Squirrels brewery on the hunt for financial backers

PUBLISHED: 19:30 12 February 2016

Interior of a tap room at Red Squirrel brewery

Interior of a tap room at Red Squirrel brewery

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Red Squirrel needs more nuts. The award-winning brewery based on a farm at Potten End between Hemel Hempstead and Berkhamsted needs to expand and its owners have launched a “crowd funding” initiative to allow beer lovers to invest in the company.

Managing director Greg Blesson says he needs to raise half a million pounds to enable him to triple production to 10,000 barrels a year and to add seven more shops to the four currently in operation. It’s an ambitious plan but £160,000 was raised via Crowd Cube in just five days and it seems likely the target will be met.

Red Squirrel began life as a tiny, 10-barrel brewery in Hertford in 2004 but moved across the county when it was bought by Greg and his partner Jason Duncan-Anderson, the finance director. In their hands, the brewery has expanded, with a £2 million annual turnover and a reputation for quality and diversity.

Red Squirrel’s London Porter has twice won the Champion Beer of Hertfordshire award from CAMRA and its Jack Black and APA – American Pale Ale – have also won prizes from the campaign. Red Dawn Mild and Milk Stout have picked up gold awards in competitions staged by SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers.

The beers are a mix of cask, keg and bottle and the company sells to 400 pubs throughout the South-east and through its shops based at the brewery and in Amersham, Berkhamsted and Chesham.

The company doesn’t own any pubs but the shops are tap rooms, offering on-site drinking as well as the chance to buy bottled beer from a wide range of craft brewers and take-home draught beer in one or two litre containers called growlers. The Berkhamsted shop, for example, at 104 High Street at the junction with Manor Street, has draught beer on tap that can be enjoyed both on a ground floor area and in a spacious upstairs room with comfortable chairs and sofas.

And now the customer experience will be broadened through the crowd funding initiative. Michael Laws, Red Squirrel’s recruitment and training manager, says the scheme will allow people who care about beer to own part of the business. The money raised will be tied up in the business but Greg and Jason plan eventually to float the company in order that investors can get a return on their money.

Michael says crown funding gives an investment opportunity to people who have limited funds and Red Squirrel welcomes support from people with £50 to invest as well as those with several thousand pounds at their disposal.

The brewery is based at Bloxted Farm, Potten End, and comes complete with a bore hole that supplies pure, fresh water. The 20-barrel brewing kit is stainless steel, is two years old and was custom-built for Red Squirrel.

Greg Blesson’s background is wine. He worked at Oyster Bay in New Zealand and learned that cleanliness is essential to producing good wine and beer. As a result, he is a fanatic about absolute cleanliness in order to keep infection out of his beer. Beer is expensive, he says, and if drinkers get poor pints of Red Squirrel they will move on to a different brewer and won’t return.

The cramped building that houses the brewery includes a small laboratory where an expensive piece of kit checks every batch of beer for possible faults and infection.

Potten End is a remote location but Red Squirrel, with 22 full-time employees in the brewery and tap rooms, has a cosmopolitan air. Jason Duncan-Anderson comes from Zimbabwe, head brewer Max Thiry hails from Belgium and assistant brewer Andrew Fulford has made the long haul from Florida in the United States. A new addition to the brewing staff is coming from Germany.

It’s not surprising that the beer range includes an American Pale Ale, bursting with citrus hops, a Czech-style Pilsner and a German wheat beer.

The regular beers include mild, golden ale, bitter and porter. Beers aimed at the growing craft beer sector are labelled Mad Squirrel and include American Pale Ale, a milk stout made with the addition of coffee beans and a black lager. While Red Squirrel’s core business is cask ale, Greg Blesson says the “craft keg” sector – filtered and carbonated beer -- is growing fast and now accounts for 15 per cent of his production.

He plans to remain on Bloxted Farm but is keen to move into bigger buildings so he can install more equipment and keep up with the insatiable demand for his beers.

You can learn more about the brewery at www.redsquirrelbrewery.co.uk and the investment opportunities here.

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