After more than 200 years of independence, Fuller’s Brewery (Fuller, Smith & Turner plc) is now owned by someone other than descendants of the original families. The sad news broke today that the company has sold “its entire drinks business” to Japanese mega brewers Asahi, in a £250m deal that will preserve the historic Griffin Brewery in Chiswick, west London, and keep the beer brands in operation. The deal also includes cider and soft drink brand Cornish Orchards, and cask brand Dark Star.
Fuller’s will now reportedly focus on its hotel and pub businesses, which account for up to 87 percent of its profits, according to the BBC.
Still, when most American craft beer fans hear the name “Fuller’s,” they’re thinking of the company’s iconic British ales, many of which are essentially the most famous versions of their styles. London Pride is THE iconic English pale ale, while London Porter and Fuller’s ESB occupy the same hallowed territory in their own beer styles. For a lot of beer geeks, they were likely the beers that helped send us down the rabbit hole of exploration. To think of them now being owned by a Japanese conglomerate is a bit of a sad thought. CAMRA, the British Campaign for Real Ale said the same, that it was “a sad day” for the industry.
The sale of Fuller’s brands points toward a mid-sized British brewery that was clearly struggling in the same way as regional American craft breweries now find themselves struggling. With more than 2,000 smaller microbreweries now operating in the U.K., competition has never been more fierce. Caught in between the more nimble little guys and the industrial beer giants, Fuller’s saw divesting themselves of their iconic brands as a way out, blaming “structural changes to the beer industry.”
At the very least, the Griffin Brewery will remain in operation, continuing to brew beer where it’s been made since 1654. This was a major stipulation for Fuller’s, as noted by chief executive Simon Emeny: “The deal secures the future of both parts of our business including protecting the heritage of the Griffin Brewery in Chiswick, which was particularly important to the Fuller’s board.”
Asahi, meanwhile, has been on an acquisitions spree in recent years throughout Europe, buying up many notable brands, including Peroni, Grolsch, Meantime and Pilsner Urquell in addition to Fuller’s. They seem pleased to add another iconic British beer brand, with Asahi chief exec Akiyoshi Koji saying “In particular, London Pride is a fantastic brand with an illustrious heritage dating back to the 1950s.”
Many drinkers, of course, will be unlikely to notice that anything has changed. Asahi may be able to help Fuller’s grow bigger than ever, but at the end of the day it’s the close of a long and storied chapter in British beer history.