|Monogram detail from former Maclays brewery|
But on reflection, it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise. The company has a history of making decisions which – with the benefit of hindsight – can be seen to have been spectacularly stupid. First among these, of course, is its decision in 1999 to give up brewing and concentrate on running its estate of pubs – just as a wave of new brewery openings began to revive the Scottish beer landscape. The last remnant of the brewery offices in Alloa, now a shitty Belhaven pub, is a reminder of Maclays’ folly.
Hindsight is easy, of course. Perhaps Maclays didn’t have the means in the late 1990s of hanging on for a few more years. It wasn’t a large brewery. That’s why it was still independent. Larger breweries like George Younger or Aitken’s of Falkirk had been bought up and closed in the 1960s. According to this contemporary article the brewery was worn out, needed rebuilding and the business wasn’t profitable enough to finance that.
Maclays has in recent years made considerable investments in the pubs it has retained, and now runs some attractive pubs, which by all accounts are profitable. Hopefully all the pubs will continue trading without job losses. Perhaps those of their staff who know about beer – if they are still in work – may even relish the prospect of no longer being forced to run ridiculous “craft beer festivals” featuring beers from the once revered, but now widely derided Caledonian Brewery.