Raising a glass
Camden Town Brewery’s boss looks towards expansion
Fed up with a lack of quality lagers brewed in the UK, Jasper Cuppaidge took matters into his own hands a decade ago and started brewing beer in the cellar of the pub he owned. The 44-year-old Australian was frustrated that amid an abundance of fresh produce available in the UK, the same could not be said for the nation’s lager.
A decade later and his Camden Town Brewery has sold more than 127m pints and now has ambitions to conquer regions beyond the M25 and even abroad. But along with its 10th birthday celebrations, these plans have now been put on ice after the closure of pubs during lockdown saw it swing into the red. The brewery, which had forecast sales of £50m this year, now expects beer volumes to come in 40pc lower than target.
During lockdown, Camden Town quickly shifted its attention to supporting pubs that sell its beer and helping their “hibernation” by cleaning pipes and cellars and eventually disposing of spoiled beer.
Camden, which was snapped up by brewing giant AB InBev for £85m in 2015, estimates it was forced to pour more than 1m pints down the drain while pubs were closed.
“We’ve always been built as a service-orientated brewery – our history comes from pubs, from restaurants and from bars,” says Cuppaidge. “So it was really important that we support them as best we could around beer. That’s what we do – we make beer and we look after our beer.”
Camden also came up with some novel ways of raising cash for struggling watering holes. “We saw a desperate need in the country among people wanting to drink a pint,” says Camden’s managing director Adam Keary. “So we did a charity auction of a pint of beer that Jasper delivered in a van with a draught machine set up in the back. Someone paid £800.”
The cash was donated to charity Hospitality Action and Camden has also committed to giving away 260,000 pints to pubs using proceeds from sales of its new “To The Pub” canned IPA.
Camden’s loyalty to pubs comes at a testing time for the sector, particularly in London, where almost half of the brewery’s “on-trade” business is located. Camden sells its beer in 4,300 pubs, 2,100 of which are in the capital.
Publicans such as Young’s boss Patrick Dardis have likened London to “a ghost town” and criticised Sadiq Khan, the Mayor, for failing to set out a clear path to recovery for the city’s struggling hospitality operators.
“There has to be something, and I’m hoping that there are conversations happening between City Hall and major landlords and tenants in London, to try to start bringing offices back,” Keary says. “Cafes, restaurants, meeting spaces, pubs and bars – all of those businesses that survive on the ecosystem of office working will start to see some real economic issues if we don’t get those people back in.”
However, he is confident that the city will, in time, bounce back. But the firm also has eyes on the rest of the UK. About 70pc of Camden’s sales come from the capital, with the remainder outside of the M25, including a small portion in Europe. It wants to reverse that reliance on London.
“If you look at most businesses in any sector with a fair share of distribution, that split is usually the other way around,” says Keary. “That’s where we’d like to get to but we’ll do that by growing out of London, not by shrinking inside London.” A £2.5m overhaul of its Camden brewery and bar, including the installation of a 50-seat restaurant, was originally due for completion this summer but has now been delayed until next year.
AB InBev’s takeover of Camden five years ago has undoubtedly helped the brewery turbocharge its expansion plans. The firm’s investment in a brewery in Enfield in 2017, where it now makes most of its beer, is a prime example of that.
The vast global presence of its owner will also make pursuing an international expansion more realistic, says Keary, allowing Camden to begin brewing in AB InBev’s existing overseas facilities when the time is right. Camden’s beers are sold in about 200 bars across France, the Netherlands and Sweden.
But Cuppaidge is keen to stress that AB InBev, which is known internally as “the mothership”, remains an “arm’s-length partner”.
Craft beer purists are critical of numerous manoeuvres by big brewing multinationals over the years to elbow their way on to the scene. Rival brewers and independent retailers have in the past distanced themselves from some brands such as Beavertown, which sold a £40m stake to Heineken in 2018, in defiance of maintaining an indie ethos.
Cuppaidge, however, is dismissive of the ire that such deals often attract. “To be honest, I don’t really care,” he says.
“There’s some people out there that make a lot of noise for no good reason but the people who really enjoy us are enjoying us even more. So I’d say continue to drink the beer and if it’s no good, then don’t drink it.”
‘We’ve always been built as a service-orientated brewery – our history comes from pubs, restaurants and bars’
Jasper Cuppaidge, Camden Town Brewery’s boss, at the company’s Kentish Town site