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'Greene King is probably largest British-owned company still in brewing, but not for much longer'

By Lynn News Reporter

The Bar Man column, by Jeff Hoyle, Friday, August 30, 2019

When I first became interested in beer, Greene King was a smallish regional brewery.

They had no presence in the North, but one of the fellow founders of the Hull University Real Ale Society was from Flitwick in Bedfordshire, and used to tell us about the Abbot in the Sow and Pigs in Toddington.

Greene King factory from Maynewater Lane in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mecha Morton
Greene King factory from Maynewater Lane in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mecha Morton

It was years before I tried it for myself, and my memory is that it was rather better than it is today, but I guess that might be misty eyed longing for the past.

Unlike many of the breweries that were around at the time, Greene King is still with us, and they have flourished while the likes of Ridleys, Morelands and Tolly Cobbold have been consigned to history, The hunted became the hunter and took over many of the small fry, closing the breweries and consolidating production at the Westgate Brewery in Bury St Edmunds.

It spread operations nationwide and I remember several years ago being invited to the launch of a new brew down in London, near the media and a long way from their provincial heartland.

Greene King
Greene King

Now Greene King, along with the Marstons group, is probably the largest British-owned company still involved in brewing, but not for much longer.

An offer has been made by a Hong Kong company controlled by multi-billionaire Li-Ka-Shing. It will not be their first acquisition in this country as it already owns Superdrug and mobile phone company Three, as well as having stakes in UK Rail, Northumbrian Water, and Wales and West Gas Networks.

It also owns the company which provides electricity to 28 per cent of UK homes and has an extensive property portfolio in London.

The interest in Greene King maybe stems from the surge in popularity of Greene King IPA in China after President Xi Jinping was pictured drinking a pint alongside David Cameron in 2015.

The CKA group has offered £2.7 billion in cash for Greene King, about £1 million per pub, and will also take on the existing debt of the group giving a total value of £4.6 billion.

The CKA group is based in Hong Kong, but incorporated in the Cayman Islands.

As always, promises will be made. Breweries will be kept open, jobs safeguarded and pubs retained. Until they aren’t.

The history of brewing is littered with takeovers and promises and a few years after they have been made, they seem to count for little.

I was at Edgbaston recently for a county cricket match, and posters round the ground proudly announced that Greene King IPA is the official beer of the England Cricket team. Let’s do our patriotic duty and sup plenty of it to support our boys (and hopefully girls).

As we celebrate yet another famous victory maybe at the back of our minds will be the realisation that all the profits that have been made from the beer we are drinking is going to Hong Kong, and some of the tax to the Cayman Islands.

You could drink Fullers instead and send money to Japan. Sharps Doom Bar, Beavertown, London Fields, Magic Rock, Fourpure, Hop Stuff, Goose Island, Hop House 13, Blue Moon and many more besides are all owned abroad.

Perhaps in ourdesire to “take back control” we choose the wrong targets.

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