HISTORIC Scottish ale brand McEwan’s, famed for its Laughing Cavalier logo, has changed hands under a multi-million deal between two major names in UK brewing.

McEwan’s, which was first brewed in Edinburgh’s Fountain Brewery in 1856, has been acquired by Marston’s as part of its £55 million acquisition of the brewing and brands business of Charles Wells. The deal, which Marston’s will fund from a fully-subscribed, £78.9m share placing announced yesterday, has seen the Midland’s company inherit around 30 beers from Charles Wells.

As well as McEwan’s, which Charles Wells had acquired from Heineken in 2011, the deal includes Bombardier. Marston’s has also assumed the UK distribution rights for Spanish beer Estrella Damm, and will now make Japan’s Kirin and Erdinger of Germany under licence from their brand owners.

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And it has now entered a long-term exclusive contract to supply beer, wine, spirits and minerals to the Charles Well 200-plus pub estate, located in the Bedford area, Gloucestershire, Essex, London, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire.

Ralph Findlay, Marston’s Glasgow-born chief executive, said the deal comes as the company steadily grows its presence north of the Border. Scotland has emerged as a key focus for Marston’s, with the firm having invested around £50m in 15 new-build pubs in the last three to four years.

It has also been mulling whether to establish a beer operation in Scotland, a key influence behind the McEwan’s acquisition, though the brand will continue to be brewed at Charles Wells for now.

Mr Findlay, who described Marston’s as the “leading premium ale business across the UK” with brands such as Jenning’s, Wychwood, Shipyard and Marston’s, said: “We already distribute to over 9,000 pubs across the UK, so our ability to push brands is really high, and it’s a real structural advantage we have in that market. In acquiring the Charles Wells business – this includes the Bombardier brand, the Courage brands, McEwan’s and the Young’s brand, there are two geographical points of interest for me. One is increasing our presence in London and the south-east – and the Bombardier, Young’s and Courage brands are important for that - and the second is to develop our market in Scotland.”

Mr Findlay noted that the brands acquisition is the latest illustration of how the Marston’s beer range has evolved amid the explosion of craft beer in recent years. Since 2008 it has been brewing a US-owned IPA (India Pale Ale) called Shipyard, which he said was now the top craft beer in the UK pub sector. It also brews its own range of craft beers. “People are interested in different styles and different flavours, and that is a trend I think is going to be here to stay,” he said.

Meanwhile, asked if Marston’s would seek to capitalise on McEwan’s heritage in marketing the brand. Mr Findlay said: “As someone who graduated in the McEwan Hall in Edinburgh, I recognise the name very well. But I think there is an opportunity to update the McEwan’s brand and make it relevant to modern consumers.”

Marston’s, which recently opened a pub in Livingston, is building a pub restaurant with a 38-bedroom lodge in Peterhead, scheduled to launch in September. With plans to build in Inverness as well, Mr Findlay said Scotland offers opportunities for growth, in spite of the challenges the on-trade faces.

Marston’s reported underlying pre-tax profits up three per cent at £33.7m for the 26 weeks ended April 1, on revenue three per cent higher at £440.8m.

Shares closed down 7p at 137p.