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As the UK makes its way out of lockdown, one thing has become abundantly clear – there’s nothing that brings joy to Brits all over the country quite like beer, whether it’s in a chilled pint glass at the pub, or in the comfort of home.
On a mission to become one of the best respected and renowned quality expert microbrewers in the UK with a suite of great pubs, West Berkshire Brewery has been delivering best-in-class beers of all varieties since 1995.
Managing Director Tom Lucas joined the company in 2008, and a lot has happened since then.
Why are you personally passionate about the company’s vision?
I joined the company in 2008, after having spent many years working behind the bar in local rural pubs. Pubs bring people from all walks of life together – from the local bee-keeper to university maths professors, carpenters and nuclear physicists, to the local landowner and tractor driver. Everyone is equal in the pub, and some become like family.
The other thing I became passionate about was the beer – I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I was only happy serving beer in its very best condition. I remember my first pint of real bitter. I hated it at first, but it grew on me. The beer, our Good Old Boy as it turns out, was so full of flavour, so complex and delicate, that I was a convert. It seems to me still that a pint of bitter on a hot day is as perfect and refreshing as a pint of bitter on a cold day is warming and reassuring.
From thereon I was a beer drinker, not a beer sommelier or a beer fanatic, but a lover of real beer that is designed and brewed with respect for its ingredients and heritage. I was never impressed by gimmickry or fashion. For me, beer needs to be a high quality beverage that quenches thirst, one that’s balanced and in flavour and drinkability. And all beers deserve the same respect, there is no right or wrong style. A trip to a friend’s brewery in Bavaria sold me on the virtues of pilsners and helles back in 2010.
So to answer the question, I’m passionate about this vision because it was one of mine from early on – one that our Head Brewer Will Twomey, our Chairman David Bruce and I all shared – and have now achieved.
How did the company first start?
The company was founded in 1995 by Dave and Helen Maggs behind the Pot Kiln in Frilsham. It grew slowly and without risk, but on the foundation of a very good product. They made very fine beers. Good Old Boy is still our best-selling brand, and continues to win national awards year in year out.
The change really came when David Bruce, of Firkin Pubs fame, joined as Chairman. I sold him a vision of what we could do and with his business experience and a shared passion and drive, we made it happen. It has been a roller coaster ride ever since.
How is the business equipped to scale?
We have one of the best breweries in the UK. We have potential to grow to 150k hl per annum in brewing before we need a new brewhouse, and we can package up to 250k hl in small pack. We’re also technically skilled – we have a strong team, led by experienced professionals who can operate at large scale.
Additionally, we’ve built the right infrastructure – an SAP-based ERP system, budgeting and forecasting tools, financial controls and reporting, proper HR and thoughtfully-built structures. We are a big business at heart and go about every activity with the mindset of doing it as well as possible. With all this effort, we don’t need to rely on a bit of luck and clever marketing, we’ve built a comprehensive and sound foundation for success, from the ground up.
What changes have you seen since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis and how have you tackled them?
The biggest change is the obvious one, the pubs closed! Overnight, 80% of our revenues dried up. So, we were quick on our feet. We pivoted the business rapidly towards a focus on online sales and contract packaging work.
And it worked. Demand stayed strong through those channels and we have actually increased our team since lockdown to help deal with rising demand for our services So despite the problems the hospitality industry has been faced with, we are in a great position and our team intact, which is something I am incredibly grateful for and very proud of.
What’s the best-selling beer and what makes it stand out?
Good Old Boy Renegade Lager and Detour Pale Ale are our best-sellers. All share the qualities of a good beer mentioned above – full in flavour and best in class. For me there is no magic and no mystery here – these beers are better than the competition in all regards.
What new products are you currently working on?
We are currently working on Gold Star – a traditional British pale ale – we’re going through the rigorous R&D recipe development process that we have adopted to get our beers right the first time. When we are happy that it deserves its place next to Tribute and Landlord (two of the best beers in the UK in my opinion), we will launch it.
I am also looking at trying to get our Dragon Hill gin into cans, and possibly a move into soft drinks (if we ever have the time). Lastly, we’re hopefully about to partner up with a great American craft brewer to distribute their beers in the UK (stay tuned).
What are the main distribution channels and how do you plan to expand?
We have agreements or relationships in place with national wholesalers and pub companies, regional and smaller pub groups, supermarkets and grocers across the piece, online is a growing channel, and of course we have our own pubs. We intend to maximise all of these channels at the same time.
Why are you looking forward to bringing on Seedrs investors?
Seedrs makes It possible to bring into our fold the supporters and advocates who would potentially be unable to invest through conventional means. It is great to fill the company with like minded owners
What’s your favourite beer and pairing?
On a hot day on a boat in the mediterannean, give me a cold crisp bottle of lager – our Stoney Lane is the best. Following a wet and windy hike in the highlands a pint of Landlord or our Chubb’s.You can’t beat a freshly poured ale after a 12 mile hike over the peat hags.
I tend not to pair my beers with food as such… do dry roasted peanuts and smokey bacon crisps count? Montgomery Cheddar?
What’s one life hack you’d give to the future generation?
Learn how to cook a chicken properly on a Sunday – something that my mum taught me and when you’re strapped for cash it can feed you for a week. Also, remember that life is not fair – there is no rule that it should be – once you figure out that people only give you what you deserve and adopt the work ethic that will get you there, you’ll succeed.
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