This blog was posted in advance of the panel talks being held on Thursday and Friday at IMBC 2018, and in preparation of our Crowdcube campaign.
We’re often asked what on earth made us take the risk of opening a brewery. To be honest we ask ourselves that sometimes, but it’s easy to remember why.
A huge part of it was love of brewing, the excitement around the process, the moment of enjoying the result. But we could have had that professionally by becoming brewers at another company – we didn't need to put it all on the line. So perhaps the main reason we founded Verdant was that we saw freedom in it. We didn’t want to answer to anyone but ourselves; we wanted to be in control of both our products and our own futures. For us, that is the line that cuts right through the debate on independence.
We opened because we felt we had something to offer the local community, and that by working for somebody else we wouldn’t be able to impart our ideas. It was about a beer style no one quite understood at the time – the hazy New England beers – and a way of brewing that hadn’t really been done in the south west yet. Complete independence allowed us to make the decisions and stand by them for better or worse. And the great thing is, when you are transparent and answer directly to your customers, it’s almost always for the better.
Craft beer is at the start of a phase of consolidation. It’s a pivotal time where we, as an industry, need to decide not only what is best for ourselves, but also the sector we love and work in. If we are going to build a strong, creative and diverse industry, we have to hold firm now. We have to make sure that in 10 years’ time we are still free to make our own decisions.
If you have to answer to someone, that person will be looking for a return, and if he wants that return to be earlier or larger than you do, you’ll see concepts watered down, corners cut, margins squeezed, integrity lost and excuses made. We’re already seeing breweries team up with macrobreweries and private investment firms that make business decisions completely counter to the craft brewer's original beliefs. They have very quickly lost their freedom of expression. Even worse, they have become associated with other people’s decisions – when you associate yourself with a company that makes bad business decisions, doesn’t respect its customers or even acts immorally, you are no longer free – you are complicit.
We’ve seen a lot of this in the craft beer industry already and worryingly we’ve also seen supposedly impartial platforms normalise this behaviour as “business”. While all breweries are businesses, the word itself can cover all manner of sins. The business of beer buyouts isn’t the big guy helping the smaller sector – it’s the big guy buying the market share, attempting to tie up taps and restrict other independent breweries from getting on the shelf. Meanwhile, all the returns are at the cost of the brewery making the beer as they twist to hit the margins and price points demanded of them. Their financial freedom will be restricted.
If this is "business", we need to change it. That is part of what craft beer is about, and it’s a huge part of what Verdant is about. We want to remain free to make our own mistakes and celebrate our own triumphs and that is why when we enter the next phase of growth for Verdant, we will be crowdfunding. Because when you are close and connected to your customers, when your autonomy and decisions directly benefit them, then everyone wins. That is the importance of independence.