02 December 2022

Asahi closes its UK craft brewery Dark Star and moves production to Meantime

United Kingdom – The craft brewer Dark Star seems to have fallen victim to the corporate cost-cutters. Its owner, Asahi, will close the Sussex brewery at the end of December and shift production to its other craft brewery, Greenwich’s Meantime.

According to Asahi, “there are significant challenges in the current economic and operating environment. … The Dark Star site operates significantly below capacity which is not sustainable.”

The story sounds sadly familiar: A once up and coming craft brewer sells to a Big Brewer, only to find out - after a takeover or two - that the initial assurances of its continuing as a stand-alone business were not respected and it now has to play by corporate rules.

Changing hands

Dark Star began in the basement of the Evening Star pub in Brighton in 1994 before moving to a 20,000-barrel brewery in West Sussex in 2011.

In 2018, Dark Star was sold to London brewer Fuller’s for an undisclosed sum. Reportedly, Dark Star was lured into the buyout on the promise that Fuller’s would invest in the brewery and increase sales of its beer brands, such as Hophead, Dark Star Original, and Revelation.

However, Fuller’s did not hold on to Dark Star for long. Only a year later, in 2019, Fuller’s disposed of its brewing arm to Asahi for GBP 250 million (USD 327 million), which included Dark Star and Fuller’s flagship brand, London Pride, plus Fuller’s historic Griffin Brewery.

Meantime had four owners in only one year

Meantime’s history is strikingly similar. The craft brewer, which was founded by Alastair Hook in 1999, was sold to SABMiller in what must have been the quickest sales in the brewing industry. Back in 2015, it took Mr Hook and SABMiller’s honchos only a week to hammer out a deal worth some GBP 120 million (USD 180 million). A few months later, AB-InBev made an offer for SABMiller – at USD 120 billion – which SABMiller’s shareholders found too good to refuse.

Allegedly, in an effort to dispel regulatory concerns, AB-InBev wasted no time and passed the western European units of SABMiller on to Asahi in 2016 for EUR 2.5 billion (USD 3 billion), which gave Asahi control of the Peroni, Grolsch, and Meantime beer brands. Five years later, in 2021, Asahi was obviously still at a loss as to what to do with Meantime and repositioned it as a “forebearer of craft beer” brand (whatever that is).

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