For some, 2016 has been a dog of a year. What with all the politics, war and the death of iconic figures. It’s hard to look past these negative vibes but for us here at Verdant, well it has been staggeringly exciting and very very productive.
We started 2016 around 10 months behind our personal schedule, in terms of the size of our brewhouse as well as the fact that we all still had full time jobs in other fields. Our setup at the time was a 200ltr kit made up of a HLT and Mash tun we had purchased for our shipping container days from the Home Brew Builder (anyone looking to get started check these guys, Mark is great). The kettle and FV’s we got made to spec from the guys at Elite Stainless in Swindon (also very good).
During 2015, due to a lack of funds and with heavy hearts we cancelled an order with Elite stainless for a 10bbl setup. This was our lowest point and set us back . We started Verdant in early 2014 and always had plans of hitting a 10bbl setup. Unfortunately this didn’t happen as quickly as we would have liked. We began 2016 with the conviction to change this.
In January we made the decision to try and raise funds via our friends and family. A DIY crowd funder as it were. We have some skills amongst us that means we can put together some web goodness fairly quickly and called in some favours from friends to make the pitch complete with good photography and a video.
We started out with a high level of naivety, to be expected I guess. None of us had put together a funding package before. None of us had used a crowdfunding platform before. Maybe in hindsight we would have chosen that route, but because they scrape a fair whack of of what you raise and we couldn’t really afford to lose anything more than what Stripe was taking for the transaction processing, we went it alone.
We put together a funding opportunity with a target for us to raise £100,000. For this we were going to give away a 20% stake in Verdant, the minimum investment was £100, with the maximum being £25,000 – 5% maximum ownership per individual. In return we offered an SEIS Opportunity (Tax relief) and for those investing £500 or more we will get you beers, regularly.
So by the end of February we had a plan and a new website with a private funding page attached. We were collecting all of our own monies through Stripe, the cost of this was around 1% per transaction.
March, and we put the campaign live. We got this page in front of as many people as we could. Friends, family and friends of friends family. And it started pretty strong, albeit family members got us off to flying start but friends also believed and by the end of April we had raised a staggering £75,000. Wow, right!
It’s at this point we took our plans to our accountants and solicitors to start getting the ball rolling with SEIS applications and share holder agreements. Way too late! Our structure and offer meant that we had actually given away more of the business than we had liked. The £100,000 investment would have meant us giving away 27% of the business. The £75,000 works out at around 23%.
Other areas of stress included the reality that SEIS is a very strict process and to qualify you need to read all of the documentation before offering it as a benefit of investment. We did qualify (phew) but it took some time to have the application submitted and agreed.
Sending out beer to 30 people on a regular basis is far more expensive than you would have thought. The time and effort needed to box up the beer arrange delivery is substantial. In hindsight we would have offered beer as a bonus up front and not over a time period. That said, sending out beer regularly to our 30+ investors mean that they don’t forget us and can give valuable feedback on our new tastes and packaging designs. It keeps the feel personal and encourages them to keep on spreading the word.
We are so very very thankful to all of our investors. The belief they have showed in us has been humbling. And we thank each of them.
Funding the whole project
Our shopping list just was never going to come in at £75,000, we knew that a finance deal was going to be required in order to fund the entire project. We spoke with Lombard direct and they agreed to finance lease the remaining money we needed for the brew house, fermenters and bright tanks.
We had the green light to order kit, these were very exciting times and our total budget was now £125,000 plus any monies we had remaining in the bank.
The shopping list
Due to the fact that we had almost two years to research breweries, fabricators and providers we felt we were in a good position to make some relatively informed decisions. We had done so much research that we also thought we knew what was required from new premises. We had considered so many potential premises around the Falmouth and Penryn area that we knew what was available and what our money would get for us.
Our existing home was a 1000sq ft unit in Ponsanooth, we shared this space with another business and we were aware that a new home would be required. Finding space in our area had always proved very very hard. Good spaces went quickly and bad spaces went just after.
We had been keeping an eye on the council website for spaces available in our local trading estate and this one unit kept appearing online. Every time we enquired we were told that it had been taken. Although it was never removed from the website. So we badgered and badgered the council folk and we eventually got a viewing and knew it was the one. 3000 sq ft with a huge yard and great grounds.
