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Heineken to shut one of Ireland’s oldest breweries

DUBLIN, Ireland – Dutch brewing giant Heineken NV announced Thursday it is closing one of Ireland’s oldest breweries, Beamish & Crawford in the city of Cork, just weeks after taking control of the operation.

Heineken said the brewery — best known for making Beamish, one of Ireland’s three brands of dark-brown stout — would close in March with the loss of 120 jobs, about three-fifths of the work force.

The rest would transfer to the Cork brewery that Heineken has owned since 1983 — and where it already makes Cork’s rival stout, Murphy’s.

Gerrit van Loo, managing director of Heineken Ireland, called it “the most difficult decision we have ever had to make.” He pledged that the Beamish brand would survive and be produced alongside Murphy’s, which can be a bit creamier and sweeter than the sharper-edged Beamish.

“Retaining two breweries is not sustainable and the loss of so many jobs remains a sad but unavoidable outcome,” he said.

Heineken gained control of the Beamish brewery only in October after a six-month investigation by Ireland’s Competition Authority ruled — to the disgust and disbelief of many Irishmen — that it wouldn’t be a conflict of interest for Heineken to produce both stouts.

Business and political leaders warned that the takeover would mean the death-knell of the 210-year-old brewery. Few expected the announcement so soon.

“It is vital that investment in the Beamish brands, particularly Beamish stout, continues and that the brand is developed to its full potential,” said Cork lawmaker Ciaran Lynch. “The worst possible outcome would be the loss not just of jobs, but of an internationally renowned brand which is of significant value to the economy.”

Another legislator, Deirdre Clune, called it “a dreadful day” for the brewery workers as well as Ireland’s heritage. She called on Heineken to spell out what it will do to the brewery, a Cork landmark beside the city’s medieval South Gate.

Both Cork brands have long struggled for market share against Ireland’s Goliath of stouts, Dublin-based Guinness, which is owned by British drinks company Diageo. Together the Cork stouts account for fewer than one in 10 pints of “the black stuff” sold in Ireland.

But the brewing industry in Ireland as a whole is feeling pressure from increased competition in Eastern Europe and Asia, and stout in particular is shunned by Ireland’s trendy young drinkers, who tend to favor lighter lagers and vodka-based drinks. Earlier this year Diageo announced it will close two of its four breweries and cut back operations at its 249-year-old Guinness brewery in Dublin, in favor of a future state-of-the-art brewery to be built on the capital’s outskirts.

Heineken won ownership of Beamish’s brands and brewery as part of a much larger joint takeover, with Danish brewers Carlsberg, of British brewers Scottish & Newcastle.

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