Saturday, 23 August 2008

Crisis at Cains

Brothers may win back
control of their brewery

As the dust settles on Cains Brewery in Liverpool, it seems the Dusanj brothers, Ajmail and Sudarghara, may re-emerge as the owners of the brewery. The company was placed in adminstration two weeks ago when its bank, HBOS, refused to continue to fund it. PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) was appointed to sell the brewery and its estate of 100 pubs. While the pubs were likely to tempt several offers it seemed there was little future for the brewery.
But it has emerged that the Dusanj brothers and their familites own the freehold of the property in Stanhope Street, Liverpool. They also own 10 of the pubs through a family trust and they are now tipped to continue to run the brewery and a slimmed-down pub estate.
Some of the remaining pubs, bought last year from Honeycombe Leisure, will not fare so well. Some are Punch Taverns leases and Punch has told several tenants that their pubs will close. PWC is still hoping attract buyers for other pubs.
Figures produced by PWC show that less than one third of the beer brewed at Stanhope Street is Cain's own brands. 58% is own-label beer while 14% is contract brewed for other brewers. The brewery also has one of the biggest canning lines in Britain. It has continued to operate normally in spite of being in administration.
It will be a remarkable turnaround if the Dusanj brothers continue to operate the brewery they saved from closure in 2002. But it will be good news for both Merseyside beer drinkers and Cain's employees.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Portman Group crackdown

Time for the Thought Police to get
serious about those bad beer names

Zak Avery reports on the website Forum that the Portman Group is thought to be pressuring the Sinclair Group to change the name of its Skullsplitter strong ale. As Zak says, the move comes in the wake of the attempt to get Wye Valley Brewery to phase out the use of the curvaceous Dorothy Goodbody image from its labels.
This is mere pussy-footing. Surely the Thought Police can get tougher than this? Who cares if Skullsplitter has a historic Norse connection with Orkney -- if the beer encourages binge drinking in Budleigh Salterton on a wet Wednesday, then clearly the name has to go.
But Skullsplitter and D. Goodbody are only the tip of the well-known cliche. Lets have a real crackdown.
Alehouse Brewery, St Albans: Farmers Joy clearly encourages country folk to get hammered.
Arkell's of Swindon: 2B infringes the copyright of William Shakespeare.
Atomic Brewery of Rugby: Strike, Fission, Fusion, Reactor, Power and Bomb -- all these beer names are banned on the grounds of national security and may encourage the United States to declare war on Iran (or whichever country has upset Dick Cheney today).
Bank Top of Bolton: Bikes, Trikes and Beer encourages people to drink and drive two-wheeled and three-wheeled vehicles while under the influence.
Barearts Brewery in Todmorden is a micro based in an art gallery devoted to nude artwork. They are encouraging lewdness and depravity and should be closed immediately.
Bartrams Brewery in Rougham, Suffolk, is in all manner of trouble. Jester Quick One is clearly an encouragment to onanism while Comrade Bill Bartram's Egalitarian Anti-Imperialist Soviet Stout is an appalling example of political
incorrectness.
Beartown of Congleton has a portfolio of beers with bear in the names: Bear Ass, Bearskinful and Black Bear. Is this company attempting to declare war on Russia?
Belvoir Brewery of Leicestershire has a Beaver Bitter that should be sold only from the top shelf while Blue Moon in Norfolk has Liquor Mortis, which is an enticement to drink to death.
In Scotland, Broughton's Old Jock has already been outlawed in the U.S. on the grounds that it sounds like an item of male sporting apparel and the same attitude should prevail here. Also in Scotland, Cairngorm's Sheepshaggers Gold should be consigned to outer darkness on the grounds that sexual activity with animals is unlawful.
Freeminer in the Forest of Dean should be instructed immediately to withdraw its Strip & At It brand as a clear incitement to public indecency. The Garton Brewery in East Yorkshire has a Liquid Lobotomy Stout that suggests drinking it could cause serious damage to the brain, while in West Yorkshire Golcar Winkle Warmer Porter improperly promises an aid to erectile dysfunction.
Two breweries with "great" in their names -- Great Gable in Cumbria and Great Oakley in Northamptonshire -- have beers called Brown Tongue and Gobble respectively, over which we will draw a veil, as so should they. Hambleton of Yorkshire indulges in unpleasant sexual bravado with its Stud and Stallion beers while Houston in Scotland's Blonde Bombshell is an unacceptable example of vulgar sexism. In Cornwall, Keltek's claims that its Cripple Dick is named after an old tin mine is a pathetic attempt to cover up its blatant crudity. As for Leatherbritches Hairy Helmet in Derbyshire...words escape us.
The Nelson Brewery in the Historic Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, brews a Friggin in the Riggin that suggests ungentlemanly behaviour by members of the Royal Navy and brings the service into ridicule and scorn. In Cornwall, Skinner's of Truro has a Cornish Knocker Ale that, along with Slater's Top Totty in Stafford, draws undue attention to the protuberant parts of the female anatomy.
All beers with the term "tackle" in their titles should be withdrawn, as should the several versions of Cole or Coal Porter, which are deemed insulting to the memory of a great popular composer.
In general, it would be best if all beers were simply called "mild". This would ensure the collapse of the entire brewing industry within months, which would solve most of the problems facing modern society.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Cains in administration

