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Starting a brewery in an old pub

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Lex

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Hi all,

This is a continuation of my previous post really. We are getting closer to making a decision on our future dream brewery that we have been saving towards for years and I really appreciate any and all feedback.

We want to run a commercial brewery and my other half had been brewing for nearly 30 years and in that time has worked for a number of big breweries in the USA. Our current UK options are to buy an existing business, or to start our own brewery in an old closed up pub which we could buy. This topic pertains to the second of the two options.

We had considered this approach before and kind of put it to the side but enough people on the last thread mentioned it as a possibility that we are reconsidering. Let me tell you why I doubted it...

1) Lots of UK rules I am unfamiliar with about being tied to existing breweries and having staff come along with the purchase. Not a no-go but we are starting small and don’t want a lot of staff, especially any kitchen staff.

2) This is a biggie - in the US where I have lived the past 16 years, people don’t expect anything other than beer in a brewery/tasting room. Although a few do offer something to eat. Food is a staple here in Blighty. Talking to my friends and family they can’t imagine going to a pub style brewery without getting food (industrial units may be different). We really don’t want to deal with meals.
-So what do we do to get around that?
-Is there a way to advertise a beer only experience which Brits will accept?
-Should we just buy cheese and pies or something which I’m still adverse to but as long as there’s no cooking and we *have to* have food it could be doable?

3) A continuation of the previous point - if the place we buy was previously very food-led and a known destination for its meals, will we just get bad reviews when folks find no hot dinners?

4) Covid issues - take away beer. How common is this? Again, in California we have “growler” clubs. You purchase a glass growler and drop by the brewery en route home and get it filled (usually around 4 pints) at a discount and enjoy it at home. All breweries do it and lots of people enjoy fresh beer at home this way. This doesn’t seem to be a thing here in England, and drinking in pubs is one of the first things to shut down while we are in a pandemic. Can we hav a thriving “to go” beer business or don’t Brits really do this? It’s a bit cheaper than cans or bottles which we could also do.

Our plan really involves selling as much out of the tap room as possible, although we can also sell kegs to pubs etc, but we prefer the actual customer base.
Again, all input appreciated as you don’t know us and you all know lots about beer, beer drinkers and what does and doesn’t go in England. Much as I’m a Brit I’ve been a way a long time and only just got back (just finishing up my mandatory 2 weeks of quarantine).

Cheers!
 

An Ankoù

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Pubs are struggling at the moment, especially with the 10 pm curfew. I would imagine that a take-away business might thrive. It used to be quite common to but a 4 pint plastic bottle to take home. But there lies the rub: beer drinking is a social thing, people might get a take-away and drink it with their mates, but I understand in some areas of the UK you can't go to each other's houses any more because of Covid. There are quite a lot of people who would rather go without or just have a bottle rather than drink alone.
I think you should should play the whole thing by ear and keep your overheads low to start with.
 
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Galena

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Next door to us was a pub, it was mainly beer, its a very rural location. It was bought about 15 years ago and they closed the pub. Since then it has become somewhat run down although somebody was living in it but the locals all miss the pub. It is just about to go on the market and technically is still a pub so getting a license would be very easy, there would be room for a micro brewery and some B&B accommodation if you so wished, I think the area is crying out for a good real ale pub, but i do think unless you are going for a city centre pub then food of some sort would really help. I'm just talking pie's, maybe a good broth for a fair price or soup and a roll, or chilli with a baked potato type food, but that is just my thought on it. Lots of hikers and cyclists as passing trade and caravanners etc as well as a small village for locals.
 

An Ankoù

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2) This is a biggie - in the US where I have lived the past 16 years, people don’t expect anything other than beer in a brewery/tasting room. Although a few do offer something to eat. Food is a staple here in Blighty. Talking to my friends and family they can’t imagine going to a pub style brewery without getting food (industrial units may be different). We really don’t want to deal with meals.
-So what do we do to get around that?
-Is there a way to advertise a beer only experience which Brits will accept?
Obviously there are pubs that don't sell food and they can be very successful. When you finish your quarantine, why not do a bit of touring and research. Seek out these places and see what makes them tick. I used to go to the Bermuda Triangle in Parr Street, Ashley Cross, Poole, for example. No food (perhaps a bag of peanuts or crisps) and it's always packed- and it wasn't the cheapest pub!. It wasn't really big enough for live music, either. I haven't been there for 5 years, I should add, as I now live in France.
You definitely need an extended period of market research. :laugh8:
 

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Another factor would likely be the drink driving laws - i can't see a beer led offering prospering in any out of the way place.
 

