The Distance: Raising Hell

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The modern beer drinker has untold power at their fingertips. They can, at the push of a few buttons, summon up tap lists of their local pubs and pick their beers for the night before they have even left work. They can interact with the brewer of a beer directly, and find out what time they had to get out of bed to start mashing in that Imperial Red Rye IPA. They can, if they so wish, effect instant action about something they don’t like, or something that they do like. The ‘latest Twitter outrage’ is actually the ‘latest example of achieving near instant results’. It’s an amazing time.

In a matter of seconds, the modern beer drinker can even invest in the growth of their favourite brewery. The ground broken by BrewDog’s Equity for Punks has helped open up the idea of public investment in craft beer, but it’s only in the last year or so that we have seen that crowdfunding angle really diversify, to now include magazines, books and the brewing of beers themselves.

Yeastie Boys and Signature Brew have recently launched crowdfunding schemes as well, but Camden Town Brewery’s has the potential to make the biggest waves, given its higher target and giant-sized plans. At the time of writing, Camden has already almost hit a third of its target amount – all since its launch on Monday this week.

Along with over 400 people so far, my partner and I intend to invest too. In the coldest, most calculating terms, it is a sound investment. But beyond that, there is an irresistible opportunity to invest in something that people love, something that shines a little more light into people’s day-to-day lives, and the way that people can now so easily do that in the internet age is, I think, incredible.

If you want to see more breweries enjoy similar success, you should invest in breweries like Camden. Help to grow and sustain this incredible renaissance of beer appreciation. Remember: we all win together. An investment in Camden, or Signature, or Yeastie Boys, or whoever offers a viable concrete plan to grow and expand and improve, is worthy of your money. The power is in your hands to make a difference, and you must be certain that that difference is good. Reward hard work, ambition and courage. Invest in good people doing the right thing, fighting the good fight. Invest in the people making a difference.

Maybe you’re not a huge fan of Camden Town Brewery. Perhaps the phrase ‘crowdfunding’ just sounds like ‘pulled pork’ or ‘pop-up’ to you and it’s all just part of the noise of the beer scene. This is a financial investment after all, and it should be taken seriously, you think. Good, take it seriously. Take beer seriously. Take the idea of what beer is in this country right now, and be serious. If you like it, and you want it to still be this good or better in a few years’ time, you’re going to have to do something about it. Yes, you. Take some responsibility for what you care about. Consider the precedent you can help set by directly funding the growth of London’s first brewery to climb from a pub basement to international, self-dependent success.

Of course it’s easy to be cynical – that’s why so many people are, after all – but while it’s difficult to put your money where your mouth is, it’s easy to see what’s right. If you really care about what is happening to beer in this country, and you want breweries to live and grow and not shrink and die, it is now within your power to help make it happen. It doesn’t have to be a fortune, it just has to be what you think is fair and can afford. Just like buying a beer.

‘Crowdfunding’ is a clumsy term and doesn’t really do justice to how important it can be. The reason that people and companies in the beer industry are able to command this level of investment and devotion from their fans is because these breweries are people – not the numbers on a screen but the hearts and minds that toil to make something good and be proud of what they’ve made.

I believe in good beer and I want it to go the distance. I’m going to invest in Camden Town Brewery.

 

EDIT: 16/02/15 – As it has caused concern to commenters, I would like to make absolutely clear that my opinion on Camden’s offer in the post above is just that, my opinion, and it does not constitute financial advice, which should be sought from a professional. Thank you.

Author: Chris Hall

London-based freelance beer writer and blogger. Member of the British Guild of Beer Writers. Co-author of 'Craft Beer: 100 Best Breweries in The World' On Twitter @ChrisHallBeer.

34 thoughts on “The Distance: Raising Hell”

  1. “Perhaps the phrase ‘crowdfunding’ just sounds like ‘pulled pork’ or ‘pop-up’ to you and it’s all just part of the noise of the beer scene.”

    Yes, I have to say that the content-free, pure-snark cynicism along those lines does get pretty wearing.

    I won’t be investing because (a) I don’t know that I would hold Camden up as an example of the type of brewery we want more of — brewing in Germany/Belgium with minimal disclosure really bugged me; and (b) as I’ve somehow ended up as a commentator/critic, it would feel weird to have a stake in a brewery. I guess what I’m saying is, I’d like to keep the distance, thanks very much, at least while I’m still writing about beer in some capacity. (NB. we’ve considered ditching our membership of CAMRA for the same reason — might still happen yet.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “brewing in Germany/Belgium with minimal disclosure really bugged me”

      Minimal disclosure? Where do you get that idea from. It’s been on their website since they started doing it, and brewers go over on a regular basis to ensure quality is still there.

      http://www.camdentownbrewery.com/faq/

      IS ALL YOUR BEER MADE AT THE BREWERY IN CAMDEN?
      All of our small pack (cans and bottled beer) is made in Camden as well as some of our kegged beer. We brew the rest of our kegged beer at a family owned brewery in Belgium. We work closely with them to do this and regularly have our brewers in Belgium to ensure the quality of our beers. Once we build our new brewery (target 2016) all our production will move back in house.

