Interviews

Cheers! How two students turned their home brew experiment into a global business

6 min read

09 October 2015

While academic study might not be at the top of the agenda for several returning college students, beer most likely will be. They could also think of saving money by brewing it themselves – which was the case for Alex Dixon and Ralph Broadbent.

Alex Dixon’s decision to invest £60.41 in some home brew while he was a student rather than paying student’s union bar prices has paid off royally, with a fast growing business that has taken this traditional pastime to the next level – and made it easier for anyone to produce beer and ale at home.

When he shared his original home brew at a university party, the response was very positive. Ralph Broadbent, Dixon’s friend, was particularly impressed but didn’t like the idea of waiting two months for the product to ferment.

The friends set about investigating how to create a drinks kit that was just as rewarding as the original home brew, but simpler and faster.

“We have a little bit of scientific knowledge, from chemistry A Levels and such but we did have to read around quite a lot to fully understand the scientific processes behind brewing,” said Dixon. “In the beginning we used the office kitchen – moonlighting as a makeshift lab. Luckily, we’ve always had a safety valve at the top of our kits so they are explosion free.”

In 2013, Victor’s Drinks was launched, offering customers a cost effective way to make their own ales and ciders at home in just ten days. The ale and cider making kits, including apple, pear and dark ale, retail at £24.99 for make 20 pints, while for £15.99 you’ll get enough ingredients for ten.

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In need of mentors and contacts, Broadbent and Dixon appeared on Dragon’s Den in 2014. Although they left in the lift with £40,000 of Duncan Bannatyne’s money in exchange for a 25 per cent share in the business, they made the decision not to pursue the deal with the Dragon.

“We were new to the retail industry when the show was filmed and were looking for a helping hand in bringing our product to a mass market,” said Broadbent. “We applied for the show in October of the previous year, and by the time the show was aired it was August. As so much had changed for Victor’s in the intervening months, we found that the business was now not in the same position as it was when it applied.

“So contacts, and money, that would have been useful in October, were less relevant for us the next year in August. It was a really good experience. It really helps get your business and thoughts in order as you have to prepare extensively before the show for all questions that you might be asked – even the ones that you don’t want to answer!”

Investment came from another company run by the duo that organises live music events. Having developed their ten day kits, Broadbent and Dixon wanted to step it up even further and after extensive testing Victor’s Drinks recently introduced the world’s first 48-hour cider and ale kit to the market.

The kits are now available in over 130 stockists nationwide and the Dixon and Broadbent are now looking at exporting to European and American markets.

“Following the success in sales that we’ve had in the UK it seemed a natural progression to widen our customer base by exporting the product abroad,” said Broadbent. “We conducted market research and, with the help of UKTI, identified Germany and Ireland as the best places to begin export – based on countries’ spend per capita on alcohol and the ease of export, whilst also taking into account distance and language barriers.”

He added: “It’s no secret that exporting comes with challenges though and at the moment we’re battling with the cost of transport, identifying the correct retailers, and in some cases language barriers. Since our product is wholly manufactured in the UK, moving it overseas is a big consideration. That being said, we’re continuing our efforts and hope to see our product worldwide in the next five years.”

Inevitably the company has faced challenges. Earlier in 2015, the warehouse of one of its key suppliers burned down. “It was a real kick in the teeth as we had some big orders to fulfil and the impacts on the supply chain and business have rippled for quite a few months now,” said Dixon.

However, their export drive continues – and it’s reaching beyond the usual international markets for beer and cider. “This summer we sent a pint of pear cider up into space,” revealed Dixon. “It was really exciting waiting for the package to come down to land so we could see all the footage. The picture of the pint against the curvature of the Earth was really breath-taking. Landing on the moon next, watch this space.”