Global Megabrewers

by Steve Renshaw

The world is becoming more and more interconnected as a result of massively increased trade and cultural exchange. Whether you like it or not, globalisation means that the biggest companies are no longer national firms but multinational corporations. Nowhere is this more evident than in the brewing industry.

I was reminded of this recently, when reading the business news. Heineken, the world’s second biggest brewer in terms of volume, was reported to have rebuffed a takeover bid from SABMiller. Heineken owns breweries in more than 70 countries. In addition to Heineken lager, the Dutch megabrewer’s portfolio includes Amstel, Sagres, Birra Moretti, Murphy’s and many other brands. SABMiller’s brands include Miller Lite, Fosters, Grolsch, Peroni and Pilsner Urquell.

In 2013, Heineken and SABMiller each produced over 30 billion pints of beer. However, these figures are dwarfed by the almost 70 billion pints produced by the world’s biggest megabrewer, AB InBev. The Belgian-Brazilian company employs over 150,000 people in 24 countries, and its portfolio of over 200 brands includes Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois, Beck’s and Leffe.

So what do these three giant companies produce in this country? Well, although SABMiller’s headquarters are in London, the company has no brewing facilities in the UK.

On the other hand, AB InBev has three UK breweries. The largest, at Magor in South Wales, produces around 790 million pints of beer per year, including Budweiser and Stella Artois. It’s funny but if you look at the adverts for these brands you wouldn’t think they were brewed in Wales. Budweiser is also produced at the Stag Brewery, the former Watneys site at Mortlake, although this is under threat of closure. AB InBev’s other operations are at Samlesbury in Lancashire, where Boddingtons (keg and cans) is produced.

Heineken UK is Britain’s biggest brewer, as a result of buying the Scottish and Newcastle group in 2008. The company is currently spending £50 million on expanding its giant beer factory in Manchester. Founded as the Albert Brewery in 1875, the Royal Brewery produced Kestrel, McEwans and Harp lagers when it was part of Scottish and Newcastle.
Royal Brewery is now the world’s biggest producer of “Australian” Foster’s lager and also brews “French” Kronenbourg 1664. Now this is where things get complicated, because the Foster’s is brewed under licence from SABMiller, while the Kronenbourg brand belongs to Carling. I hope you’re keeping up!

Heineken’s other main UK site is the John Smith’s Brewery in Tadcaster, which produces keg and canned beers. It also owns Edinburgh’s Caledonian Brewery, best known for Deuchars IPA. At last, a mention of real ale!

Heineken also owns around 1,100 pubs that previously belonged to Scottish and Newcastle. One of these is the Black Horse in Nettleham, and I called in there recently for this month’s tasting. The pub has had a turbulent few months and I was pleased to see that it re-opened recently under new management. And it had three Caledonian beers on offer.

And what about the beer?

Caledonian Flying Scotsman (4.0% ABV) is a chestnut brown bitter. Historically, Scottish beers tend to be maltier than those from south of the border. However, Flying Scotsman is well balanced with a nice, hoppy bitterness.