*testing, testing…. Is this thing still on?*
It’s been quite some time (three years, 10 months and 29 days, to be precise) since I’ve felt moved enough to pen anything for this site, and it may well be about as long again before you hear from me next. I’ve no great desire to (re)take up beer writing in my (limited) spare time, but today’s news that Asahi intends to shut the Dark Star Brewery – moving production of its beers to Meantime in Greenwich compelled me to offer some thoughts that – I hasten to add – are very much my own, and not those of my employer.
In a move aptly described as “simultaneously unthinkable and inevitable” on Twitter by Joe Dick, Asahi confirmed it had submitted a proposal to close Dark Star’s Partridge Green brewery at the end of the year. The Japanese beer giant found itself an unwilling owner of Dark Star upon purchasing Fuller’s in 2019, and the biggest surprise (in this writer’s humble opinion) is that the Super Dry brewer has persisted with the brewery for as long as it has.
Justifying the move, Asahi said that Dark Star had been operating “significantly below capacity” for some time – perhaps down in part to the fact that most of its flagship beer, Hophead, is brewed in Chiswick these days? With ingredient and energy costs soaring, the decision to consolidate and move brewing up to Meantime makes sense from a business standpoint. It’s a real shame, however, that Asahi didn’t chose Fuller’s to be Dark Star’s (final?) resting place. After all, the Hophead brewed there is tasting – again, in my view – better than ever, and Meantime hasn’t exactly established much of a reputation for quality or consistency under Asahi’s stewardship. When was the last time the Greenwich brewery even produced cask ale? Still, perhaps in some ways we ought to be thankful the brand and beers will survive at all; Asahi could have just as easily done away with Dark Star (keeping Hophead as a Fuller’s beer) for good.
Nevertheless, the move smarts, and not just for the talented and hardworking staff at Partridge Green with whom Asahi says it is currently consulting over potential job losses. With the closure of the Dark Star brewery, the UK craft beer scene is losing the physical embodiment of one of its brightest early pioneers, with whom many drinkers share a deep affinity. I’m always reticent to eulogise over any brand *too* much (past experience has taught me that capitalism is a cruel mistress), but I don’t think I speak out of turn to say that for a great many, Dark Star will be sorely missed.
On a personal level, Dark Star’s flagship Hophead was the beer that got me into beer. A bouquet of delicate grassy, floral hop flavours, underpinned by robust straw-like malt character. It was, and still is, the archetypal session beer. Without having tasted it, aged 18* I may never have come to do what I do for a living today. It’s a beer that – through our shared love of it – brought me closer to my dad, and a physical manifestation of the many joys beer and the drinks industry have brought me in my life. To see it folded into the Asahi “portfolio”, and become little more than just another SKU to scrutinise the performance of, and extract revenue from, feels like a crushing disappointment.
As such (even though it probably won’t even have been brewed in West Sussex) I’ll be seeking out a pint of it in the near future to raise a toast to Partridge Green, and all that once was, now lost to obscurity.
* and maybe a touch before then….