An Interview With David Eastwood, Founder of Southsea Brewing Company

Following is an awesome interview with David Eastwood, the Founder and Head Brewer of Southsea Brewing Company. David has been through the start up process and has some valuable insights to share with you if you are considering setting up your own brewery.

In this interview we explore:

  • How David went about setting up Southsea Brewing Company.
  • David's advice on first steps and how to get started.
  • The work pressures involved in setting up your own brewing business.
  • How to set up your brewery in a castle!
  • How David has so far funded his brewery start up.
  • How David is finding the whole transition from home brewing to commercial brewing.

So you’re currently in the process of founding Southsea Brewing Company. Get us up to speed with your journey so far. What stage are you currently at and how did you get there?

Sure, well I’ve been brewing at home since I finished university but it wasn’t until I moved into a house with a garage and upgraded my equipment that I started making really impressive beers, which won a few local awards. I think that’s when I started taking it a bit more seriously.

For a while I was working for local breweries voluntarily in my spare time, just for fun really. Then one local 10 BBL brewery offered me a full time position as assistant brewer. At the time I really wasn’t enjoying my stressful sales job so I decided to quit and go work for them. I learnt a lot of technical things from the classically trained brewer there, but also about the whole industry in general.

Meanwhile, I was hatching a plan to start my own brewery in Southsea and managed to convince the local council to give me a space to brew in Southsea Castle. I can’t think of a cooler place to set up a brewery than a 15th century castle built by Henry the 8th!

Many of our subscribers are wanting to do exactly what you are doing with Southsea Brewing Company. What advice would you give them? What should their first step be?

Have a clear understanding of your brand identity. With so many breweries competing in this space, standing out and having a brand, which people can relate with and buy into, is probably the most important thing. You might make the best beer in the world, but if the brand image looks terrible, not many people will even try it. On the other hand, some of the worst quality beers have great looking packaging and have done quite well simply because people are psychologically drawn to it. Be prepared to spend time and money on this, because getting this part established right from the start will help everything else fall into place.

I would definitely recommend people get some experience in an established brewery before embarking on setting up their own. I think a lot of people imagine owning a brewery to be all about having fun and seeing everyone having a good time drinking your beer. Don’t get me wrong, that side of it is definitely rewarding and is a great motivator that keeps your chin up when the going is tough. But what I learnt working in a micro brewery is mainly that it takes LOTS of hard work and long hours to make the beer – and selling everything you make to pay the bills can be even more challenging. Don’t just assume that what you brew is going to fly straight off the shelf!

I would also make sure that you either are confident with DIY or have a team of people who can help with the various aspects of setting up a brewery, whether it be a welder, plumber, electrician or man with a van. At some stage all these skills will be needed and can be costly. Also an accountant or someone who’s good with spreadsheets would help cover a part of the business which often gets overlooked.

Another thing to mention would be visiting as many breweries as possible, no matter how big or small, old or new. Each brewery will be set up slightly differently and no method of brewing is right or wrong. Everyone has to work with what they’ve got, and the most valuable question to ask the brewer is – what would you change if you could? Sometimes it would be a valve in a certain place, different layout or bigger cold store, whatever it might be, you can learn an awful lot about efficiency from this simple question.

When you mention the importance of a strong brand identity what exactly do you mean by ‘brand’? Are you referring to labels, logos etc. Or something a bit deeper? The whole business identity and character for example.

Yeah, branding is much more than just a logo and some labels. Good branding will appeal to the target market and give the consumer a sense of buy-in to what the company is all about. Whether it’s a premium product designed to be a special treat, or a no-frills everyday consumable item, the brand’s identity should reflect that. You have to think, what image do you want your beer to conjure up when people see it? I think it’s important to establish the brand’s character or ‘voice’ in the early stages of building your company and keep it consistent throughout all communications with the outside world.

Experience in an established commercial brewery would certainly be a useful eye opener and source of training. How would someone go about getting this sort of experience? What was your process for getting your foot in the door?

