Where did you get the idea for Beavertown Brewery?
It came from my infatuation with beer. Growing up in the West Midlands, I was dragged around many of the old pubs of the Black Country by my dad. Eventually, I fell in love with the beer. At 20, I had a dream of opening a brewery somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I put that on the back burner and went into the music industry for about 10 years. I was in the US touring [as the frontman for rock band, Sons of Albion] and I came across US craft beer. I loved barbecue food and noticed that the beers I was drinking were so well matched with that. I left the band and, in 2011, came up with some plans to create a brew pub [Duke’s Brew & Que, in Haggerston, east London], and Beavertown was the brewery within that.
How much did your dad influence your interest in beer and what’s his take on Beavertown?
I remember, as a little kid, wanting to try a sip of his pint and thinking it was disgusting. When I got to 18, we’d go to pubs together and it was a good bonding experience. Hanging out with my dad and his middle-aged, hilarious mates was great. I was lucky enough to travel and catch up with him wherever he might be on the road. That opened my eyes to many things, beer being one of them. Dad’s favourite Beavertown beer at the moment is Gamma Ray, our American pale ale.
How did you fund the business?
Funding was tough. I hadn’t run a serious business before, so I didn’t have a huge amount of expertise. A lot of the banks shied away from our idea, but we eventually found one that was willing to help. We opened Duke’s with a very small budget, bought the best brewery we could and built the business from there. The money we made from selling barbecue and beer was ploughed back into expanding the brewery.
Do you see any similarities between your former career as a musician and being a brewer?
It takes artistic expression and total dedication to be a musician or a brewer. When I was homebrewing, I became obsessed with buying brewing books and dabbling with different infusions and ingredients. That’s the same with music: you’re inspired by many different musical forms, instruments or people. After that, you go out there and you talk about your beer at events and it’s like being on a stage. I’m just the frontman of a brewery now.
Your beer cans have colourful, psychedelic designs. What inspired them?
We were looking to work with different artists on each beer label. But I believe in fate and destiny, and I was lucky enough to come across Nick Dwyer, who’s our creative director now. Nick was a waiter at Duke’s, but he used to sketch before shifts while I was brewing. I’d look over his shoulder and realise I loved everything he did: the bright colours, psychedelia and Day of the Dead designs just stood out. So I asked if he’d like to do a couple of labels and he knocked it out of the park. The can is a blank canvas and Nick produces cans of beauty.
Who comes up with your beer names, such as Neck Oil and Smog Rocket?
It’s a collaboration. Neck oil is an old term from the Black Country. My great grandad used to say: “I’m going down the pub for a pint of neck oil,” basically, to lubricate his throat after a hard day’s work. I thought it made a great name for a beer. I wanted each beer to be recognised as its own brand within the Beavertown range. It’s not just a Beavertown pale ale or a Beavertown porter, the names are an extra layer.
Why do you only produce canned beers, and not bottles?
Light affects the stability of hop, so cans are the perfect vessel for our beers. They are a mini keg, the beer inside has little contact with oxygen, and none from light. As soon as I could afford to go into cans, I did. Cans are far cheaper to recycle and you can transport more in one go.
As the business has grown, are you still involved in the brewing?
It’s a team affair, but I go through every recipe. We’ve got some amazing guys, far more versed in brewing than I am. I might have an idea about a certain beer and then we talk about it. I recently got back on the brewing kit for the first time in three years, I found it very therapeutic.
What’s been your proudest moment?
Serving the first batch of beer that I brewed at Duke’s. Seeing people enjoy something you’ve made, in an environment that you’ve constructed, is amazing.
Do you have a mentor?
No, but I’ve met inspirational people who I can now call friends. Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head Brewery [based in Delaware, US] has been a massive inspiration because of the way he goes about his business, thinks about his beer and the way he treats his team. Then there’s people like Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River Brewing Company [based on the West Coast, US]. Every year I go over to visit America’s brewing scene.
What tips would you give to budding beer entrepreneurs?
Investing in people to support your vision is really important. In the beginning, I was lucky to be surrounded by people who were enthused by our journey. Go about [your venture] with conviction, be honest with yourself, try stuff and don’t be afraid to stand out.
What’s next for Beavertown?
We’re hosting a festival, the Beavertown Extravaganza, in London this September. We’ve invited 75 breweries from around the world. Our intention is to make this the best brewery-led festival of craft beer in the world, and to keep pushing London as a great brewing capital.
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