MACLAYS of Alloa, Scotland's largest private brewer, will close its 120-year-old Thistle Brewery in September as beer production is outsourced to Belhaven of Dunbar and to a new small-scale brewery in Alloa.

The move forms part of a new strategy by the Matthews family, which own 85.1% of Maclays, to turn the company into a ''virtual brewer'' that owns and distributes but does not actually make its own brands of ale.

The company, which struggled to make a pre-tax profit of #150,000 on turnover of #20m in its last financial year, will focus instead on becoming a pub operator and drinks distributor in Central Scotland.

Alloa once boasted eight breweries, but with the closure of the Carlsberg Tetley plant and the imminent shutdown of Maclays' operations, the town's long tradition of beer making will be almost, but not quite, extinguished.

Duncan Kellock, head brewer at Maclays, has formed the Forth Brewery Company, which is investing #500,000 in a micro-brewery to take over half of Maclay's production of 15,000 barrels a year. The remainder and all Maclays' bottling will be outsourced to Belhaven.

Lynn Pretswell, marketing manager at Maclays, said the changes would lead to big savings since the Thistle Brewery is costly and inefficient to run and its beer output is bottled in Stockport in Cheshire.

''Basically it is no longer viable for us to continue producing here,'' she said. ''The main reason is that the brewery is old. It is not cost effective for us to knock it down and start again, so the next best thing is to outsource and concentrate on the other parts of the business, which are wholesale distribution and retailing''.