I set up Fourpure with my brother, Tom, in 2013. In the five years we’ve been operational, we’ve grown rapidly and, in July, the business was acquired by Australian brewer Lion. The investment and expertise Lion brings to the business means we are ideally placed for the next stage of our expansion.
Fourpure isn’t the first business I’ve owned. I started an IT infrastructure services company, UKSolutions, in 1998 while I was still at university.
Over a period of 12 years, I built that business up significantly, until a private equity firm took it over – making it a natural time for me to leave. At that stage, the company employed 250 staff and had a £70m turnover.
My next challenge needed to be another high-growth opportunity. I’d been making beer at home ever since Tom bought me a brewing kit for my 18th birthday.
Living in London, I was very aware that the craft brewing scene was taking off, with the likes of Kernel and Camden Town doing great things. Craft beer was becoming huge in the US, too.
Path to brewing
Everything seemed to coalesce towards setting up a brewery, so we worked on a feasibility project before securing this site, which sits at the southern end of what is now known as the Bermondsey beer mile – a stretch of breweries and bottle shops under railway arches.
We purchased equipment secondhand from Purity in Warwickshire. Brewing at its heart is fairly simple – the four core ingredients are grain (usually barley), hops, yeast and water – and this is the inspiration behind the Fourpure name.
Rather than spread ourselves too thinly, we have developed a core range of five beers – two IPAs, a pale ale, a pils lager, and an oatmeal stout. We also have an Adventure range, which includes the Juicebox Citrus IPA and the Shape Shifter IPA.
Our beers are generally in that hoppy US style, which I’m particularly fond of. All are available in 330ml cans, or 30-litre kegs – we don’t bottle anything. Additionally, there is a more limited Small Batch Adventure range, which is available in keg only.
When we purchased the brewhouse, it was significant capacity at 36hl, and we could brew twice a day. Now, our brewhouse capacity is close to double that, but we can brew seven times a day.
In November 2017, we installed a £2.5m GEA Craft-Star brewhouse, which offers us improved brewing capabilities – we used to have to dig out the grains in the old mash tun by hand, for example, and heat was generated by a coil mechanism that was prone to burning the beer, creating a quality issue with some beers.
Having installed a Lambrechts kegger, CFT MasterCan Tronic canning line and GPI end-of-line case packer, we now have one of the most advanced packaging facilities in the UK. It enables us to can for other brewers, and the one we are doing the most of currently is Thornbridge Jaipur.
Tesco asked us to collaborate with Thornbridge to produce the beer in a larger can format, and it has generated a lot of excitement.
In February, we held a big party to celebrate our doubling of capacity, and by about June next year, we’ll have doubled that capacity again – but that’s the rate of growth we’re at.
It can be really challenging to take a company from just being an idea and growing it quickly. I made plenty of mistakes with my first company, and now I’m trying to make fewer mistakes. People who join the business very early may not necessarily be the right people to become senior managers – it’s about recognising their limitations as much as the contribution they can make.
‘Recognise your limitations’
It’s important to recognise your own limitations as well. We came to the point where we realised we needed access to a network of expertise that would allow us to improve the beer we produce, so having Lion onboard has been crucial. Now, if we need technical assistance, or even someone just to bounce ideas off, it is able to send a brewer over.
In return, we are able to offer Lion a route-to-market in the UK for its products. This will help us too, as a great deal of our beer is still sold pint by pint. Half of our sales are in grocery and the independent off-trade, but the majority of our on-trade sales are to pubs in London and, specifically, the SE1 postcode.
To grow, we need to develop more structured distribution channels. We already export 10% of our sales, but Lion can help us grow in new overseas markets as well.
Beyond that, Tom and I maintain control over investment decisions and new product development. As we continue to grow, and as the demand for more residential space in London increases, we’ll have to decide at some point whether to move to a dedicated manufacturing facility a little further out of town, like Camden has done.
Personally, there’s every chance the business will soon mature to the point where I will be looking for a new challenge. The people at Lion recognise this, and are fully supportive in me incubating other projects within the wider company. That said, Fourpure will remain my focus for a decent period of time yet, as we still have many opportunities to grow.
Fourpure Brewing Co
- Location: Bermondsey Trading Estate, 22 Rotherhithe New Road, London. SE16 3LL
- Staff: 85
- Brewery capacity: 450hl
- Main products: Session IPA, Easy Peeler Citrus Session IPA, American Pale, Pils Lager, Oatmeal Stout.
- Production speed: 200 cans a minute (canning line).
- Factory output: 1.7m litres in 2017. Will exceed 2m this year.
- Dan Lowe: Lives in London with his wife and two young children. “When time allows, we are passionate travellers.”