Asahi to close Dark Star brewery owing to economic challenges

UK – Asahi Group Holdings, a Japanese multinational food and beverage group, is set to close its Dark Star brewery in Sussex due to the challenges of the current economic environment.

Dark Star, which began in the basement of the Evening Star pub in Brighton before expanding and brewing in West Sussex, has been historically revered as one of the most influential breweries in the British craft beer revolution before becoming a pawn in the acquisition trail.

The brewer, which was bought by Fuller’s in February 2018, was subsequently bought by Asahi in January 2021 when the regional brewer sold its beer arm.

The Japanese beer giant purchased Fuller’s Griffin Brewery, Cornish Orchards, and Nectar Imports for £250m(US$258m).

At the time of the sale, the deal was heavily criticized by the wider beer sector, saying it could be the ‘end of an era’ in British brewing.

The company said the brewery is not only impacted the economic environment but also operates significantly below capacity, “which is unfortunately not sustainable.”

It has decided that it will cease trading at its current site, in Partridge Green, West Sussex, as of 31 December 2022, and Dark Star beer portfolio operations will be moved to its Meantime brewery in Greenwich.

In a statement, the company said: “This is not a step we have taken lightly, however, there are significant challenges in the current economic and operating environment that make this the right course of action for the business and the brand.”

“Our absolute priority right now is to support all colleagues who may be impacted by this proposal, and we are currently in the process of consultation with them. It would therefore be inappropriate to provide any further detail at this time, but we will share more on our plans for the brand and its future brewing arrangements in due course.”

Recently, the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) and the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) have written to UK chancellor Nadhim Zahawi to warn that UK brewers will be forced to shut down without government intervention.

The trade bodies said the energy cost crisis is further being compounded by shortages of equipment such as kegs, CO2, and cans as well as increasing costs of raw ingredients including grain, which has seen its prices skyrocket following a global shortage due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Additionally, recent droughts across Europe are exacerbating issues, with Europe’s hop harvests expected to yield 20-40% less than last year, leading to “higher prices and shortages in the months ahead.”

The brewing industry was among the worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the trade bodies, with 160 brewers already forced to close down and a further 40-60 small brewers closing in 2022. They claimed that small brewers came out of lockdowns with an average of £30,000 in debt.

Earlier this year Heineken UK also revealed plans to close its Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh, citing issues with its Victorian infrastructure that became economically unviable to be modernized into a state-of-the-art brewery and a steady decline in production over the last ten years, as the brewer had evolved its portfolio.

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