Liverpool needs a brewery -- lets
hops Cains can rise from the ashes

You can't beat bad news. The British media loves it, wallows in it, lathers itself with it. What was the big beer story last week? Was it the Great British Beer Festival in London that attracted thousands of people? No, it was the collapse of Cain's Brewery in Liverpool.
This is being written before the festival ends. Unless Afghan rebels invade Earl's Court and machine gun the punters, the festival, as always, will pass off without incident. Around 50,000 people will have sampled brilliant beers from Britain, Europe and the United States in a happy and convivial atmosphere.
But happy and convivial atmospheres don't suit the modern media. Beer drinking is seen as part of what is called “the binge drinking culture” and pub-going and – by extension – attending beer festivals are portrayed are dangerous, violent pursuits. The fact is that binge drinking was always an over-exaggerated problem and is now in sharp decline. And the small minority of idiots who engage in wild and excessive drinking in town centres tend to consume cut-price vodka and alco-pops rather than the juice of the barley.
The result of the media obsession with the bad side of drinking resulted in a disgraceful blackout of the beer festival this year. With the possible exception of the final Test at the Oval, it was the biggest event in London. It promoted hundreds of beers from brewers throughout Britain who work in what is the country's last remaining major industry.
Yet, part from a few jokey stories in the tabloids, the festival received no media support last week. Not a word in the Guardian and the Independent, papers that once boasted regular beer columns. Nothing on London television. And, most scandalous of all, not a word in the capital's only paid-for paper, the Evening Standard.
But there is coverage a-plenty for the tragedy unfolding on Merseyside. No doubt some of the coverage will be yet another re-run of the fanciful belief that nobody is drinking beer these days -- which wasn't quite my experience of three days at Earl's Court.
Let's get some facts right. Cain's, still better known by its old name of Higson's, was a mighty Merseyside institution. Its sad state is the result not of the lack of success of the Dusanj brothers but gross mismanagement by former owners. Higson's had the misfortune to be taken over by Boddingtons of Manchester. That in itself was not a disaster but the Boddingtons group then fell in to the clutches of the national brewing and pubs giant Whitbread.
Whitbread, in the style of the national brewers of the day, rationalised its operations in North-west England. Higson's closed, much to the disgust of Liverpudlians, who organised a demonstration and threw some casks of “Higson's Bitter” into the Mersey when it was brewed elsewhere in the Whitbread empire.
Following some years of closure, the brewery was bought in the 1990s by Brewery Group Denmark, best known for a beer with the unfortunate name of The Great Dane. The Danes thought they could make a living by producing canned beers for supermarkets. They quickly found that the national brewers could beat them hands-down in this fickle market, where discounts are the name of the game.
Once again, Cain's, as it was now called after its founder in the 19th century, was put up for sale. The rescuers were Ajmail and Sudarghara Dusanj, who had run a large soft-drinks company, Gardner-Shaw, in the West Midlands and were keen to get into brewing.
They did a brilliant job. They revived the fortunes of Cain's cask beers and added new brands, including a raisin beer, a properly matured lager and 2008, which celebrates Liverpool's role as the European City of Culture. The brothers also bottled and canned beers for many other brewers and introduced innovative packaging in the form of display boxes that enabled brewers to present half-a-dozen of their beers.
Then in 2007 Cain's bought the Honeycombe Leisure pub group at a cost of £37 million. The money came from the Bank of Scotland and funding the debt was a terrible drain on Cain's resources.
It's easy to be clever after the event. It now seems a mad-cap scheme by the Dusanj brothers to buy such a large estate of pubs. But that was last year. Nobody predicted that banks would be in such a terrible state in 2008 and that the Bank of Scotland can no longer afford to bail out the brothers.
There will be no shortage of people who will have a good smirk at the collapse of Cain's, not least the Independent Family Brewers of Britain who, to their eternal shame and damnation, refused to allow the brothers to join their organisation.
On the other hand, I am grief stricken at the loss of Cain's. No doubt the pubs will be picked up in small parcels by other pub companies. But there seems little future for the brewery: it's too big for other regional brewers to buy while the nationals don't need the capacity.
Liverpool, a great and proud city, needs its own brewery. I hope Cain's can, against the odds, rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
And I wish Ajmail and Sudarghara well. They made a good fist of saving Cain's and I believe, when they have licked their wounds, they will live to brew another day.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Champion Beer of Britain

