TALKS were beginning today with staff and unions at John Smith's Brewery, in Tadcaster, following shock news that one of its major cask ales is to be brewed elsewhere.

Up to 22 workers could be affected by the switch of Courage production to a brewery in Bedfordshire.

Parent company Scottish & Newcastle (S&N) announced yesterday it was calling time on its ownership of Courage after agreeing to sell the portfolio to brewing firm Wells & Young's.

The deal means that the brewing of 28 million pints a year of Courage - a historic brand dating back more than two centuries - will gradually transfer from Tadcaster to the Wells & Young brewery in Bedford over the next few months.

A spokesman for S&N said that cask ale represented only a small percentage of the total beer volumes at the Tadcaster brewery, "but brands like Courage Ales and Directors Bitter account for at least 50 per cent of cask ales. There will be implications."

The spokesman stressed that no job losses had been announced.

"We are studying the impact on the 22 jobs and will announce the outcome in about a month," he said.

John Smith's employs 250 people at the brewery which will continue to brew its own John Smith cask and Magnet Ales.

The review of jobs will also take into account an announcement last week that the bottling of Newcastle Ales is moving to Tadcaster.

The spokesman said: "So we have work coming in and work going out, albeit that they are both different types of work.

"S&N remains committed to Tadcaster.

"Over the last few years we have invested £20 million in new packaging and bottling facilities, as well as increasing brewing capacity.

"It is a very important site. Don't take it as a slight on the site or on its efficiency or quality."

The group will keep a 17 per cent stake in a new company which is being set up to run Courage, adding that the brands - including Best, Directors, Dark Mild and Light Ale - would be best served under new management.

The company said steps would be taken to ensure the quality and taste of Courage beers would be unaffected by the move.