Welsh brewer Brains hands pubs to Marston’s, saving 1,300 jobs

Family-owned Welsh brewer SA Brain & Co has handed over the running of its 156 pubs to Marston’s, saving 1,300 jobs, after the coronavirus pandemic threatened their closure.

Brains, whose pubs are mainly based in south and west Wales, said it had come “under significant financial pressure” during the pandemic, as restrictions mean pubs must remain closed except for takeaway and delivery.

The company closed its entire pub estate on 4 December after the announcement of a ban on alcohol sales and enforced 6pm closing across Wales to try to contain a worsening Covid-19 outbreak. Remaining open under those restrictions was “not a viable option”, Brains said.

SA Brain & Co was established in 1882 in Cardiff, and became Wales’s biggest brewer and pubs company while remaining under family ownership. John Rhys, the company chairman who oversaw the deal, is the great-grandson of founder Samuel Arthur Brain.

Before the pandemic, the pubs included in the deal made £14m a year in core earnings. Marston’s will take over the pubs in February, mostly under 25-year leases from Brains. The annual rent on the pubs was £5.5m.

The pubs will be run under the Brains brand, and will continue to sell its beer, which is brewed at a facility in Cardiff Bay that was opened in March 2019. Before that Brains was made in breweries in Cardiff’s city centre.

Rhys said: “We know and trust Marston’s to be excellent custodians of our pubs and, while this is not a decision we have taken lightly, we are confident that our pubs and our pubs teams will thrive under their stewardship.

“Furthermore, this transaction enables Brains to recapitalise its balance sheet and continue its long heritage as an independent entity, preserving this great Welsh business for generations to come.”

Marston’s, formerly known as Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries until a 2007 rebrand, runs about 1,400 pubs across the UK, including 106 in Wales. The 1,300 employees in Brains pubs will transfer to Marston’s, which employs a further 14,000 people across the UK.

Ralph Findlay, the Marston’s chief executive, said the deal would be mutually beneficial and that it “strengthens our representation in south and west Wales, while protecting the heritage and independence of an iconic Welsh business”.

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