Hampshire craft brewery takes the crown

Alton's Pride, a 3.8% abv bitter, won the coveted prize of Champion Beer of Britain on Tuesday 5 August. The beer is brewed by the Triple fff Brewery at Four Marks, near Alton, in Hampshire, positioned alongside the picturesque restored Watercress steam rail line.
The brewery was launched in 1997 by Graham Trott with a five-barrel plant. He upgraded to 18 barels within two years and last month unveiled a new 50-barrel brewhouse, where he brews twice a week.
The brewery's curious name comes from the musical term "fff", which means extra fortissimo or loud. Several of Graham's beers take their names from pop or rock songs, including Stairway to Heaven, Moondance and the amazing Pressed Rat & Warthog, an old Cream number.

Full results

Mild
Gold: Beckstones Black Dog Freddy (Cumbria)
Silver: Rudgate Ruby Mild (York)
Bronze: Rhymney Dark (Methyr Tydfil, Wales)

Bitter
Gold: Triple fff Alton's Pride (Hampshire)
Silver: Lees Bitter (Manchester)
Joint Bronze: Jarrow Rivet Catcher (Tyne & Wear) and Surrey Hills Ranmore Ale (Surrey)

Best Bitter
Gold: Skinner's Betty Stogs (Cornwall)
Silver: Highland Scapa Special (Orkney)
Joint Bronze (Cairngorm Nessies Monster Mash (Highlands) and Timothy Taylor Landlord (West Yorkshire)

Strong Bitter
Gold: Thornbridge Jaipur IPA (Derbyshire)
Silver: Fuller's ESB (London)
Bronze: Highland Orkney Blast (Orkney)

Golden Ale
Gold: Otley 01 (Glamorgan)
Silver: Loddon Ferryman's Gold (Oxfordshire)
Bronze: Skinner's Cornish Knocker Ale (Cornwall)

Speciality Beer
Gold: Otley OGarden (Glamorgan)
Silver: Wentworth Bumble Beer (South Yorkshire)
Bronze: Nethergate Umbel Magna (Essex)

Bottle-conditioned beer
Gold: Wye Valley Dorothy Goodbody's Wholesome Stout (Herefordshire)
Silver: Fuller's 1845
Bronze: Wells & Young's Special London Ale (Bedford)

Friday, 1 August 2008

Trouble for Merseyside brewery

Cain's shares are suspended as
bank refuses to fund the group

Shares in the Robert Cain Brewery in Liverpool were suspended on 1 August when the Bank of Scotland declared it could not support proposals from the brewery that threw into doubt its ability to continue in business.
On 28 July Cains announced losses of £4.5 million in the six months to April 2008. The directors said they were in negotiations with the Bank of Scotland regarding the renewal of banking facilities. On 1 August, the bank said it was unble to support Cain's proposals and as a result the brewery's shares were suspended.
In 2007, Cains made a reverse takeover for Honeycombe Leisure, a pub-owning group in North-west England with 95 outlets. It cost Cains £37 million, with borrowing provided by the Bank of Scotland. The cost of servicing the debt was £1.2 million for the first six months of 2008.
It is also understood that Cains has been unable to pay its tax bills and faces a winding-up order from HM Revenue & Customs.
The Robert Cain brewery was founded on Merseyside in 1850 and was bought by Higsons in the 1920s. Boddingtons of Manchester bought Higsons in 1985 and both breweries were subsequently taken over by Whitbread, who closed Higsons. It reopened under the Cain's name when the site was bought by Brewery Group Denmark, who sold it to Ajmail and Sudarghara Dusanj in 2002. The brothers had previously owned the soft drinks company Gardner-Shaw and they used their marketing skills to revive the fortunes of Cains. New brands include a 2008 Beer to mark Liverpool's role as the European City of Culture and a genuine lager matured for 90 days.
It would be tragic if Cains, after years of uncertainty and more recently stability and success were to close. It's to be hoped that the banks and tax authorities can reach agreement with the Dusanj brothers.