Camden Town Brewery | A modern success story?

‘You need to do what is right for your family’

Tones Lally, 2014

Camden have done very well.

Since launching formally in 2010 Camden Town Brewery have grown to be amongst the leaders in the craft beer segment in the UK. How have they done this? Hard work , good people and good decisions.

My understanding is that they invested relatively heavily to start the business formally back in 2010 (although the wheels where turning as early as 2006) and the growth over the past 5 years has been nothing short of spectacular.

They have differentiated themselves as a lager brewer (the most dominant beer style in the UK) at a time when hop forward craft pales were de rigueuer. They have a distinctive brand and name that plays on the celebrity of Camden Town, a popular, historic and eclectic part of London. Their slick branding and product marketing including the recognisable Hells brand, the successful launch of IHL and the Hells Raiser campaign are most likely the influence of their Chairman, renown ad man Sir John Hegarty and charismatic founder, Jasper Cuppiage.

Camden have built something amazing in their short history. An attractive spot under the railway arches in Kentish Town including a Brewery Bar known for hosting great events. They have a great range of core beers including the highly regarded Unfiltered Hells. They own a handful of their own pubs including the Horseshoe in Hamstead and the newly launched Camdens Daughter in Kentish Town. They have solid trade distribution across pubs in the UK, supermarket distribution with shelf space in both Waitrose (they got Waitrose to put a growler filler in a branch in Kings Cross!) and M&S as well has being in some high street and independent restaurant chains such as Bill’s, The Breakfast Club and Kerbisher and Malt. And they have attracted great, passionate people inspired to the cause.

Now to the numbers.

Turnover in year ending 2014 was £9m forecast to grow to £50m by 2020. Their Hells Raiser funding led to an initial valuation of £75m later reduced to £50m driven by a significant investment from a unnamed ‘Belgian manufacturing family’ that invested £10m into the business for a 20% stake. That was only in February.

And then they ‘sold out’.

Or ‘partnered with’ AB InBev in a deal announced on 21 December, where they became a wholly-owned subsidiary. By my very crude calculations, this deal will value to brewery at around £85m, (later confirmed in media reports) a nearly 70% premium, plus performance add ons over a 5 year period. As a Hells Raiser, this is a fantastic return in a very short period of time.

The rationale for the deal is to achieve the growth aspiration for the business; build the new brewery in Enfield, sell more beer through broader distribution, hire more people. And they will no doubt succeed with AB InBev’s backing. The money raised through the Hells Raiser campaign sadly not enough to do this.

So why all the fuss?

Craft beer thrives on its role as the underdog to the large multinational corporates who are renowned for producing ‘bland, fizzy lager’ through aggressive marketing and distribution tactics and cost cutting.

Furthermore AB InBev are on a roll employing a punchy, aggressive approach buying 3 craft breweries in the past 5 days. The ink is not even dry on their record breaking acquisition of SAB Miller but that hasn’t stopped them pulling out the checkbook for Camden Town, Colorad0-based Breckenridge Brewery and Arizona-based Four Peaks Brewery. Simply incredible.

The aforementioned acquisition of SAB Miller is potentially forcing them to review the SAB Miller portfolio, including Grolsch, Peroni and the recently acquired Greenwich-based craft brewery Meantime. An action that appears futile given the recent spending spree of AB InBev. Meantime’s fate is yet to be determined.

BrewDog, the UK’s largest craft brewer, steadfastly remains a dogmatic follower of the US Brewers Association definition of a craft brewery, dropping any craft brewers beer once an acquisition announcement has been made. They have put a long form statement out on their website today justifying their approach in a typical, colourful manner. https://www.brewdog.com/lowdown/blog/nailing-our-colours-to-the-motherfucking-mast

But Big Craft can work. In Australia for example, big beer owns or has stakes in a number of key craft brands including Little Creatures, White Rabbit, Mountain Goat, Matilda Bay, Bluetongue and Malt Shovel (brewer of James Squire). Competing alongside a number of independent craft brewers including Four Pines, Vale, KAIJU and Stone and Wood making fantastic beer. Goose Island’s Barrel Aging program is also held aloft as an example of Big Craft working.

Back to my opening quote.

This is wisdom was shared by my older brother and I think its appropriate in this context; Camden Town Brewery is the founder’s business. They have invested in and built this business from the ground up. Yes Hells Raiser have invested too, but guess what, on an investment where the return is not certain, they have received a 70% return in less than a year! That is incredible performance on any level. Yet they only own around 2% of the brewery. The owners did what they thought was best for their family and their business. Can you really begrudge them?

I wish Jasper and the team at Camden all the best for future. They are great people doing what they think is best. Yes a very small minority of their target market is not happy, but you know what, there are millions of customers who aren’t as invested emotionally that just might taste Camden as a result and be converted. And that is all that matters.

