Marston’s, who brews Banks, Mansfield and Jennings as well as the eponymous beers, is buying out the regional Hampshire brewery, Ringwood, whose most well-known beer is undoubtedly “Old Thumper.” The pricetag is £19.2 million pounds (or just shy of $39 million dollars) and also includes Ringwood’s pubs in and around Hampshire. Six months ago, Marston’s also bought Eldridge Pope for £155m ($314.5 million U.S.).
According to a BBC article, “[t]he acquisition will boost Marston’s presence in the South of England and enhance its range of regional breweries which include Midlands-based Banks’s.” Alistair Darby, Marston’s managing director is quoted as saying. “We plan to develop its excellent brands as part of our strategy to meet consumer demand for premium ales with local provenance and heritage.” And here I thought they just wanted to make more money.
|Ringwood Brewery has an interesting history. It’s situated in the relatively small town of Ringwood in Hampshire, which is in southern England, about 20 miles from the coast and 85 miles from London. The town is part of the rural district of Hampshire and is essentially a market town located along the River Avon and adjacent to “New Forest,” the largest remaining unenclosed pasture land, heathland and old-growth forest in England. By 1811, Ringwood was a bustling community and at one time boasted four breweries, but the last one — Carter’s — closed around 1923. Fifty-five years later, in 1978, Ringwood Brewery was opened by Peter Austin, who today is considered to be the “father of British micro-brewing.” Not only was he one of the first small breweries to open in modern times, but he also helped save cask beer from extinction.|
The yeast Austin brought with him from the now-defunct Hull Brewery in northern England is today known as “Ringwood yeast” and is a popular ale strain used by countless small American craft breweries. Alan Pugsley, who learned brewing from Peter Austin, is the co-owner and master brewer of Shipyard Brewing in Portland, Maine. That’s also the reason that Ringwood’s “Old Thumper” beer is made under license by Shipyard for sales in North America. To learn more about how Ringwood Brewery greatly influenced the craft beer movement here in the United States, through Alan Pusgley, there are two illuminating interviews with him online by Lew Bryson and Andy Crouch.
Despite Marston’s claims that they’re only in it to “meet consumer demand for premium ales with local provenance and heritage,” I can’t help but be suspicious of yet another big brewery chain swallowing up a smaller one. These things rarely go well for the one being bought. There’s a lot of heritage in the Ringwood Brewery and it would be a crying shame if it was lost to another economic decision by a large company that only cared about its bottom line. And apparently I’m not the only one. CAMRA has also made its concerns known about the acquisition in a Publican article by Adam Withrington. CAMRA believes this buyout by Marston’s may have a “domino effect” for increasing the consolidations of pubs and breweries, a trend I personally thought was fairly well-established in England as already taking place.
From the Publican:
CAMRA chief executive Mike Benner said: “The practice among larger breweries of acquiring smaller competitors is a race where the only loser is the consumer who is often denied a locally brewed beer.
“As one of the larger breweries buys a brewery and expands their estate their competitors start hunting for their next purchase to keep up. CAMRA’s fear is that an increasing number of smaller breweries will be lost if this race continues and consumer choice will suffer as a result.”
CAMRA’s fears arise from a significant number of small local breweries being bought and closed down by bigger regionals over the last three years. Greene King has purchased both Ridley’s in Essex, Scottish brewer Belhaven and Nottinghamshire brewer Hardys & Hansons and closed all three breweries. In 2005 Fuller’s bought Hampshire regional brewer Gales and closed its brewery in Horndean.
The Ringwood Brewery in Hampshire, England.