Sunday 12 May 2013

Goodbye Cains? Probably

When the old Higsons brewery was closed down by Whitbread more than twenty years ago, there was a genuine sadness among local beer drinkers because everyone thought that was the end of a long tradition of brewing in the city. When a Danish brewing company reopened the brewery and relaunched the old Cains name, there was a tremendous outburst of enthusiasm and - pleasingly - the beers were good. Unfortunately, the company became loss making, but was saved from closure by the Dusanj brothers. Initially this was something that was welcomed, especially as the brothers announced their commitment to real ales: I recall that at the CAMRA AGM in Southport in 2004, one of the Dusanj brothers gave a speech and a powerpoint presentation reiterating that commitment, declaring that Cains was a friend of CAMRA. What happened a couple of years later I've copied from Wikipedia:

A reverse takeover of ... pub operator Honeycombe Leisure PLC was agreed by the company’s board in June 2007, giving Cains access to Honeycombe's 109 outlets ... On 7 August 2008 the company was placed in administration following problems caused by an unpaid tax bill. Negotiations with its bank failed to reach a conclusion that would have avoided administration. The brewery and eight original pubs have since bought back by the Dusanj brothers.

They had overreached themselves and, as bad creditors, they had to buy their ingredients wherever they could for cash - credit was not an option. The end result was that their beers were brewed on the cheap with whatever ingredients they could lay their hands on, and quality went through the floor. Beers that I had previously enjoyed, such as Cains FA, Sundowner and Raisin Beer, became utterly mediocre.

Cains has now mothballed its brewery, pending the ambitious redevelopment plan that I wrote about here. They have completely abandoned the supermarket own brand trade, once crucial to its financial stability, but now loss-making, and are looking to find someone else to brew their real ales under contract while they redevelop the site. 38 jobs have been lost, but with the promise that their plans will create 800 new jobs; the Liverpool Echo reports on the story here. Unfortunately the track record of this management team cannot inspire the people of Liverpool with confidence. The worry is that, once they have contracted out the production of the beers, will they ever come back to Liverpool? A bigger worry for Cains must be whether anyone will want them back? Liverpool now has several small breweries producing beer that is far superior to anything from the Cains stable. Just owning the old Higsons brewery site will no longer ensure loyalty to Cains beers, whether they are brewed in Liverpool or elsewhere under contract. Closing their brewing operation down and getting their beers brewed under licence is precisely the wrong thing to be doing. Having beer brewed under contract elsewhere doesn't inspire confidence among real ale drinkers: outsourcing mediocre brews is a double risk. To regain credibility among beer drinkers, they should be developing good recipes locally.

My view is that this may well be the end of the line for Cains as a brewer. I can't claim to be surprised, but I am disappointed that yet again Cains seems to have made a complete hash of running its business.

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