[SINGAPORE] The union may be veering towards a bitter divorce now - but it started long ago on a sweet note of courtship and commitment.
As Heineken tries to buy Fraser and Neave (F&N) out of their joint venture controlling Asia Pacific Breweries (APB), the history of how the two groups got together has become not just a curious subject of interest, but also a study in irony.
At the heart of the tale is a deal which took place in 1986, binding Heineken and F&N together after decades of close cooperation. But the story really started before 1931, when Heineken's export manager Peter Feith met F&N's company secretary GA Martin at Raffles Hotel.
Mr Feith - who would later become Heineken's chairman - was on his way back to Europe after failing to obtain a brewery licence in Indonesia. Both men agreed that Singapore would be a good location for Heineken's first overseas brewery, and the idea of a partnership emerged.
Heineken would share its rich experience in brewing, while F&N would provide its strong distribution and sales network. "A very constructive atmosphere of cooperation developed rapidly," Mr Feith recounted later.
F&N and Heineken launched Malayan Breweries Ltd (MBL) in 1931 and became major shareholders. Shortly after, the firm set up its brewery - Singapore's first - and launched its flagship Tiger beer.
MBL became a roaring success on rising beer demand and had to expand its facility at Alexandra Road to cope. Because of World War II, it got the chance to acquire the German-owned Archipelago Brewery Company from the Custodian of Enemy Property, bringing Anchor beer into its fold.
By 1981, MBL's footprint had extended abroad to countries such as Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. Things were looking rosy, and ties between F&N and Heineken were strong.
"I am looking forward to many more years of pleasant cooperation in this joint venture," said Heineken's then chairman AH Heineken in a message commemorating Tiger beer's 50th anniversary.
MBL's then chairman Tan Chin Tuan also said: "With the cordial partnership between Heineken and Fraser and Neave over a half-century cemented by mutual understanding and esteem, I am confident that during the next 10 years, 'Time for a Tiger' will echo yet more resoundingly."
It took less than 10 years for F&N and Heineken to draw closer. Their alliance attained a new permanence in 1986 - in the middle of a tough recession - when they decided to each inject some of their MBL shares into a new 50:50 joint venture, making it MBL's holding company. This happened under the watch of F&N's Michael Fam.
The new vehicle, known today as Asia Pacific Investment Pte Ltd (APIPL), would eventually become a source of concern for Heineken. But back then, it was seen as a way to promote a common vision for MBL, and to spearhead its growth in the region.
According to a news report that year, F&N said: "The two companies consider it desirable to translate their longstanding partnership into a legal entity which will provide a formal and administratively convenient platform for expansion into future joint ventures, and will establish a solid corporate entity from which to project the F&N/Heineken image."
With that new shareholding structure, MBL embarked on a regional drive, changing its name to APB in 1990 to better reflect its focus, and to avoid being mistaken for a Malaysian company. That year, it also opened a new brewery in Tuas.
APB is backed by 30 brewery operations in 14 countries today, and turned in an attributable profit before exceptionals of $303.6 million last year.
What Heineken probably didn't expect from APB's success was the suitors lined up outside the Singapore brewer's door. As competitors attempt to reach APB through F&N, Heineken has felt sufficiently threatened to consider running APB on its own, potentially breaking its long union with F&N.
Japanese brewer Kirin Holdings bought a near 15 per cent stake in F&N in 2010, while Thai Beverage has accumulated a deemed interest of 24.1 per cent in F&N in recent days.
Meanwhile, a company linked to ThaiBev's founder is also buying 8.6 per cent of APB. To defend its turf, Heineken is offering to take over APB, and gaining control of APIPL (which owns 64.8 per cent of APB) is key.
A new chapter in APB's history will be written when the deadline for Heineken's offer arrives on Friday. The 81-year union between F&N and Heineken may have withstood war and recession - but it is facing its greatest challenge yet.