces over 500,000hL a year and another 100,000hL of wash for its distillery operations.

The old and the new; T & J May’s Brewery at Basingstoke demolished in 1966 and Brewdog in Aberdeenshire