The unit had been under offer, but the new occupier only wanted it for 9 months, we agreed a 10 year lease and shook hands. A new home had been acquired. Naturally solicitors needed to be involved and so began the process of having a lease drawn up.
We had decided due to our funds that we would ask Elite Stainless to build us the brew house and fermenters. All built to our specification, we required sealed fermenters with a top man way. We required a large enough mash tun that we could brew any strength beer to maximum capacity. We felt confident with this as we knew exactly what we would get and how to brew on this setup.
Six fermenters would allow us to brew twice a week with a plan for expansion to replace each one in turn for a double sized conical version. Each fermenting vessel would be sealed with a top man way allowing us to use our house strain of yeast which is a top cropper.
We decided on two Bright Tanks. One at 10bbl and the other is double capacity. These needed to be pressure rated to allow us to force carbonate our beers. We looked at direct imports from China but ultimately decided to use a third party in Gravity Systems. These guys were great and took care of everything.
Chilling, we decided that the chiller needed to be able to cope with any initial expansion plans we had for the first 18 months. Our plan would see us replacing the FV’s with double sized conicals over time. We chose a chiller from Galxc and they offered us a finance package and we chose to install the unit ourselves. That involved all electrics and copper plumbing with weld joints and then lagging the pipes with insulation and silver tape. Big job!
Being blessed with having an incredibly competent and anally retentive electrician on board we had our very own control board built and Rich also installed all of the electrics for the brewhouse and chiller unit.
Well we are spending the monies okay! And this is full of compromises, what we haven’t had done yet, due to not having the keys is the new space. This will require some work to get it ready for the kit installation.
Unit 6 Tresidder Close
We received the keys for our new home in June and set about the improvements needed. Our new home required work to the floor. A good clean and paint job along with a bar, cold store and cellar for the tap room. tables and chairs for the tap room and some form of music and games, right?
First up was to bring in the diggers and create the drainage. The floor was an 8” slab of concrete and very very hard. Our first set of workman tried using hand tools and a Kango and quit on the job by lunch time.
The next chap was Roy. We knew he had installed a floor for Treens Brewery and was up to the job. He immediately hired big machines and took to what looked like a demolition job. In 5 days he had dug all the channels we needed, fitted and filled in the drains as well as connecting them to the main sewerage outside! As a bonus he also cleared a path for us around the building to allow us to get our chiller unit in.
Now that the dirty work had been completed, we needed to start getting ready for kit installation
We had quotes for the floor and due to the amount of it we just didn’t have the funds to lay a new coating. We did however manage to remove the current coating. Much machinery was hired and many many hours spent before our new neighbours popped in and suggested we borrow their machine and stop the agony. Before we knew it the floor had been stripped back to a very smooth concrete.
Next up was painting and cleaning, jet washing the outside of the building and the yard. We brought in help and enjoyed a week or so painting the outside of the new unit. We also purchased all the raw materials to allow us to build a bar and cellar. We traded some beer for some wood in order to clad the bar and built the top and frame from mild steel.
The cellar was built using a timber frame and then insulated and clad in plastic sheeting. The chiller is a Gamko unit used for their keg chilling units with the addition of a python loop. We maintain a constant 4/5 degrees which allows us to get a good beer across the pint and a half python line to the bar.
At this point we are in August and we are prepping for the arrival of the first set of kit. First up was the brewhouse and two fermenters, these arrived and with the help of some forklift driving neighbours we had these in place. So to the grand opening, we knew that summer was the moment to launch the brewery, although all the kit hadn’t arrived, sunshine had and we had continued brewing at the old site at Ponsanooth, beer wasn’t an issue.
So it’s August and we see over 200 people at the tap. It’s a great day, we sell out of beer and the food van sells out of food. Now back to work!
The next delivery is the remaining fermentors and again with the help of our forklift driving neighbours we get them in place. All we are waiting for now is the arrival of the bright tanks. We set about upscaling recipes and looking at what we need to order for the first set of brews. We costed up the need for ingredients, kegs and packaging. We purchased what we needed for the first six brews and awaited the arrival of the bright tanks.
