For ten years I lived within sniffing distance of the Caledonian Brewery and while the aroma was sometimes over-powering, it was the essence of Edinburgh. Indeed, I am surprised some enterprising artisan didn’t produce a scented candle to showcase the scent of the city.
But it seems that the smell will soon be but a whiff of a memory, with last week’s announcement that the brewery is to close and the 30 staff “consulted” on their future.
The owners, Heineken, say that to continue operations at the Slateford site would be “economically unviable”, but the Dutch brewery group made a net profit of two billion euros in 2021.
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Commenting on its performance, chairman and chief executive Dolf van den Brink said Heineken had taken “a big step towards returning to pre-pandemic level” and “raised the bar of sustainability and accountability”. All great news for staff and shareholders alike.
But he also boasted that the group was “making great strides in downsizing our cost base ahead”. In plain terms, closing small breweries like the Caley boosts Heineken’s already buoyant profits, and no doubt the chief executive’s salary. His total remuneration last year was five million euros, including a “short-term incentive” of 3.17 million.
Almost certainly Mr van den Brink earns his huge salary but should closing the city's last remaining brewery be part of his business strategy, particularly as Heineken’s own website boasts that Edinburgh has a “long and proud brewing history”?
The city is also home to Heineken UK’s largest site, with almost 600 staff working in areas such as marketing, finance and HR. Given the brewer’s commitment to the Edinburgh, it’s puzzling why its top brass decided it should be the one to end the city’s brewing industry.
I hope Mr van den Brink heeds the call from Camra – the Campaign for Real Ale – and others like local MP Joanna Cherry to think again. The west of Edinburgh will simply not be the same without the sweet smell of hops. And if he does, wine drinker though I am, I might even buy a pint of Edinburgh Castle 80-shilling in celebration.