The Last Drop (Again): Cain’s Closes

Label from a special beer brewed by Higson's when it closed down the Cain's brewery in 1990.
Label from a special beer brewed by Higson’s when it closed down the Cain’s brewery in 1990.

As seemed likely in May, the Liverpool brewer Cain’s has been wound up. It was forced into liquidation by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, owing around £5 million in unpaid taxes and, according to the BBC a further £3 million to 44 other creditors, some of which are likely to be small suppliers. All the brewery staff were laid off a month ago, and because the RC Brewery company was insolvent they were referred to the Redundancy Payment Service, leaving British taxpayers to pay their statutory redundancy compensation.

By my reckoning, since 1980 Robert Cain’s Mersey Brewery has been operated by five separate owners: Higson’s, Boddington’s, GB Breweries, Danish Brewery Group, and the Dusanj’s. In fact the Dusanj brothers have run it as a brewery for longer than anyone apart from Higson’s (1923-1985) and Robert Cain himself (1858-1907).

When they regained control of the brewing business in 2008 creditors were left high and dry, but despite the sour taste it left, the revival of the company was seen by many at the time as a ray of hope for Liverpool during the financial crisis. Now they are doing the same thing a second time and it’s starting to look like a business model. Although the brewing business has gone bust, the Dusanj family business which owns the brewery and the assets, but is liable for none of the debts, plans to create a ‘brewery village’ with apartments, shops, bars and restaurants. The plans were already well under way even as HMRC was taking the brewing company, RC Brewery, to the High Court for its winding up order. This kind of cynical behaviour embodies all that is rotten in British corporate culture: making a fortune for themselves but allowing the state to carry the risk. That £5 million in unpaid taxes, by the way, adds up to around nine NHS intensive care beds for a whole year at 2010 prices.

When the brewing of Higson’s ales moved from Liverpool to Sheffield in 1990 they bottled a final beer at the Mersey Brewery and called it “The Last Drop” to commemorate the occasion. This time there is apparently £100,000-worth of unfinished ale left rotting in the brewery. If you could psychoanalyse a company, what would that tell you?