Once installed we we were like little boys at Christmas. We did it. And we did it in 10 months. Raised the cash, financed just under 50% of the total purchase costs and built a working brewery. The plan was to brew once a week and slowly ramp that up to twice a week by Christmas.
Everything is installed, the chiller is working. everything has had real good clean and we are ready to brew. So we brew 6 in a row and fill all of the FV’s, well why not right? We book in the packaging with WeCan and we prepare for having much beer available to sell.
At this point we have also sent out many samples and due to already having beer in the wild have made contact with many distributors and we begin touching base with them all and start to sell the beer. The interest was staggering and we managed to sell all 6 brews before they had been packaged. So once the FV’s were emptied we brewed again and to say that we have been amazed with the response to our beer is an understatement. We are now brewing twice a week and still struggling to keep up with demand.
2017 starts with us looking to expand capacity, we want to be able to brew our core range twice a week, along with a new or old beer using our house strain of WYeast 1318 once or twice a week. This will allow Light Bulb, Headband, Bloom and Pulp to be a readily available as well as having beers such as Sharks and Roy in the market too.
What have we learnt?
What we have learnt along the way. Or should I say, what we have been told, ignored and shouldn’t have!
- Floors – don’t (if you can afford it ) scrimp on the floor. Squeegees lose their attraction very quickly.
- Come up with a budget and add 50%
- Get it done. Don’t worry about what if’s
- Surround yourself with great advise, solicitors, accountants, peer group etc
- Never ever let the beer be compromised.
- Stay in touch with your fans.
- Most distributors are amazing
- Kegged beer still doesn’t sell very well in Cornwall.
- Packaged beer sells well in Cornwall
Our experience of upscaling has been very very positive. We have been so pleased with the beers produced to date on this kit, since starting in October we have done approx 20 brews and each has been as good as we could have wanted.
2016 in a nutshell.
- January, Decided to raise funds via friends and family.
- February, Setup and created our own funding platform via the web.
- March, opened the funding round.
- April, raised £75000 – 3/4 of our target £100,000 – ordered new brewery
- May, found a new home.
- June, acquired keys for new home
- July, worked on new home preparing for kit arrival
- August, worked on new home and had a party!
- September worked on new home and took delivery of brew house, had a party with Lorelle meets the Obsolete
- October, installed all new kit and started first brews and had a party with sausages and Thali!
- November, continued brewing, had a party with, had a party with Fireworks!
- December, continued brewing, had a party with Neil Halstead!
Highlights (no particular order)
- Voted best new brewery by Honestbrew, thanks guys!
- Being invited to Indy Man Beer Con 2016
- Being invited to Hop City 2017
- The love we get from the US beer trading instagrammers.
- Runner up best new brewery from Total Ales
- All the twitter and UKCBF / Forum love!
- Bristol Craft Beer festival 2016 and meeting all the people we did there.
- All of our fans and the feedback you give us 😍
- All the #GoldenPints we have received over the past week or so.
We have been so thrilled with the response to our beers, Pulp seems to have struck a chord with so many of you. This will be a core beer for us and will remain in the line up all year round. Even Sharks need Water has also been a success for us and these beers we see as parallels our core range, we mix it up change things and release new versions regularly. keep your eyes peeled in the new year for Roy, I want a Hilux, High Level Kink and ‘Maybe, one more PSI’. Your ongoing support is essential to our success and we keep that going by continuing to brew the best beer we can.
A new year
So to 2017 and what do we have planned? We will be looking to raise the final £25,000 of the initial funding target. So if anyone is interested in joining the ride please do get in touch. We will be putting more details about that up soon on the website very soon.
Why raise more money ? well we really want to increase capacity slightly which will allow us if needs be to brew at least an additional brew each week and possibly two. As well as the capacity we also really need to bring our packaging solution in house and the financing of a canning line will be top of our want list for the coming months. It’s the only part of the process we feel is slightly out of our control and that pains us. We need to have full control of the entire process and that way any mistakes resulting in poor beer will be our fault and nobody else’s.
So onwards and upwards, we have few collaboration brews to look forward to in January, as well as an event at the end of the month in London and also Hop City in Leeds over Easter weekend! We are so proud to have been invited along to this event! Grab your tickets before it’s too late.
We will be looking to do as many beer festivals as we can, so if you see us come say hi and we can share a beer, happy new year.