Leon103

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Meals is a great way to make money. A popular choice is to rent out the kitchen, so you run the bar and someone else runs the kitchen. You get a income whilst benefit from having food served on your premises which brings customers. Plus the government seek to think covid doesn't effect you if you are having a meal.
 
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simon12

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1) Lots of UK rules I am unfamiliar with about being tied to existing breweries and having staff come along with the purchase. Not a no-go but we are starting small and don’t want a lot of staff, especially any kitchen staff.
If you are buying a pub building then you can do what you like and it will not come with anything you don't want (as long as your not buying one subject to someone else leasing it normally advertised as an investment property). If you are buying a lease its unlikely to be on the terms you want unless its a new lease where you can negotiate any terms you want. If you are buying a company its normal to buy it as whats called good will and assets meaning you are not taking on the responsibilities for staff, debt or other legal matters just what the company owns and the rights to its name, branding etc.
2) This is a biggie - in the US where I have lived the past 16 years, people don’t expect anything other than beer in a brewery/tasting room. Although a few do offer something to eat. Food is a staple here in Blighty. Talking to my friends and family they can’t imagine going to a pub style brewery without getting food (industrial units may be different). We really don’t want to deal with meals.
-So what do we do to get around that?
-Is there a way to advertise a beer only experience which Brits will accept?
-Should we just buy cheese and pies or something which I’m still adverse to but as long as there’s no cooking and we *have to* have food it could be doable?
I don't think this is a problem at all but your not going to make money on just beer in a countryside pub you need to be in a town/city.
3) A continuation of the previous point - if the place we buy was previously very food-led and a known destination for its meals, will we just get bad reviews when folks find no hot dinners?
I don't think you will find a pub with a good reputation for food at a decent price anyway, even if you did your not going to get complaints you will just be throwing away potentially a good customer base
4) Covid issues - take away beer. How common is this? Again, in California we have “growler” clubs. You purchase a glass growler and drop by the brewery en route home and get it filled (usually around 4 pints) at a discount and enjoy it at home. All breweries do it and lots of people enjoy fresh beer at home this way. This doesn’t seem to be a thing here in England, and drinking in pubs is one of the first things to shut down while we are in a pandemic. Can we hav a thriving “to go” beer business or don’t Brits really do this? It’s a bit cheaper than cans or bottles which we could also do.
I have a micro pub and I do sell 2 & 4 pint takeaways but not many
 

terrym

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If you have only just got back to the UK you will soon find that things have changed in the last 16 years on a number of levels, and that's without Covid, which, like it or not, could have a lasting impact on our lives especially in the 'hospitality' trade given the current difficult trading conditions these businesses are having.
So I suggest you delay any decision about your future aspirations until, you have assimilated the UK again, and can take stock of any impact Covid may have long term on the potential for your business to be a success.
 

jceg316

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Sounds like a great opportunity and I wish you all the best. I'd recommend reading The Microbrewer's Handbook by Ted Bruning as it goes into a good amount of detail about starting breweries and brewpubs specifically in the UK. I'm starting a nano brewery as part of an existing business and I found it a valuable resource. I'd also recommend speaking to other brewery owners or publicans if possible as they can answer questions from experience.

I've noticed that breweries with taprooms (as opposed to pubs) get away without selling food and people turn up to drink the beers. The breweries allow food trucks to serve on their premises and for their customers to bring that food in. I've also been to one or two bring your own food pubs which is actually a good idea and wished more pubs would consider this.

I've also been at a beer festival at Fourpure brewery in Bermondsey, London, where someone ordered a take away pizza, no one seemed to care.