I think it’s a combination of being inquisitive, showing competence and being ready to get stuck into any task. There’s a ‘positions vacant’ section in the classifieds on the SIBA website. Brewery jobs show up there every so often, but usually if they are recruiting they will be looking for someone with experience or qualifications. I emailed a lot of breweries and got the same response saying they were overwhelmingly busy, weren’t recruiting or they wouldn’t have time to show me anything.

At that point I had zero experience in commercial brewing, but I had years of sales experience under my belt, so I stopped asking them about the brewing side of the business and started asking lots of questions about how they got their beer into new pubs, who they would like to have as customers, how much time did it take to get new accounts etc. You’d be surprised how many breweries struggle to sell beer! Any job in the brewery is a foot in the door, so be prepared to just clean casks or deliver beer before you even go near a mash tun.

Are you currently trying to juggle a full time job with the brewery start up? If so, how are you finding that pressure? What ways are you finding to cope with the amount of business tasks you need to work through as well as the day job?

I’m actually working on setting up my brewery full time now. For a while I was still working at the microbrewery while starting my own, but as soon as my lease was agreed and signed, i started working less for them and concentrated on getting my equipment and brewing space set up.

I took a huge risk when I quit my (well paid) sales job to go work for a microbrewery. I did take a paycut, but it was a decision my wife supported as she could see the stress from my sales job was affecting my health.

I have found starting my own business stressful, but in a different kind of way. I make lists of what tasks need to be done and allocate a time to carry them out. Anything on the list which I might struggle with, I find someone who is better skilled to help and delegate that task. By doing that it keeps me productive and positive.

So you have a pretty awesome location for your new brewing operation. I have to say I am quite envious. How do you go about getting planning permission and change of use for a place like that? Was there a lot of resistance? What is involved in getting a more elaborate location for your brewery rather than a bog standard industrial unit?

Yeah, I don’t think many people set up breweries in ancient castles! It all started when I went to the Bermondsey beer mile breweries. I loved the whole concept and I remember wondering if there were any railway arches in Southsea which could be used for the same purpose. I knew there was a project to convert some historic fortifications into spaces for artists to work. So I made some phonecalls and Portsmouth City Council loved the idea and were really helpful in trying to find a place for an artisan style craft brewery. After many discussions, I was invited to a meeting at Southsea Castle, which I had never been inside before. As soon as I stepped inside I knew it had to be the home for The Southsea Brewing Co.

Southsea Brewing CompanyMost breweries are located in industrial estates (for good reason), but I really didn’t like the idea of being yet another of these soulless breweries in remote locations, which lack any character. However after months of painfully slow negotiations with the Council and English Heritage I could see why most people choose the industrial estate option. There have been many obstacles to overcome and restrictions to setting up in a scheduled ancient monument, but on the other hand, there are many good reasons. The castle gets 500,000 visitors a year and is used as a venue for weddings and other events. Plus I just love the idea of bringing back a piece of brewing history.

I am getting quite a lot of questions from my subscribers about how to raise money to fund their own start ups. Have you had to raise funding from elsewhere? If so, how did you go about it and what sort of funding to you get?

I have not yet needed external funding for the business. I’ve done everything with my own money so far. My equipment didn’t cost much, as I built most of it myself and the space I’m renting was not used before so the rent is extremely low. My business plan is based on a 3 year projection, which will give me time to see if there is opportunity to grow. I didn’t want to have lots of money tied up in assets like casks and kegs so these will be rented or disposable where possible. But when investment is needed for expansion I will be looking at crowd funding to raise money and awareness for the business.

I have been using some of the many local government schemes which help small businesses start and grow by offering support and access to grants and loans if needed. I would recommend getting involved with these sorts of local schemes, as they exist for this purpose and have been extremely helpful for me so far.

You mention you have built much of your kit yourself where possible. What sort of set up have you made and how easy was it to do? What capacity is the system and what sort of configuration have you used?

