In a move which caught me (and not a few other people) by surprise, Wells & Youngs the other day announced they had purchased the venerable Edinburgh beer brands McEwan’s and William Younger from Heineken.
Heineken has not really known what to do with these brands since they acquired them along with Foster’s and Kronenbourg, the business they were really interested in. The marketing of them was
farmed out to a third party in the hope that there was still some
mileage in what were clearly seen as declining legacy brands whose
customers were dying out.
He is right on the latter point. American beer nerds are already clamouring for the return of McEwan’s Scotch Ale. And, although it’s not an option I favour because it’s fundamentally dishonest, speciality beers could be pushed onto the American market under the McEwan’s or Younger’s names, in the same way that Newcastle-branded beers have been launched there that don’t exist in the UK. McEwan’s Heather Ale?
As the Cask Report shows, Scotland is experiencing rapid growth in the cask sector (albeit up from almost nothing), so it’s logical for a southern-based brewer to want a piece of the market here.
Now the question is: who is going to drink the stuff?
Perhaps the plan is to go head-to-head against the ubiquitous Heineken Deuchars IPA, in which case the well-known McEwan’s brand will be a major advantage. It has to be admitted that the brand is a lot better than the beer is. I saw one commentator speculating that the McEwan’s brand was past its sell-by date and forever branded as old-man beer. I don’t think so. Innis & Gunn has not done too badly with its faux-Victorian packaging attempting to suggest it has some heritage. McEwan’s and Younger’s on the other hand have actual real heritage, which must be worth something. I do hope very much, though, that Wells won’t be dressing any ageing alternative comedians up as the Cavalier and Father William.
The news does shed light on one mystery. This year a couple of Younger’s-branded cask beers appeared in a few pubs, and disappeared as quietly as they had arrived. There was the welcome return of No 3, which I wrote about a few months ago, and an odd thing called 1749 which I haven’t tasted.
I was at a loss to explain what these Younger-branded
beers were actually for. Keeping the
brand visible? The odd bit of spare capacity at Caledonian and someone
said “Let’s just knock out a gyle of Younger’s and flog it in the free
trade”? Now I suspect it was covert market research to see what value the brand had.
With W&Y also reviving Courage Imperial Russian Stout, perhaps we could see Younger’s No 1, or even 140/– Ale. With a bit of imagination there could be life in old Father William yet.