Obituary: Alastair Mowat, executive with Scottish and Newcastle Breweries

Born: March 1939 in Bournemouth. Died: 17 March 2016 in Edinburgh. Aged 77.

Brewery executive and co-founder of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival

Alastair Mowat was a distinguished figure in Scotland’s brewing industry and held senior executive posts with Scottish & Newcastle Breweries (S&N), proving a pioneer in modernising the company’s activities and an imaginative marketing executive.

Mowat’s marketing of Newcastle Brown Ale in America was a skilful operation and he was a prominent member of the defence team when John Elliot attempted a takeover of S&N in 1987. Mowat’s experience in marketing in the UK and internationally proved invaluable in promoting such brands as Becks and Theakston.

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In 2003, along with four other senior executives from Scotland’s brewing industry he formed Innis & Gunn to market a specific single beer which is matured in oak casks.

He was man of sharp intellect with a shrewd business brain and an ability to focus on complicated deals.

He had the capacity for long and intense working schedules – Mowat was invariably in his office at dawn.

Although born in the southof England, Alastair Mcivor Mowat’s father came from Sutherland.

His father later ran the Home Guard during the Second World War in Peebles and Mowat attended the Edinburgh Academy, where he was in the firstXV – and the Mikado.

While reading history and philosophy at Edinburgh University, he played scrum-half for the Edinburgh Academicals.

Mowat first worked for the soap giant Unilever in Hull but then joined S&N’s marketing department.

By 1975 he was in charge of the company’s managed pubs and was appointed to the board. For the next 13 years Mowat was a strong force, along with the chief executive Sir Alec Rankin, in the development of the company into an international brewing and spirit company.

In 1981, for example, they paid £1.2 billion for the Finnish brewer Hartwell which gave S&N joint ownership of Russia’s largest brewer, Baltika, along with Carlsberg.

Mowat was a major influence in S&N’s bid in 1995 for the southern-based Courage which broadened their base in the south. At the time Mowat was quoted in The Scotsman: “I saw S&N as a global company. Certainly Sir Alec took it from a small Scottish outfit to massive UK concern, with 28 per cent of the market.”

In 1985 Mowat spearheaded a deal with Harp lager to enhance the relationship between the two companies and to expand the sales in Scotland. Mowat said, “We see the tie-up becoming an even greater force nationally in the next few years.”

In 1989 he enthusiastically raised funds to send the Scottish team to the Commonwealth Games in Auckland.

Richard Keith, a colleague at S&N, told The Scotsman yesterday: “I worked closely with Alastair for 30 years. He was a dynamic and intelligent colleague whose marketing strategies – Becks and Newcastle Ale especially – were innovative, carefully targeted and hugely successful. He played a significant role in many divisions at S&N and was influential throughout the group. Alastair understood management and people.”

In 1995 he retired from S&N and brought considerable experience to establishing a pub group, Pub Estate Company, with a wide portfolio of bars in England, more than 60 in Scotland and 12 in Edinburgh. From 1997 until 2001 he was chief executive of the independent Edinburgh brewers Caledonian which had been the subject, in 1987, of a management buyout by Russell Sharp. The company’s success was recognised when the Duke of Edinburgh paid an official visit in 1999. Mowat devoted much time and energy to furthering the products of Edinburgh Brewing Company with Sharp. Its flagship product, Edinburgh Pale Ale(“a new old style beer”) created in conjunction with Belhaven Brewers won the 2005 prestigious Beer of the Festival Award at the CAMRA Scottish Traditional Beer Festival. It was described by the beer authority Roger Protz as having “outstanding flavour. The best new beer I have tasted for some time.”

Russell Sharp also recalled his colleague with warm pleasure yesterday. “I first met Alastair in 1987. I knew him, of course, by reputation; our friendship developed over the years and I was delighted when he joined Caledonian. We needed his expertise, especially in sales and marketing, developing new markets and launching new brands. Many successes followed. We were both so delighted when Deuchars IPA was awarded Supreme Champion Beer of Britain in 2003. There was never a dull moment in Alastair’s company.”

Mowat was a much respected figure around the capital and his love of jazz (he was a keen drummer) led him to be one of the co-founders of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival and an enthusiastic supporter of the Edinburgh Book Fair in Charlotte Square.

As Richard Keith commented, “Alastair was intuitive and astute with endless charm, boundless energy and arguably hosted the best Sunday lunches in Edinburgh.”

Alastair Mowat is survived by his wife Alison and their son and daughter.