Opinion

Camden Town Brewery: Selling out too early or a great British success story?

9 min read

22 December 2015

Former editor

The news that craft beer brand Camden Town Brewery was being bought by AB InBev left me with mixed emotions – was I sad that this great company was now in the hands of the world’s biggest brewer or was I happy that the UK had been home to such an inspiring growth trajectory?

If you’ll forgive a little personal reflection, I lived less than 100m from the first Camden Town Brewery site – a small set-up underneath the arches of Kentish Town West Overground station. Wanting to get more exposure for the brand, the company and its founder Jasper Cupaidge decided to open up a small bar on site.

For me, and like Cuppaidge told me in an interview back in February, it was a great way of having a local pub/bar that wasn’t solely populated by run-of-the-mill commercial beer brands that we’d all grown up with and become horribly bored of. There was a great feel to Camden Town Brewery, even if the coming together of craft beer swilling Londonites sampling the various street food vendors which were invited along on Friday and Saturday nights was a little cliched.

From it’s beginnings in North London, Camden Town Brewery quickly began to find itself on the taps of pubs around the capital – as well as in supermarkets and the likes of Harrods and Selfridges. One thing I’ve always felt it has got right from the start, aside from the taste of its beer, is the branding. The colourful and enticing nature of its range does stand out on the shelf and beer taps.

After setting up in 2010, the popularity of its beer meant that by the beginning of this year Camden Town Brewery was producing 150,000 pints a week and had experienced growth of over ten times in the previous three years.

At that stage, Cuppaidge and his business decided to use the increasingly popular crowdfunding method to bring in some extra growth capital. Having set a target of £1.5m through equity platform Crowdcube, the business ended up being massively oversubscribed and banked £2.75m to fund a new brewery and additional pub sites.

There was also the ambition of getting its beers in many more pubs, bars and clubs around the UK, as well as ramping up distribution to major supermarkets and international customers.

Like a lot of established brands have found when using crowdfunding, Camden Town Brewery had little problem raising the capital it wanted – and then had an army of 2,173 investors and brand advocates to support expansion.

Since that period the business has had a busy 2015 – producing 12m pints of its various beers and upping its staff count by 50 per cent. And so it was, like many others, that I was surprised when it was announced AB InBev was stepping in to not acquire a minority holding, but purchase the entire company.

As happens in a number of other industries, big brands see what is happening on a more local and small scale level and want a piece of the action. Camden Town Brewery had proved very adept at maintaining that balance of appealing craft beer while making sure it was available on scale in enough venues to effectively become a drink of choice.

With the brand now being under the control of AB InBev, will Cuppaidge and Camden Town Brewery be able to maintain this? Will margins be pushed, costs reduced and a more corporate model adopted? To appease some of the fears that customers and investors had after the acquisition news broke, Cuppaidge took to Twitter for a Q&A. I thought it would be interesting to include some of the most enlightening ones, including one from yours truly.










I for one was very excited about the new pub opening in Kentish Town, and will remain a drinker of Camden Town Brewery. However, there will be one part of me which won’t feel quite so fuzzy about supporting a small craft beer brand. Instead, I’ll probably be looking elsewhere every now and then for a brand which isn’t as well recognised.

Cuppaidge and his team will now have access to a very useful supply and distribution chain, helping to get their beer into the hands of a lot more willing punters. They will also have a big budget to build a new brewery in Enfield, perhaps re-shoring some of the production that had been outsourced to Belgium to cope with demand.

There will also be help on the marketing side, very important if Camden Town Brewery harbours dreams to conquer big markets like the US.

At the end of the day, I can see why the business decided now was the right time to bring in a bit of heavyweight support. Not much detail has emerged as to what kind of return its crowdfunding investors from earlier in the year will receive, but it should be a nice return – even if they weren’t consulted on a sale.

So, instead of criticising Camden Town Brewery for selling its soul to a big corporate and shunning the dedicated customers who had got it to where the company is today, I’ll be raising a pint to a great British success story – proof that we can build fantastic companies in a relatively short amount of time.