Good Beer Hunting

Keeping it in the Family — Marble Brewery Reshuffles Staff as it Eyes Expansion and Sells a Pub

James Kemp Marble.jpg

Manchester’s Marble Brewery has announced that Head Brewer James “JK” Kemp will leave the company after accepting a new, UK-based role with Yeastie Boys. Kemp, who has been with the Manchester brewery since January 2016, will assume the curiously titled role of “Brewzerker” at the New Zealand- and UK-based brand this spring. Marble’s Joseph Ince, who has previous experience at Magic Rock Brewing Company and is the son of Marble Director Jan Rogers, will assume the role of Head Brewer.

Marble capped a triumphant year when it celebrated its 20th anniversary at its original home, The Marble Arch Pub, in December 2017. Kemp was instrumental in orchestrating the party, by brewing a collaboration for each of the 20 years the brewery had been in business. These included brews with Wayne Wambles of Florida’s Cigar City and none other than Yeastie Boys’ Stu McKinlay himself, who created a NZ-hopped Maibock with Kemp.

“Whilst it’s obviously sad to lose JK, we are incredibly happy for him and our friends at Yeastie Boys,” Marble’s managing director Jan Rogers tells GBH. “We will continue with the exciting changes at Marble already planned for 2018. We're very happy to continue to consolidate the friendships we made during our 20th year. For example, visiting Cigar City's Hunahpu's Day in March."

Under Kemp’s supervision, public interest in the 20-year-old Marble has been reignited, thanks to his ability to balance limited-edition specials with an ever-tighter core range of beers. Ince will have big boots to fill, especially considering Marble’s plans for the new year. The brewery is currently hunting for new sites while also shopping for a new brewhouse as it looks to expand. Part of those plans includes offloading its Chorlton, Greater Manchester location, The Marble Beerhouse, which is currently up for sale.

“I'm pretty excited and sad at the same time to be moving on to Yeastie Boys. Stu and I have been friends for a long time, and I've been a Yeastie Boys fanboy for over 10 years,” Kemp tells GBH. “I'm obviously excited about new challenges and exciting projects that are coming up, but I'm also sad about leaving Marble, the people and the projects that are underway here.”

Kemp—who, like his new employer, also originally hails from New Zealand—will join Yeastie Boys after what was a relatively tumultuous 12 months for the brand. In March, it was revealed that BrewDog was canceling its contract to brew Yeastie Boys beer under licence. This left the future of the brand within the UK somewhat in doubt, until a similar relationship was announced with the recently expanding West Berkshire Brewery in December.

“Bringing James into the team is an investment in our brand as well as the product,” McKinlay writes in a press release. “As our reach expands nationally and into Europe, and often outside the traditional ‘craft beer’ venues, it’s important to us that we continue to excite and delight the independent trade, and that needs to happen from here in the UK rather than back in New Zealand. I can’t think of anyone better to do that than James Kemp.”

McKinlay also says that his desire is for the UK to become his brand’s most important market, with UK sales reportedly tripling in 2017, despite its relationship with BrewDog coming to an abrupt end. McKinlay no doubt hopes to benefit from a similar impact that Kemp brought to the Marble brand after he joined in 2016. For Marble, its challenge is to now maintain the momentum it has built up over the past couple years, as it seeks to expand and modernize in an increasingly competitive UK market.

—Matthew Curtis