« THINK WHITBREAD and you think beer. But not for much longer. » wrote the Independent in 1999, and sure enough, 19 years later, Whitbread grew to be one of the 20 largest hotel groups in the world.
This development has not been unheard of in the last decades. More recently, Brewdog opened their first beer hotel in Aberdeenshire in 2018, with 26 rooms designed to maximise the beer-drinking experience of the guests, to complement the pilgrimage to their brewing factory in the county.
What drove British brewers towards the hotel industry?
The inn keeping activities dates back centuries. The first inns with dedicated bedrooms on the British Isles were traced as far back as the 14th century, when towns flourished and trading from town to town became prominent. Brewers, used to having patrons sleep on the premises, decided to accommodate rooms and lodging services on the side of their bartending activities. However, the lodging of patrons remained a side activity, the production of ale and beer being much more profitable.
In the mid-18th century, alehouses multiplied and slowly abandoned the production of beverages, preferring to buy them directly from breweries, while inns increased their lodging capacity, developing into the first hotels, but retaining the sales of alcohol and food as a key income source.
In 1989, in lights of the limited number of actors on the beer market in the UK, dominated by only 6 breweries, the government started to worry about competition and the openness of said market. A bill was passed limiting the number of pubs a brewery could have ties with, thus forcing the breweries to strengthen their other assets and broaden their activities. Among the 6 beer leaders, 3 converted to lodging:
After 250 years in brewing, the Whitbread group now specializes in multinational hotel branding, coffee shops and restauration.
In a similar fashion, Bass Breweries acquired the Intercontinental Hotels Group in 1998, before abandoning brewing altogether to focus on the lodging services.
Grand Metropolitan was already established as a hotel group before the Beer Orders, but by March 1991 they had sold their last breweries (they had moved into brewing in 1972) and abandoned that activity.
By 2005, when the Beer Orders were revoked, the market had deeply shifted, with most prominent producers taking an interest in hotels, either for retailing their beers, or as integrated properties.
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