Charles Wells sells brewery and beers to focus on pubs

Merlin's Cave Chalfont St Giles

After 141 years of brewing some of Britain’s best-known beers, Charles Wells has today announced it is selling its brewery and beer brands to Marston’s to focus on its pubs.

The £55million deal includes leading ale brands Bombardier, Courage and McEwan’s and the UK distribution rights for Kirin Lager, Estrella Damm, Erdinger and Founders plus the exclusive global licence of another former brewer, Young’s. Wine merchant Cockburn & Campbell will also transfer.

While it is selling its Eagle brewery in Bedford, Charles Wells has retained two beer brands, Charlie Wells and John Bull, and will invest in a small new brewery in Bedford in the next two years for supplying beers to its pub customers in the UK and the rest of Europe.

Founded in 1876, Charles Wells will now focus on expanding its managed pub businesses in the UK and France through acquisition alongside additional investment in its leased and tenanted estate. Its investments include its Apostrophe Pubs business that has given premium makeovers for d’Parys in Bedford and Merlin’s Cave in Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire (pictured).

The company described the deal as “an exit from higher-volume national sales in favour of a more local and smaller-scale brewing future in Bedford”.

Brewing and supply agreements will be made with Marston’s for interim brewing and longer-term exclusive pub distribution services. The Charles Wells pub estate will have the benefit of the wider beer and wine range available from Marston’s.

Justin Phillimore, chief executive of Charles Wells, said: “We are delighted to have reached an agreement with Marston’s to acquire our brewery and become a close trading partner.

“After a detailed review of our strategy we had decided to re-balance the company more towards retail investment and that meant finding a partner we could work with for the future. There are opportunities for both companies in this deal and we look forward to bringing them to life.”

Ralph Findlay, chief executive officer of Marston’s, added: “Marston’s is delighted to have reached this agreement with Charles Wells and is absolutely committed to the future of brewing in Bedford.

“This agreement offers us opportunities to extend our trading area into new areas. The acquisition of the Charles Wells brewing business builds on Marston’s established brewing prowess and is a further step in our objective to develop the leading premium beer business in the UK market, something that Bedford’s Eagle Brewery will play an important part in.”

The announcement coincided with Marston’s publishing its results for the six months to April 1, 2017, which showed both revenue and earnings growth despite Easter falling into the second half of its accounting period this year. Its 1,565-strong estate includes the premium Pitcher & Piano and Revere Pub Company bars.

Total underlying revenue increased by 2.8% reflecting like-for-like growth in its pubs, the positive impact of new openings and growth in its beer brands. Underlying operating profit of £71million was up 0.7%.

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