Thursday, 3 April 2008

Refresh UK

Marstons gobbles up Brakspear and Wychwood

In a deal worth between 10m GBP and 11m GBP, national brewing giant Marston's has bought the leading Oxfordshire-based regional Refresh UK, a drinks company that owns both the Brakspear and Wychwood breweries. Since the turn of the century, Marston's of Burton-on-Trent -- which includes Banks's of Wolverhampton -- has bought Jennings of Cumbria, Ringwood of Hampshire and now Refresh.
Rupert Thompson of Refresh, who will leave the company in six months' time, says the deal will be good for his brands. "In today's highly competitive market, we lack muscle, especially in the pub trade, where we own no outlets. There's a logic in working closely with Marston's because of their strength in the on-trade and our strength in supermarkets."
Wychwood's Hobgoblin strong dark ale is now a leading packaged brand. The merger will mean Marston's will be the biggest seller of premium bottled beers. It will also acquire the top-selling organic beers in Britain, which include Prince Charles's Duchy Originals beers.
Refresh UK was formed in 2000 and last year posted a turnover of 24.9m GBP and pre-tax profits of 1.1m GBP. It owns the Wychwood brewery in Witney and added the former Brakspear plant from Henley-on-Thames when that brewery closed. The plant includes Brakspear's famous "double drop" fermentation process that gives Brakspear Bitter and Special their characteristic aroma and flavour. Refresh UK brews a total of 50,000 barrels a year.
Rupert Thompson admits that while the Wychwood brands have done well, the Brakspear beers have struggled, probably a result of consumer anger with the former owners' decision to stop brewing in Henley and become a pub company. (Considerable confusion is caused by the existence of a Brakspear pub company and an unrelated Brakspear brewery.)
While it is true that Marston's has a good track record of not closing the breweries it has bought, there must be considerable anxiety over the loss of yet another successful regional producer. There may well come a time when Marston's will review its overall production and decide that some of its brands, currently brewed in Cumbria, Hampshire and Oxfordshire, could be transferred to Burton or Wolverhampton.
Rupert Thompson undoubtedly saved the Brakspear brands and unique brewing kit and for that all beer lovers should salute him. But the loss of yet another independent regional brewer is a cause for concern.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Roger - you refer to "confusion caused by the existence of a Brakspear pub company and an unrelated Brakspear brewery" when really there is no such thing as a Brakspear "brewery".

There is a single brewhouse at Witney, used for all of the beers brewed on the site - this includes some of the historic equipment moved from Henley.

The fermenting & dropping vessels from Henley are stored in a separate room to those used to brew Wychwood's beers.

11 April 2008 at 21:07  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I HAVE BEEN ILL FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS AND HAD NOT TASTED BRAKSPEARS FOR 8 YEARS OR MORE. IT HAD A VERY PLEASANT WOODY TASTE AND I LIKED IT VERY MUCH.

I HAVE SINCE TRIED BRAKSPEARS TWICE SINCE IT MOVED FROM HENLEY AND IT IS NOTHING LIKE THE SAME BEER. IT IS INSIPID AND HAS NO CHARACTER AT ALL. IT IS NOT THE ANGER OF CONSUMERS THAT IT MOVED FROM HENLEY WHICH HAS AFFECTED ITS SALES. IT HAS JUST BECOME DISGUSTING BEER !

5 December 2008 at 18:50  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brakspear does not taste anything like it used to do. There was a character that run through all thier beers. It is now not evident in any of them.

Gales lost as well prior to the Fuller's take over.

So sad. Great lost flavours.

19 May 2013 at 18:48  

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