Note: Yes I invested in Camden back as part of their Hells Raiser campaign. More to follow in a past after Christmas.

Redchurch was my first, kinda. 3rd Day

Redchurch was my first, kinda.

The Redchurch Brewery, Great Eastern IPA

Style: IPA
ABV: 7.4%
Size: 330ml (Bottle)

 

I first discovered Redchurch Brewery in an article in Timeout in the summer of 2012 and was instantly attracted to the story. In researching this piece I couldn’t find the exact story, but from memory it goes a little something like this; the founder, Gary Ward, had chucked in his job as a lawyer to start a brewery in the railway arches in Bethnal Green. After reading the article I became strangely hung up on trying their beer. 

The only place I could track it down was at the City Beverage Company on Old Street (now Amathus). It felt strange travelling half way around London to find a beer that I had read about in Timeout. Little did I realise this would be the start of a new habit. I bought their Bethnal Pale Ale, Shoreditch Blonde and Hackney Gold. And really enjoyed them all. 

Redchurch is currently located under railway arches in Bethnal green
Redchurch is currently located under railway arches in Bethnal Green, East London

A visit to their taproom followed. It’s a mezzanine sitting above their brewery that hosts DJs and live music Thursdays to Sundays. It wasn’t particular busy so we were easily back and forward to the bar to sample their core range fresh from the taps. My relationship with Redchurch was consummated. 

They are currently fundraising on CrowdCube to fund their expansion, which is great to see, although I haven’t invested just yet as I was a little disappointed with the rewards. Petty I know, but with no guarantee of return at least give the punters some goodies! I think they will make a good go of it and perhaps I can invest my Hell Raiser cash (more on that in a later post). They have invested in an experienced team with Mark Hislop (formerly of Brewdog) driving business development and James Rylance (formerly of Beavertown) driving the brewing side and I look forward to seeing how they set about taking Redchurch to the next level.

Great Eastern IPA is decorated in a resplendent ochre label
Great Eastern IPA is decorated in a resplendent ochre label


The Great Eastern IPA is one of their beers I haven’t tried. Like the rest of their range, it’s named after places in East London and decorated with a resplendent ochre label. Launched last summer it promises to be a whopper of an IPA. And it doesn’t disappoint. Great Eastern drinks more like a DIPA; bold, smooth and syrupy, very different from last night’s Halcyon which is very hoppy and fruity. If this is the sign of things to come, time to stump up some cash!

Great Eastern drinks more like a DIPA, bold smooth and syrupy
Great Eastern drinks more like a DIPA, bold smooth and syrupy


Useful Links and Resources
http://www.theredchurchbrewery.com/
https://www.crowdcube.com/investment/redchurch-brewery-20772

An Icon of UK Craft. 2nd Day

“Heston Blumenthal would approve of the Thornbridge approach to brewing beer.”

Steve Caddy, The Editor of The Derbyshire Food & Drink Guide

Thornbridge Halcyon 

Style: Imperial IPA

ABV: 7.4%

Size: 500ml (Bottle)

Today’s beer comes from an icon of the UK craft beer scene, Thornbridge. This year Thornbridge celebrates 10 years, making it a ‘pioneer’ of the modern craft movement.

Thornbridge is celebrating 10 years in 2015
Thornbridge is celebrating 10 years in 2015

As mentioned in Boak and Baileys ‘Brew Britannia’ Thornbridge’s origin was rather conventional. Unlike some of the more recent craft brewers, Thornbridge worked within CAMRAs infrastructure of beer festivals and awards, which appears to be the right call having trousered over 350 awards over the past ten years. I also think successful breweries engage with their local community and Thornbridge, through their Great Peakender beer festival and involvement in the Eroica Britannia retro cycling festival are actively involved in and celebrate the Peak District.

Their first beer was Jaipur, which still looms large as a staple of their core range. I have sampled a number of their beers and have always been impressed with the quality, however I don’t necessarily agree with Steve Caddy in that other breweries are probably pushing the envelope further than Thornbridge. His views could be because of their approach to brewing including a lab in their brewery, which should help ensure higher standards of quality and consistency in the brewing process.

The statue 'Flora', who adorns the Thornbridge labels
The statue ‘Flora’, who adorns the Thornbridge labels

Thornbridge bottles its beers in big 500ml bottles with colourful labels featuring a picture of ‘Flora’, a statue in the Italian Gardens of Thornbridge Hall, against different coloured backdrops surrounded by a golden border. For Halycon, it’s bright blue. I’ve gone for the Halcyon, an Imperial IPA, mainly because I haven’t tried it before and because it’s an Imperial IPA!

