TWO LOCAL businessmen with no background in brewing yesterday bought the Castle Eden brewery in the Prime Minister's County Durham constituency from Whitbread, saving it from immediate closure.
The two men are David Soley and David Beecroft. Mr Soley, the senior partner, is a 49-year-old accountant who made his money in the offshore engineering industry. He plans to run the brewery with a much smaller staff of just 12 people, led by the long-time head brewer Jim Kerr.
The price is not being revealed but is thought to be under pounds 10m. The deal includes the brewery, which has an annual capacity of 200,000 barrels, and three brands - Castle Eden cask bitter, a previous winner of a bronze medal in the annual Champion Beer of Britain award organised by Camra, the real ale lobby group; Best Scotch; and Trophy Special keg bitter, the staple diet in many working men's clubs in the North-east. Together they sell around 60,000 barrels a year.
The deal was hailed as a triumph by Camra, which has campaigned vigorously to prevent the closure since Whitbread declared the brewery surplus to requirements in April.
Mike Benner, Camra's head of campaigns, said yesterday: "I am confident that in the hands of the new management team the brewery and the beers will thrive. It just goes to show that asset-stripping viable businesses is not the best solution to the pressures faced by today's brewers."
The brewery will continue to supply the brands to existing customers in Whitbread pubs and through Whitbread's wholesale business, but the production of other brands and beers brewed under licence has been transferred to Whitbread's Manchester brewery, leaving Castle Eden working at only about 30 per cent of capacity.
The new management will brew up to 5,000 barrels of real ale for Butterknowle, a local micro-brewer, but it urgently needs new orders to push up production up to 100,000 barrels a year and become profitable.
Earlier this month Whitbread closed its other local brewery, Flowers of Cheltenham, after failing to find a buyer, and it now plans to redevelop the site.
The future of Morrells brewery in Oxford is still in doubt after the family trust sold it to a group headed by Michael Cannon, a former chairman of Devenish and founder of the Magic Pub Company.
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