Good Beer Hunting

Tuning In, Branching Out — BrewDog Invests in London Cider Maker Hawkes

Olivers Cider 11.jpg

At its annual AGM which took place in Aberdeen, Scotland, this past weekend, multinational brewing conglomerate BrewDog revealed that it has invested in London-based cider maker Hawkes. Neither party has disclosed the size of the investment, although BrewDog announced via its blog that Hawkes’ Director Simon Wright will now be supported by the brewery’s senior team. In the same announcement, BrewDog also described the cider producer—founded in London in 2015—as a “kindred spirit,” indicating a similar ethos in its desire to shake up the British cider industry much like BrewDog did with beer when it launched in 2007.

The investment in Hawkes is the latest in a recent round of purchases by the Scotland and Ohio-based BrewDog. The brewer announced the acquisition of UK pub-chain Draft House for a reported £15 million ($21.2M) in late March. This new investment brings one of the rising—and most vocal—stars of British cider into a portfolio that already includes the brewery itself as well as its Lone Wolf spirits division. All of which is to say: this move ensures that BrewDog has an increasingly multifaceted stake within the drinks industry.

These recent investments may come as a surprise to some, given previous comments from BrewDog co-founder James Watt. In April 2014, Brew by Numbers was the beneficiary of a £50,000 ($70,000) BrewDog investment and inherited some of BrewDog’s old equipment, which the London-based brewery still uses to this day. But by February 2016, BrewDog decided to sell its stake in the brewery back to Brew by Numbers, maintaining that by doing so the brewery could preserve its own independence.

“We loved the guys, loved the beers, and wanted to support them as best we could,” Watt told GBH in August 2016. “With recent developments in the craft beer industry, we felt it was no longer right for us to hold equity, even a small and non-controlling stake, in another craft brewery. So we sold our stake back to Tom [Hutchings] and Dave [Seymour], at cost, giving them a great deal and ensuring both they, and us, were 100% independent.”

In his statement, Watt was referring to the numerous acquisitions such as those by major breweries like Anheuser Busch InBev that have occurred in the craft beer industry. With its self-styled “punk” ethos, BrewDog has long held itself up as an antidote to traditional corporate behaviors. But with its recent investments, it would appear that the brewery’s stance on those behaviors is evolving somewhat.

Acquisition strategies aside, this investment in Hawkes could well be evidence of growing consumer interest in smaller cider producers—especially in the craft beer sector. London’s Beavertown Brewery echoed this, when at its Extravaganza festival in September 2017 it featured Oliver’s Cider & Perry, which was pouring right alongside Brooklyn’s Other Half at the event. BrewDog’s investment into Hawkes will not merely give the brewery an inroad into this growing interest in cider, it will also be able to utilize its network of BrewDog and Draft House branded bars to potentially further boost consumer interest in the sector.

In a blog post about the investment, Hawkes’ Simon Wright writes that he believes that artisanal cider producers in the UK could see the same boom as their peers within the beer industry, which in 2018 features more than 2,000 breweries.

“Not only has BrewDog flourished, but hundreds of brilliant breweries have followed their lead. This needs to happen in cider too,” Wright wrote. “The democratisation of cider in the UK, and the world, is our key priority, but we can’t do it alone.”

—Matthew Curtis