I think if a new place opened where and old pub was, but it was different, I wouldn't leave bad reviews. It's a new business. I think business owners can respond to negative (and positive) reviews on TripAdvisor etc.

It might be worth looking up whether take away beer sales have increased since lockdown. I'm sure they have but there might be a new article or something saying how much. I did read somewhere that online beer sales went up 80% or something when lockdown started, so maybe opening an ecommerce store would be worthwhile? I've been buying more beers online.

the growler club sounds like it could be a good idea. Growlers don't seem so big here but would there be any loss in running it even if there were a handful of subscribers? A lot of my beer guzzling friends have been filling growlers at pubs, I know a few pubs which are filling milk cartons.

I'd strongly recommend backing up any decisions with numbers and data. It sounds like you're at a stage where you have a couple of ideas, now's the time to look at industry data to see if the numbers support your business plans. SIBA might be a place to start, as might CAMRA.

Good luck!
 

BrewMeHappy

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I saw a programme on the telly a while back of a couple who set up a brewery in the countryside somewhere. There was a series on about people jacking in their jobs in places like London, selling up, and starting new lives.

I forget where now but the husband did all the 'commercial' stuff and the wife was the one doing all the physical graft, and I mean all of it.

Anyway, the point I was going to make was that they knew no one so their idea, which was very successful from what they said, was to knock up a bit of a tap room kind of area in the barn and invite all the locals over for beer and some food. That way they made friends, people liked to be able to see the plant and equipment, and they got feedback on their beer and then from that word of mouth were able to spread to expand their customer base.

Good luck anyway!
 

Northern_Brewer

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I'd not seen this thread when I replied to the previous one - it is easier to keep things in one place.

As others have said, growlers have never been a big thing here - partly because Britain has an unusually high proportion of drinking in the pub - it's only just dropped below 50% of total consumption, when many other countries are half that. There was some use of milk containers to help get rid of draught stock at the start of lockdown, but it's not been a big thing, if anything Covid has reinforced the trend away from draught just on hygiene grounds. I know a number of small breweries for whom 5l minicasks have done really well as the growler equivalents - they're a format that the supermarkets won't really touch as they don't cope well without good temperature control, and the supermarkets just leave them at ambient.

If you just buy a property, then you're not effected by ties and the like. If you buy a company then yes you may have obligations towards the staff. If you are leasing, then 90% of the time you will be tied, or have to double the up-front rent to get a free-of-tie deal (but you don't pay wet rent in the form of inflated prices on tied products).

But most pub buildings are worth more for redevelopment - and the ones you want at the moment are the ones with outdoor space, which are the ones that have a big acreage that are most wanted by developers.

As I said on the other thread, you really can't avoid food, but it doesn't have to be fancy, and/or you can bring in food trucks.

I'd read most of the last few years of the Hard Knott blog to get an idea of what it's really like as a small brewer in the UK - in 2017/18 he was doing quite a bit on the economics of brewing because he felt SIBA wasn't really going in the right direction, it has got a bit better than it was.

Beer Nouveau's blog is also worth a read, particularly this from 2017 on costs - it's a bit out of date but it's a start, Cloudwater used to share quite a bit of data.

The BBPA publish benchmarks for costs of running a pub.

The huge expansion of the industry in recent years has left behind its ability to train brewers, so despite everything that's going on there's still demand for brewers who know what they're doing. If I was your other half, I'd consider getting a job in a brewery here just to give some time to assimilate a very different drinking culture, before going all-in in a culture that is deceptively different to what both of you are used to.
 
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DavidDetroit

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Buy an existing business, or to start our own brewery in an old closed up pub which we could buy.
2) This is a biggie - in the US where I have lived the past 16 years, people don’t expect anything other than beer in a brewery/tasting room. Although a few do offer something to eat. Food is a staple here in Blighty. Talking to my friends and family they can’t imagine going to a pub style brewery without getting food (industrial units may be different). We really don’t want to deal with meals.
-So what do we do to get around that?
-Is there a way to advertise a beer only experience which Brits will accept?
-Should we just buy cheese and pies or something which I’m still adverse to but as long as there’s no cooking and we *have to* have food it could be doable?
3) A continuation of the previous point - if the place we buy was previously very food-led and a known destination for its meals, will we just get bad reviews when folks find no hot dinners?
Cheers!
First, I'd like to say that doing surveys (kind of what you are loosely doing) is so, so important. I would, if I were you, really lean into that.