Halycon pours light, aromatic and perfectly carbonated
Halycon pours light, aromatic and perfectly carbonated

Light in colour and well carbonated, this beer is a fruit explosion. As soon as you pour you get a whiff. Its got a nice balance of citrus and bitter. It’s 7.4% and you know it. I get the feeling that when this is done, I’ll want more. Which is always gratifying.

Useful Links and Resources

Boak, J. & Bailey, R. (2014). Brew Britannia, The Strange Re-Birth of British Beer. Aurum Press Ltd

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heston_Blumenthal

http://www.thornbridgebrewery.co.uk/

http://www.thornbridgehall.co.uk/

www.eroicabritannia.co.uk

 

Icons of Craft. 1st Day.

‘In the beginning there was Fritz Maytag.’

Steve Hindy, Craft Beer Revolution

I’m starting my #12beersofxmas with two beers. I know what you’re thinking. You would do the same in my position. Besides it is the weekend so pipe down. My first two beers are simply icons of craft beer. I want to give some history to give some context as to why I have started with these beers.

Anchor Steam Beer and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Anchor Steam Beer and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Anchor Steam Beer

Style: California Common Ale

ABV: 4.9%

Size: 355ml (Bottle)

The quote above is the opening line from Steve Hindy’s book, The Craft Beer Revolution. In 1965 Fritz Maytag bought the failing Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco. 1965. 50 years ago. He slowly turned the company around with a focus on perfecting the art of all things beer making.

"Americas First Craft Beer Brewery"
“Americas First Craft Beer Brewery”

Anchor Steam was their first and their signature beer. It’s is a California common ale, a modern version of steam beer. It uses lager yeasts brewed at ale temperature resulting in a deep amber colour and creamy head. It makes for a rich, biscuity malty beer, which I find very drinkable.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Style: (American) Pale Pale

ABV: 5.6%

Size: 355ml (Bottle)

In 1978 Fritz Maytag gave brewery tours to participants at the first Beer and Wine trade show in San Francisco. One of those on the tour was Ken Grossman, who founded Sierra Nevada Brewing Co in 1979 alongside Paul Camusi in Chico California. In November 1980, they brewed their first batch of beer. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was born.

The distinctive green label and Illustration of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
The distinctive green label and Illustration of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has a distinctive green label with a lovely illustration of a stream with the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance, surrounded by garlands of fresh hops and barley. It is a big and bold Pale Ale with good use of bittering and aroma hops for a strong flavoursome beer that’s great bottled, canned and on keg. I like to drink mine real cold, with condensation running down the bottle or glass, reminding me of summer days back in Australia.

Useful Links and Resources

Hindy, S. (2014). Craft Beer Revolution, How a Band of Microbrewers Is Transforming the World’s Favorite Drink. Palgrave Macmillan

Grossman, K. (2013). Beyond the Pale, The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing C. Wiley.

http://www.anchorbrewing.com/beer/anchor_steam

http://www.sierranevada.com/beer/year-round/pale-ale

Welcome to BushCraft.

I’ve always enjoyed my beer. However when I moved to London in September 2006 I was disappointed with the beer offering in the UK. Since the summer of 2012 I have really been drawn to the craft beer scene here. Twitter helps. You can easily immerse yourself in the beer community, either to observe or to actually converse. Most bloggers, beer nerds, breweries and craft bars are up for a chat. Plus there are countless events in London that are very accessible and great online content including podcasts and blogs that can be accessed by following the right people on Twitter.

I’ve been itching to do something, but having a full time job and being a Dad with two young children makes it difficult to find the time. Enough with the excuses. I thought I would stop procrastinating and start somewhere and that somewhere is the Beer O’Clock Show podcast and their annual #12beersofxmas.

The premise is simple. Select 12 beers and drink one a day between December 20 and 31st and share on twitter and Instagram using #12beersofxmas. I’ll be launching my blog, BushCraft, and will post my daily choice here and on twitter (@michaeljlally) and instagram (@mikejlally).

I guess I’m doing this more for myself in terms of turning a hobby into something more creative. But hopefully you’ll enjoy it. I am not a big taster, so don’t expect tasting notes or lots of descriptions of the type of flavours and mouthfeel and aromas and after taste. There will be a little of that. My interest lies more in the business of brewing, growing a business, the process of brewing, understanding the people behind the beer and what drives and inspires them.

Here’s to the start of something more creative.

Cheers,

Michael

Why BushCraft?

BushCraft is about thriving in the natural environment, and the acquisition of the skills and knowledge to do so. It was popularised by the Bush Tucker Man, Les Hiddins.

My blog is about that, but with a beery twist. I am interested discovering the skills required to survive and thrive in the craft beer industry. Plus I was a long term resident of Shepherds Bush.