I’m a little behind on this one, but thought it worth mentioning all the same. Last Friday, a week ago, the oldest brewery in Ireland was shut down. Heineken, who’s owned the Beamish & Crawford Brewery in Cork since last October, decided in December to close the brewery and move production elsewhere to cut costs. The brewery, located on South Main Street, has been making beer since 1690, making it Ireland’s oldest brewery. There had been talk of turning it into a museum, a plan endorsed by Cllr Brian Bermingham, The Lord Mayor of Cork. Its mock-Tudor counting house is already a “protected structure” and, according to The Independent, “the National Conservation and Heritage Group (NCHG) argued that the existing Beamish site offers an opportunity to create a tourism-heritage complex similar to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.” Heineken decided instead to sell it “on the commercial market” since they obviously couldn’t care less about the history of the place. Like any multinational corporation, they only care about short-term profit.
British beer writer Roger Protz has a nice summary of who’s owned Beamish over the past few decades, and how those events led to Heineken acquiring it last year.
While Murphy’s fell into the hands of Heineken, Beamish also had a turbulent life in the 20th century. In 1962 it was bought by the Canadian group Carling O’Keefe, which in turn was bought by the Foster’s lager group of Australia. This allowed Beamish Stout to be sold through Courage pubs in Britain as Courage was owned by Foster’s. Eventually Courage was taken over by S&N, which gave the brand little promotion in Britain but, incongruously, marketed it in France alongside its French subsidiary Kronenbourg.
Abut 120 jobs will be lost and production will be moved across town, to what for most of its existence was known as the Lady’s Well Brewery, also owned by Heineken, where they make Murphy’s Irish Stout.
michael Reinhardt says
The loss of the historical site is to loose this beer. This conglomeration of breweries is getting out of control. The iron fist of profit has once again smashed the stream of common decency.
The Beer Nut says
In fairness, the closure of a factory which made Miller, Fosters, Beamish Red and Beamish Stout is no great loss. The complete cessation of Beamish Red production has been a windfall for Cork’s only Irish-owned brewery Franciscan Well, who have been picking up orders for their own red ale as a replacement.
I don’t think the move from a Big Three in Irish brewing to a Big Two is really a sign of things getting out of control. The more that the likes of Diageo and Heineken consolidate and produce fewer and duller beers, the more Irish drinkers will hopefully turn to beer made by Irish companies, ones which spend more on ingredients than on advertising.
I’d say most of these closures don’t rattle the cages of anyone and aren’t great losses in and of themselves, so I don’t disagree with that at all. But I do continue to mourn the historical aspects of closure after closure that we see all over the world, part and parcel of the rise of corporate power over individual liberties or even nation states. Heineken is more powerful than the dinky little mayor of Cork so they pay him no mind whatsoever. To me that’s scary. That fewer and fewer companies control such large portions of total beer production worldwide is, I think, a bad trend. Lose one brewery, so what, but this is just one more in a long line of closures and that I believe is quite significant. If it keeps up, you won’t have much beer left to be nutty about.
The Beer Nut says
I read it the other way around: the more that the big breweries close, the more room there is for the little guys. Remember, we have no large regional independents here: the Big Foreign-Owned Two and the native micros are completely separate business models, and they close for different reasons from each other. It’s not a single line. As long as no drinkable beer is lost I don’t mind.
And I get a bit miffed when a readjustment by the big corporates gets international coverage, but when Ireland’s first microbrewery closed up shop last year it was of limited local interest only.