Jumping on the beer bandwagon isn’t as easy as it sounds. Nobody knows this better than me. If you’re going to start a successful craft brewery you need two things: money and marketing. And unless you have these fundamentals in place you’re setting up to fail.
You’ve probably read stories about people starting out with homebrew kits and spending years perfecting recipes before getting small loans and buying some second-hand brewing equipment. This is the wrong approach.
The average drinker can’t tell the difference between Punk IPA and Greene King IPA
Beer is all about brand. The average drinker can’t tell the difference between Punk IPA and Greene King IPA. The difference is brand. But to establish a brand you need money, and getting your hands on loads of hard cash can be difficult.
When I started Hopstepper Beer in 2011, I needed £500,000 to get up and running. I thought about crowdfunding but didn’t want to give any of the business away to members of the public. I tried the banks but they were unwilling to lend me anything interest-free. I was skint, so had to get creative.
I started a guerrilla stickering campaign around east London and bombarded celebrities on Twitter with #lendmemoney requests for #hopstepperbeer. Within a week @hopstepper had almost fifty followers and I knew I was onto something.
I had ambition, energy and a top business plan. All I needed was one angel investor. That night I did the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I swallowed my pride, went round to my parents’ house and asked my father for the cash.
He wrote a cheque for £750k the next morning.
The first year was tough. I knew that if I was going to do this I had to start big. I signed a four-year lease on a 15k sq ft warehouse on the river at Hammersmith and installed a brand new 30 BBL brewery, bottling line and computer system. I also bought a fleet of new transit vans – all of which had to be resprayed after I briefly changed the name of the brewery to Dubb Step – and hired fifteen staff.
I also shelled out £80k to the brand agency Chimp Mask to come up with some names and concepts for my beers. We settled on a range of four: Too Good To Fail Pale Ale, Raj Against The Machine IPA, Face Punch Lager and Bel-End – a Trappist-style ale we later abandoned.
We were ready to rock the world of craft beer. It would only be a matter of time before my beer was in every bar, pub, restaurant and petrol station in the UK.
Or so I thought.
Unfortunately the recruitment agency I’d tasked with hiring all my staff lumbered me with a seriously bad egg. He was Ben Jarvis, my head brewer, and he walked out after a week on the job.
Before we’d even made our first brew I had to make everyone redundant
I wanted someone who was willing to muck in and take ownership of production but his negative attitude and constant stream of questions – ‘Why haven’t we got a water supply?’, ‘How the fuck can I do all this on my own?’ – doomed Hopstepper to failure.
Father refused to lend me any more money and before we’d produced our first beer, I was forced to make everyone redundant. This was a real shame as some of the marketing girls were incredibly fit.
I was left with an empty warehouse, hundreds of thousands of pounds of unused equipment, and I was down to £8k in the bank.
After a brief period of introspection that made me realise none of the mess was my fault, I headed to a nightclub to get drunk. Three glasses of champagne later I had a plan.
I had a brewery, all I needed was a new brand. I was passing a church at 3am when it hit me.
I changed the name from the clearly-cursed Hopstepper to Resurrection.
I got Chimp Mask to create a new logo – Jesus on the cross with a beer in either hand – and I was ready to go again. And this time I knew it was going to work.
Next time I’ll tell you how Resurrection went from being one man and a dream to the fourth biggest selling beer in the Gambia.