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      1. It only appeared on the FAQ last year; before that, disclosure amounted to an admission in an FT article behind a paywall. Even now, we’d be surprised if many people realise — mention in an online FAQ, as opposed to on product packaging, is minimal in my book.

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      2. Their FD said in a comment on the crowdcube forum that contract brewed beer represents 65% of sales – bringing that back in house is part of the plan for increasing margin and revenue, which makes absolute sense financially.

        I suppose there’s an argument that the above wording plays this down a bit (which I can understand) but at least it’s there in black and white. As it’s all keg beer the issue around labelling on consumer packaging is perhaps moot. I doubt country of origin is mentioned on any keg clips not least Camden’s.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. To be fair here, the untangling of that disclosure was a low point for them, but I think it also gave them the focus to bring things in-house. It’s a common theme in stories about newer brewers – reach exceeding their grasp. But what makes Camden such a worthwhile investment on this score is that existing growth and speed. This is how successful they are *without* everything they think they need.

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    2. As stated in my last post (which was on this same topic), I’m supportive of people who want to invest in their passion for beer, and indeed a brewery, but with an important caveat that objectivity must be strived for. You could argue that there is a conflict of interests when it comes to writers etc. investing in a brewery and writing about it, but while there’s still a need for caution, it’s not like we’re talking about board members here.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Put yourself in Chris’ and my own shoes though Ray – Camden erupted into existence about the same time our own passion for beer began to reach its boiling point. We both live less than 5 miles from the brewery and over the last 5 years have watched it grow and become an integral part of London’s drinking culture. We drink at the brewery bar on Friday nights and we keep their beers in our fridges at home – For this reason we invest with our hearts.

      What if say, Harbour brewing or even St. Austell went down this route to spur growth and their pitch was more or less the same. Would you invest then? I can understand wanting to remain impartial as a writer but sometimes you just have to go with your gut, right?

      As for the beer – I can’t get enough of it and want more people to drink and enjoy it – My own lager renaissance probably happened last year – I fell head over heels in love with the style all over again. Since Alex Troncoso joined in 2013 the beers have just gone from strength to strength – Hells itself is better than it’s ever tasted, it is a superb lager and the Pils is majestic and moreish. I want to see Camden build a Meantime sized facility that can provide the capacity to not only to bring all their production back home but to boost growth and expand into new markets. It will raise the standard of readily available lager beer in the UK.

      As for the contract brewing at Da Brabandere, peoples problem with this to me amounts to nothing more than tall poppy syndrome. They can’t brew enough beer to satisfy demand and have found a sustainable solution which amounts to the beer still tasting excellent. Some people apparently don’t like what amounts to a success story, so it seems.

      What about when Brewdog were brewing 77 Lager at Meantime? What about Devils Backbone being brewed at Banks’ that – to the average consumer would appear to have been brewed in America? In New Zealand, 8 wired, who are one of the worlds most highly regarded brewers in beer geek circles, contract brew all their beer. I only know this because I researched the brewery in depth for 100 best breweries but its not information that’s in plain sight. Contract brewing is part of the industry and if the end user doesn’t know where the beer is brewed but still really, really likes it, does it matter in the end?

      I not only think that the investment is sound, but that Camden will surpass their own aims so for this reason, I’m investing with my head. Looking at the success of the campaign so far, lots of other people are too!

      Then again, as I’m emotionally and now, monetarily invested in this brewery, you could take all this with a pinch of salt.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I can definitely say that we wouldn’t invest in Harbour or St Austell under similar circumstances because it would make it hard to be objective about them, or at least give people reason to doubt us. (He continued, even more pompously.)

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      2. But you could argue that you are emotionally invested in someone such as St. Austell – As I am with Camden which has been reflected in the pieces I’ve written about them.

        I love writing about what I’m passionate about – I like to think that I’ve been as transparent as possible when covering subjects I’m emotionally invested in. If money becomes involved and you are totally honest about your connection then personally, I don’t see it as being a problem.

        Some people always will, though, it’s one of the joys of being a writer!

