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Brewery out to save the British pub
Updated 10:37am Sunday 5th May 2013 in News
IT started as one man’s hobby in a barn on a Hampshire farm – now it is producing 9,000 pints a week.
While others in the beer industry are suffering, with pub and breweries closing all across the country in recent years, one producer appears to be bucking that trend.
Not only has Upham Brewery opened its state-of-the-art production hub, but earlier this week it also unveiled its plans to the Daily Echo for a major expansion which could provide as many as 600 jobs.
At present the brewery brews two to three times a week, but this time next year the company has predicted that it would have increased the number of fermentation vessels allowing them to brew double that.
And the business, based at Stakes Farm, in Upham, would one day like to be selling its ale right across the country.
So what is the secret of its success?
Chris Phillips, chief executive of the Upham Pub Company, puts it down to a number of factors, including a resurgence in the popularity of real ale, but also in the changing nature of how pubs need to be run and the importance of keeping it local.
The business certainly comes from small and very local beginnings – when owner of Stakes Farm John MacMillan discovered his barn had a historic licence to brew beer.
He started brewing in 2009, giving what he made first to family and friends and then to local pubs.
But when he decided to turn this into a business, he brought in experts from within the industry to make that possible.
Since then, the brewery has gone from being able to produce four barrels with each brew to 30 barrels.
Upham Brewery has three pubs so far – two of which are in Hampshire – and plans to be in charge of 20 to 30 more within five years.
It sells to more than 200 outlets across Hampshire, Sussex, Wiltshire, Dorset and Berkshire, including in local Majestic stores and the Co-op.
They are also selling to top London pubs such as The Admiral Codrington, in Chelsea, and Reading station.
The company is also in talks with retailers such as Waitrose and Sainsbury’s about stocking the brand.
More than 100 staff are working for the firm, but this could rise to 600 by 2018.
News of the company’s expansion plans has in the last few days already prompted numerous phone calls from people looking for work.
Mr Phillips said he put the micro-brewery’s success so far partly down to the growing popularity of real ale over lager, which has become expensive to produce particularly in the current economic climate.
He said that increasingly customers were looking for more organic drinks too – Upham Brewery ale is naturally produced using traditional methods – and he believes the public is being attracted to locally produced ales and actively seeking them out.
Derek Lowe, master brewer with more than 40 years in the business, reflects that the rise of the micro-brewery is like stepping back in time to when the Victorians had a brewery in the village that produced beer for the village. “People like going back to having a local identity – it’s great,” he said.
The company has also invested in its pubs to create what it believes is the right environment for the modern pub.
Mr Phillips said it was important to be able to attract all sides of the market – from the person who wants a beer and sandwich to an a la carte menu.
“Quite often they’re the last pub in the village so you want to make them appealing to everyone in that village,” he said.
“So someone coming in with a small budget won’t feel intimidated and someone with a big budget can spend it. We have to be that community place where everybody can go.”
The key to this, said Mr Phillips, was getting well-trained, friendly staff and high quality, locally sourced food cooked on site.
For example at The Thomas Lord, in West Meon, all the ingredients are sourced within a 15-mile radius, with some grown in the back garden.
Mr Phillips said that the rise in popularity of television cooking shows had raised expectations in pubs.
“They’re looking for far better than what they were,” he said.
“They have become much more demanding in what they expect to find in a pub than reheated lasagne.
“We all have a better knowledge, everybody’s standards have risen. But with that you have got to offer value for money.”
He added that because their pubs were freehold they are not tied into paying certain prices for beer or lager that other venues on a lease arrangement with the brewery that owns the premises.
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