Good Beer Hunting

London’s Camden Town Brewery Prepares for New York City Launch

London’s Camden Town Brewery will launch its flagship Hells Lager in New York City this month. Camden Town will ship its beer directly to NYC from its facility in North London. Earlier this year, Cuppaidge told GBH that U.S. exports were certainly on the horizon, but that he didn’t expect this to happen until after its new £25million ($31m) London-based facility was completed in April 2017.

AB InBev’s High End division acquired Camden Town Brewery in December 2015 for a reported £85 million ($105m). Since then, they’ve rolled out completely new branding and have established an increasingly strong presence in the UK beer market. In recent months Camden have worked closely with their partners in ABI’s High End division, which has included running events with Goose Island and brewing a collaboration beer with Elysian.

Cuppaidge was coy about his intentions when we discussed the possibility of U.S. exports earlier this year. At the time he made it clear that the company he founded in 2010 was focused on the UK market. It seems that U.S. plan has accelerated a bit.

“We’ve quickly made some incredible friends in the U.S. market,” Cuppaidge tells GBH. “The High End team said they’d like to test the market with Hells, so we’ll be looking to open up around 30-40 venues in New York City.” 

The UK has been a huge target for U.S. craft beer exports this year, making it the 4th largest export market after Canada, Sweden, and Ireland, according to the Brewers Association. Currently around 10% of all U.S. craft exports make their way to the UK, but it’s also the fastest growing market in this sector. It’s interesting, if a little curious, to see ABI looking to replicate this success in the opposite direction with its Camden Town brand.

But how successful can a British craft Lager brand be in the U.S. market? Some of the top U.S. craft players—Stone, Firestone Walker and Goose Island—are dedicating serious tank space to growing Pilsner brands. Hells Lager is undoubtedly a good product, but will its Britishness provide a big enough point of difference to make it attractive for the consumer?

“There’s plenty of space for all of these Lagers,” Cuppaidge counters. “But I don’t know if breweries like Goose or Firestone Walker are as focused on Lager as we are. They have flagships such as IPA or Easy Jack. We have Hells.”

Cuppaidge is confident that the beer he began developing almost a decade ago in the basement of a North London pub will prosper Stateside. “Hells is award-winning, it’s a killer Lager,” he says. “The reason it’s had such great success is because of that.”

Here in the UK, we’re currently seeing a similar push from Goose Island. This has included a London iteration of its 312 Block Party, and the city will also see a Bourbon County Stout launch this coming Black Friday. I ask Cuppaidge if he foresees Camden Town making a similar push with his brand on U.S. turf. 

“I’d love to think if our brand got big enough we could host a party like Goose Island, but we’re not there yet,” he says. “The UK is still our main focus. We’ve got a new brewery to open, after all. We’re just going to have some fun in New York City. Nothing huge, just some small, sustainable business.”

—Matthew Curtis