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    4. I totally understand that point of view, but I personally don’t equate impartiality with integrity. What I am a big advocate of is disclosures, which, essentially, is what this blog post is for me. I realised that people would probably think I was investing in Camden anyway, and when my partner and I decided it would be a good idea, I wanted to say why.

      Camden made a mess the first time around with its transparency about contract brewing, but this is them committing to fix it, and be the brewery they want to be. I can’t help but get excited when dreams this big can become real, and when it’s highly likely we will see return in five years, even better.

      And for what it’s worth I don’t think anyone would see a CAMRA membership as a potential conflict of interest. In its early days, maybe, but not now. Would you be worried about writing about modern motor industry if you were a member of an MG enthusiast club? I’m not saying MGs are the car equivalent of real ale (maybe they are), but I think being members of clubs etc is part of the fabric of a subculture.

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  2. Interesting to me that you think it’s a “sound investment” in the coldest terms. I thought quite the opposite, and wrote my thoughts here: http://themissingdrink.com/camden-town-crowdfunding/

    As for the argument that this will help craft beer – surely giving Camden, an established brand with a loyal fanbase, an enormous sum of money is only backing someone who has already won? Why not split it three ways and give three breweries in different areas of the country the chance to get off the ground? Splitting it fifteen ways would change the lives of many, and really change the face of UK brewing.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Jimmy. I know it’s a bit simplistic, but it’s what first sprang to mind when I saw the investment figures. I really do feel that in terms of investment for business reasons (rather than emotional or supportive) this offer is staggeringly unfair. I have no emotional connection to the brewery, so the only other reason for me to invest is out the window for me too.

        That’s different for others though, which I understand and can respect – something I hope comes across with the bit about Manchester United. If it was a company I had a close relationship with and respect for, they’d get my cash.

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    1. Thanks Niall. I don’t think I’ve seen a business like Camden’s (in terms of size or type) go onto Dragon’s Den so I’ not sure it works as device to examine their offer, but I appreciate it’s the most accessible way of explaining things like this nowadays.

      We’ve drawn very different conclusions, and I’m not going to dick you around and say ‘I don’t agree’ with your analysis. You make a good case. I just see the entire thing completely differently from concept to execution, so we’re unlikely to agree after any length of debate.

      Still, you make interesting points about Boulevard and BrewDog and I’m going to look into the figures behind that. Also, f you haven’t returned to forum page of Camden’s offer on crowdcube recently, there has been a lot of detailed, open responses from their FD in the past few days that you might want to check out, if only to see what they have to say.

      As for your point about splitting the money to support more breweries – I don’t see Camden as a brewery that has already won. After all, 65% of their sales are from a contract brewed product, which isn’t ideal, and is why this is happening in the first place. It’s interesting you suggest a kind of pot of money to go around the whole industry to improve growth. It’s similar to a point I made about There’s a Beer for That, which is an actual industry body with the scope and ability to do something like that, and has £10million to do it. But it isn’t. I don’t think Camden are the people to do something like that, but I do think they can lead the way for more breweries to open themselves up to public investment as a way to grow.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand the reasoning behind buying shares in a brewery, or any company for that matter, that you feel some sort of grounding with. Camden obviously means a lot to you, and as Matt Curtis pointed out in a comment earlier, it is a brewery that you have a connection with. Don’t get me wrong, if Dogfish Head released shares, I’d be first in line, even if my cash only bought a millionth of a percent. That brewery is part of my beer history lets say, as Camden is part of yours.

        Therefore, it seems odd to me that this offer is on a crowdfunding website and with such a huge promotional campaign behind it. To get customers with a strong affinity to the brand to invest, you need only put a poster up at the bar. This is designed to appear to be an investment opportunity, which – lets face it – it isn’t.

        This deal will benefit only Camden. Shareholders will get nothing but the feeling that they’ve contributed. Unless you’ve given them £750,000, your contribution is essentially negligible.

        The whole thing raises the question of “worth”. It’s worth it for you but it isn’t for me. And that’s all right. But it also raises the issue of what you want your investors to be. Do you want them to be involved in the company, offering valuable help, advice, connections etc., or do you want them to be nothing more than a piggy bank to be raided.

        With such a small equity offering (meaning the investors’ collective voice can be ignored without much problem) and with so many investors bringing nothing to the table in terms of business sense, this deal has the smack of “piggy bank” about it.

        As I said, I’d happily belong to the piggy banks of some companies. You are obviously happy to offer your help to this particular company. I’m not, and I’m slightly wary that there is a campaign trying to lure people into it.

        This isn’t an “investment”. This is a donation.

