InBev is set to lose control of Irish stout brand Murphy's in the UK next year.

The company confirmed today (3 December) that Scottish & Newcastle UK (S&NUK), the UK operating company for Heineken, will take responsibility of Murphy's when the current distribution agreement ends in February. S&NUK will become responsible for the brewing, marketing and distribution rights of Murphy's in the UK, and "will work closely" with Heineken Ireland to further develop the brand in the country, the company said.

S&NUK was acquired by Heineken, the ultimate owner of the Murphy's brand, in April this year.

"We appreciate that Heineken is the ultimate brand owner, so we understand that it wants to take total responsibility for the brand's brewing and marketing in the UK," said Stuart McFarlane, president of Inbev UK and Ireland.

Jeremy Blood, managing director of S&NUK, added "We are delighted to be adding Murphy's into our beer portfolio which allows us to offer a leading brand in all the key beer categories. Putting the Heineken brands under one roof makes good sense and will enable us build on the already established distribution and consumer demand."

When contacted by just-drinks, a spokesperson for S&NUK said that the company had made the move at "a natural breakpoint" for the brand. "We used the opportunity of the end of the agreement to review the brand's situation, and it makes sense to bring Murphy's back in-house now."

The Whitbread Beer Company - as InBev UK was then known - took on distribution of Murphy's in the UK on-trade in March 1988, with the brand hitting the country's off-trade in 1992. Interbrew UK signed a new agreement to handle Murphy's in the UK in August 2002.

Murphy's is the second largest stout brand in the UK, behind Guinness.

Earlier this week, InBev narrowed its lager offering in the UK, dropping Eiken Artois and Peeterman Artois, "in order to focus support and investment" on its flagship Stella Artois brand and the recently-launched Stella Artois 4%.