King & Barnes sold
Hall & Woodhouse will close brewery; future of brands uncertain
Apr 21, 2000 - King & Barnes, a family run British brewery whose beers have earned a loyal following in the United States, has been sold. The brewery will be closed and the future of its brands is under review.
Hall & Woodhouse, which has run a brewery in Dorset since 1777, bought the brewery and its estate of 55 pubs. The amount paid was not disclosed, but Shepherd Neame - one of four principals to bid for King & Barnes - reported making an offer of £23.75 million.
Shepherd Neame launched a hostile takeover attempt last year, beginning the process that eventually led to the sale. Although Bill King and his family were collectively the largest shareholders in K&B, other stockholders wanted to sell their stake. The brewery itself sits on a very valuable piece of real estate in Horsham, Sussex, and its chain of pubs is also highly desirable. The brewery is expected to close by the end of the summer.
Campaign for Real Ale members fought hard to help K&B fend off Sheps' bid. "This smacks of hypocrisy," CAMRA campaigns manager Mike Benner said. "King & Barnes, with CAMRA's support, fought tooth and nail to keep Sheps away from their door and have now accepted an offer which promises to be even worse for drinkers."
During the battle, Sheps said it needed the Horsham brewery to expand its own production alongside that of K&B beers. After the sale, CAMRA called for an urgent meeting with Hall & Woodhouse in a bid to have the brewery sold to Shepherd Neame rather than closed down. However, after losing out in the bidding, Sheps' chairman Bobby Neame admitted that he would have closed the brewery had his bid succeeded.
Before leaving the brewery, King told Charlotte Rowell of Noble Union Trading, which imports K&B into the United States, that H&W has made no decision about the future of the K&B brand. Among the inventory of modern equipment it acquired is a new bottling line. King & Barnes has been particularly well known for its bottle-conditioned beers.
Hall & Woodhouse briefly sold its beers in the United States in the 1990s, but withdrew. Now there are reports it has investigated sending Tanglefoot Strong Ale, its flagship beer, to the states in nitro cans.
The K&B beers have always scored exceptionally well in tasting at the Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago, with seven beers rating 90 or higher. In 1997, when Bass indicated that it would discontinue the classic Worthington White Shield a torrent of protest followed, and it then chose K&B to keep the beer alive. Michael Jackson gave K&B high marks for its version of the ale.
Now the future of Worthington is up in the air as well. Rowell noted that Noble Union has enough of the K&B beers and Worthington on hand to last several months. She expects H&W to make its decision about the brands, and about shipping them to the United States, before Noble Union runs out of product. What happens to Worthington will be up to Bass, which has put its own brewing business on the market.
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