1. Both the existing brewery and closed pub sound like good jumping boards. There's no way to advise without in-depth info: profit of an existing business, purchase price, customer base, etc. Likewise, the physical state of the "closed-up" pub, it's location, and on and on.
2. I don't think you can really get around the food issue, in my opinion. I mean, you could ignore it, find packaged food to sell, maybe. Anecdotally, I couldn't get my wife in the pub, here in the US, without a decent menu.

I had quite a bit more to put out there, based on experience.
 

Leon103

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I saw a programme on the telly a while back of a couple who set up a brewery in the countryside somewhere. There was a series on about people jacking in their jobs in places like London, selling up, and starting new lives.

I forget where now but the husband did all the 'commercial' stuff and the wife was the one doing all the physical graft, and I mean all of it.

Anyway, the point I was going to make was that they knew no one so their idea, which was very successful from what they said, was to knock up a bit of a tap room kind of area in the barn and invite all the locals over for beer and some food. That way they made friends, people liked to be able to see the plant and equipment, and they got feedback on their beer and then from that word of mouth were able to spread to expand their customer base.

Good luck anyway!
Saw that, they were up in the lakes I believe. Brewing tradition beers and the first batch turned out crap. Think they also had to change their name due to a legal battle, although this wasn't covered in the show.
 

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Putting aside timing and the current situation I think there is a definite market for pubs perhaps more like bars without food music gaming machines expensive decor or anything else not strictly necessary for the enjoyment of good beer but as someone above mentions above it really does need to be in an urban setting- people need to be able to walk there. There are at least two micro pubs in Wolverhampton one being the award winning Hail to The Ale which is a converted suburban post office the owners of which brew the beer off site in a semi rural location.
 

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As a beer drinker, I love pubs that concentrate on their beer. Many are very happy for punters to bring food or even get local takeaways to deliver if needed. A brew pub is my idea of heaven! Points made about access to public transport and historical reputation are definitely worth taking into consideration. Thinking about food, I regularly visit three pubs and a micro in my local area, none of them offer a food menu, although a couple have done seasonal BBQ. I think if you are going to do food, it has to be quality, and that means investment in skills and equipment (plus a load of hygiene regulations to meet!). Good luck!
 

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Firstly good luck with the relocation. As others have said the location is the critical thing for your food question. If it’s non food then your catchment is basically local people within walking distance + people visiting. I’d have thought that would be sufficient in towns/cities and seasonally in some tourist spots but I’m not driving to you unless it’s really good food (and even if I did I’d hardly be spending anything on beer).

I like the growler idea, I’ve had a few this year and it’s great to have fresh beer at home (when I’ve not been brewing enough). I wasn’t really aware of it as a possibility before then. I assume the tax etc is similar though, beer is really cheap in supermarkets (somehow) so if you’re needing to charge pub prices for 4 pints in an old milk carton you might come up against some resistance from home drinkers.

Good luck! If I recall you’re looking North Essex/South Suffolk? Check out Wivenhoe, it’s a small drinking village with a fishing problem. Damn hard water though.
 

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Look at the micropub as a way to get in. Simon12 above has one, contact Martyn Hillier at the Butchers Arms in Herne near Canterbury he knows lots as well.
 

The Cat

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There is a local independant brewery where I live and they seem to be doing just fine at the moment. They rented a unit on the industrial estate and brew everything in there. A small part of the building is a tap room with enough seating for maybe a dozen people at most.

They sell from there and by mail order, they also go to local produce festivals on the weekend and have stalls there. During Covid they started deliveries in perhaps a 30 mile radius - going to the furthest areas on a specific day in the week.

As far as food goes they don't bother - maybe sell some packets of nuts or pork scratchings perhaps.

Good luck anyway.
 
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