Southsea Brewing CompanyIt’s a pretty small setup at 1.5BBL with 6BBL of fermenting capacity, but I’m limited by the single phase electricity supply and the entrance is a standard sized door so I couldn’t go much bigger. I bought plain stainless steel tanks from Italy and adapted them into a 3 vessel brewing system. The Italian stainless steel industry is heavily subsidised so the tanks were very reasonable. It was quite easy to do, making big holes for the elements was quite scary but it all worked and passed the leak test. The most important thing in the design was the ability to use pellet hops in the boil and being able to crash cool down to 2 degrees centigrade, two things I’d got used to with my old brewing equipment.

How are you finding the whole transition from home brewing to the commercial arena? Are you managing to keep hold of that initial love of brewing now the hard work is starting?

The transition has been a continual learning process, which I find very interesting. When I was brewing in my kitchen, I was always reading up about techniques used by other home brewers like sparging and controlling fermentation temperature. I tried to implement these sorts of things into my own brewing process to make better beer. When I started visiting breweries and understood the various parts of the equipment and what they did, I slowly upgraded my equipment at home to mimic the same set-ups. Now having worked in commercial breweries I have noticed big differences between the capabilities of home brewing and commercial brewing. Usually large breweries have restrictions due to the sheer size and design of the vessels. So when I built my own brewery I tried to keep a lot of the comforts of a home brew setup but with the efficiency of a commercial brewery.

It sometimes feels that the easiest part of running a brewery is actually making the beer, and everything else just gets in the way! It’s still a business and that takes a lot of hard work, risk and determination, but it’s my initial love of craft beer and the science/art combination of the brewing process that keeps me motivated to work on everything else to make the business successful.

I really like what you said a moment ago about delegation of tasks you either couldn’t do or didn’t have time to do. What sort of tasks did you delegate? And how did you go about finding reliable people to take on the tasks for you? Was it cost effective?

I try and delegate, or at least talk to someone about, anything I’m not 100% confident with. It’s incredibly hard to accept when you can’t do something but don’t be afraid to ask for help. When we were trying to secure the premises, I really struggled with the lease negotiations and understanding all the legal jargon involved in that. I was getting snowed under with paperwork and losing the will to live before I decided to find someone who could help with that. It was very cost effective because it was free! It’s amazing how many people are willing to help when beer is involved!

I have also used a team of local designers to handle all the branding and label design etc. I tried to do this myself at first but it took me ages and still looked very home-made. Hiring artists and designers can be costly but it’s important so definitely worth the money.

What are the key skills you think someone needs to start up a brewing business? Do you think these skills can be acquired or developed if necessary?

Deep pockets will help! It’s not an easy business to run successfully because there are so many parts to it. So if you are doing it on your own with limited money, you’ll have to do everything yourself. As I mentioned earlier, being handy at DIY is pretty much essential, but most practical things can be learnt or delegated. I think a lot of breweries start as someone’s hobby that got out of hand. So even though they might make amazing beer, their focus and skill set might not be suited to the sales and business admin side of it all. I think the key thing is to acknowledge what things you’re good at and what things you’re not so good at and either develop those skills or find other people who can assist you in that department.

Summary

I think it’s extremely important to listen to what other people have to say if you are planning on following in their footsteps and doing something risky like setting up your own brewery.

David’s experience might not be exactly the same as what yours will be but there are key lessons and nuggets of advice that you should find extremely useful.

I think it is also key that you don’t just read these articles and put them aside but really think about the key points buried within them and then apply what is relevant to your own situation.

Learn from other people’s mistakes! Not your own!

How To Set Up A Brewery

Further Reads and Links and Useful Stuff

Our Nanobrewery Project runs online courses that help guide you through the process of setting up and registering your own brewing company, just like David has with Southsea Brewing Company.

Why not check out Southsea Brewing Company’s website.

You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter @southseabrewing.

You can contact David Eastwood directly at Southsea Brewing Company by email.

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David Eastwood: Founder of Southsea Brewing Company on Setting Up A Brewery, Castles and The Importance of A Defined Brand!

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