A deep dive into the Caledonian Brewery's past

By Nikkie Thatcher contact

- Last updated on GMT

Long-standing history: the Caledonian Brewery has been running for more than a century
Long-standing history: the Caledonian Brewery has been running for more than a century

Related tags: Beer, Heineken, Property

With Heineken’s recent announcement of its intention to shut the Caledonian Brewery, The Morning Advertiser has taken a look into the site’s history and how it became one of Scotland’s oldest breweries.

The venue was first opened in 1869 by George Lorimer Jr and Robert Clark and was located next to the then new Caledonian Railway Line on Slateford Road in the city.

Just after the Second World War in 1947, brewing giant Vaux was one of several brewers to invest in the Scottish market, taking full control of the Caledonian Brewery.

Almost four decades later in 1986, Vaux pulled out of Scotland and the brewery as the market changed.

A year later, 1987 saw head brewer Russell Sharp and managing director Dan Kane lead a buy out and the brewery was relaunched in the empty Victorian brewhouse as the Caledonian Brewery Company.

Only a few years after this, a fire in 1994 caused damage that took two years and £300,000 to repair. While the original brewhouse survived, the rest was rebuilt in period style with traditional materials.

Past history

This wasn’t the first blaze to hit the site as in 1998, a fire took hold again however, this time the brewery was up and running again within a week.

The new Millennium came and Scottish & Newcastle (S&N) bought a 30% share in Caledonian so it could continue brewing in Edinburgh after the closure of its Fountainbridge site.

In 2008, S&N purchased the remaining 70% of the brewery before the company was bought out by Heineken.

S&N acquired the Edinburgh site outright in 2004 alongside a 30% share in the management and brand-owning business, the Caledonian Brewery Company.

The deal saw the Caledonian brands being passed into the hands of Heineken, which took over S&N’s UK operations as part of the £7.8bn carve-up of S&N by Heineken and Carlsberg.

Closure reaction

The proposed closure​, which was announced last week (Thursday 26 May), was partly put down to the decades old infrastructure causing “significant inefficiencies”.

According to Heineken, its focus in the near future will be consulting on the proposals with the 30 workers from the Edinburgh brewery and their trade union/colleague representatives. During this consultation period, the brewery will continue to operate.

The announcement follows production at the site steadily declining over the past decade as the brewery has evolved its portfolio.

The news also included an agreement in principle with Greene King to continue brewing Caledonian’s brands such as Deuchars and Maltsmiths, at its Belhaven Brewery in Dunbar, Scotland.

Heineken was urged to rethink its decision​ by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), which called it “devastating” for Scotland’s brewing heritage.

CAMRA chairman Nik Antona said: “This announcement is grim news for Edinburgh and Scotland’s brewing heritage and is part of a pattern of historic breweries, beers and brands being eroded through closures, mergers and lack of promotion in recent years.

“Years of consolidation of the majority of the brewing industry into the hands of just a few, large international players is to the detriment of Scotland’s brewing history, the diversity of beer in pubs and consumer choice for pubgoers and beer drinkers.”

Related topics: Beer

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