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  3. Hells, Maybe?

    I like crowd funding. It’s a democratizing force bringing the wisdom of crowds, and their capital, to an idea that might not have such an easy path to capital in the past.

    I’ve backed a photographic device, a t-shirt with a squirrel drinking a martini and a documentary about craft beer. In each case I knew what I was getting into. I pledge X and if they are successful, their product or project comes to life and I get Y in return.

    I’ve also benefited from others having crowd funded projects, which then became companies offering products I wanted.

    I have not, to date, backed an existing company using crowd funding to raise funds. Companies traditionally have better access to capital that a few people with an idea, but I can see why they would want to get in the game.

    The first thing that jumped out at me with this scheme was that £1,500,000 would be raised in exchange for 2% of equity. So the company gets a large amount of capital in exchange for a small amount of its ownership.

    I have no doubt that Camden Town Brewery will continue to be a successful brewery and I think it’s great that their supporters can step up and share in that.

    But is it a financial investment? Or is it just an investment in a company one likes? The difference comes down to a question of price and liquidity. (I’m highly unlikely to make my money back through discounts alone…)

    I haven’t as yet had a time to look at the offering in full detail to understand if Camden is worth £75,000,000, which the offering implies. I wouldn’t invest for financial reasons unless I thought it was priced right and had a sense of how my £100 or £1000 could grow over coming years and how I would be able to realize the return on my investment.

    However, I might invest for emotional reasons.
    I might invest to support a local business doing something I admire and respect.
    I might invest to see more from Camden Town Brewery in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment Jimmy. A lot of stuff about returns on investment and valuation has been answered by Camden’s FD in the crowdcube forum section, definitely worth a look (if you haven’t already) and explained there far better than I can.

      Your final thoughts are bang on. For a lot of people the idea of buying into a dream and a plan and hope etc is wishy-washy claptrap. I personally think it’s great. A lot of it comes down to trust, (which is why the stuff about transparency and contract brewing will always come up time and time again) and knowing the people at Camden and how much they care about what they do assures me my trust is well placed.

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      1. After posting, I logged back into the Crowdcube site and did spend some time looking at the financials as well as the valuation discussion in the forum.

        I still think this is a better deal for Camden than it is for the Hells Raisers–from a financial standpoint. So I can commend Camden on getting capital from the market in an efficient manner.

        That said, a number of £100 investors will make back their money with the discount. This does imply buying £2000 of beer, but hey, spread that over the next five years and that means you only need to buy £7.70 in beer a week to get there. 🙂

        So if you’re joining at £10 or £100, I can easily see it and might do £100 myself if I thought I’d be in London long term.
        Beyond £100, I’d probably invest in something else, like VTSMX.

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  4. I don’t mind Camden Town really. But things like this really do turn me off them. It’s taking the piss even more than the BD offering (which certainly was far more of a ‘join the club’ offer).

    Whilst it would certainly be right to say “Well if you don’t like it you don’t have to invest”, it’s not just that I wouldn’t want to invest, it’s that I now view them differently. So I am less likely to want to drink their beer now. You may know, like and trust the people at the brewery, but all I see is that the owners are ripping people off.

    The answers in the forum really are laughable too. “We made £1.6m but if we didn’t have to contract brew it would be £3m so that’s what we are going to base our valuation on. And then we are going to assume 40% increase in sales year on year etc etc”

    If they grow as they are predicting and hit all their profit targets then some people will make a lot of money. It won’t be the crowdcube investors though. No, their money will have helped fuel the expansion to give the current owners the return.

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    1. Actually, it’s we made £362K last year, and hope to make £1,438K this year (4x larger), but if we didn’t have to contact, it would be £3m.

      The plan does expect that EBITDA will grow to be 35.4x the 2014 amount by 2020.

      That said, crowdsourcing doesn’t sour me to them. I mean they don’t even make a Gose.

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      1. True, I read his reply thinking he was talking about what they had made last year. So they’ve used a projected EBITDA for 2015 (are they really going to double sales in a year?), upped it because they are paying for contract brewing, then slapped an annualised growth rate on. Hmmm.

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  5. You guys should be being paid by Camden rather than the other way around! It is clear to many people who take interest in such things, that Camden took the decision to court bloggers and commentators months ago, no doubt as part of a long term plan to increase the publicity around the Hells Raiser campaign. Remember all the free beer at the launch events? The invitation to come and brew a beer with them? This was a calculation and you, by writing this advert for them are giving them the pay back they have sought. You’ve been played. I like your writing and I hope you can retain the indepedence and integrity your readers deserve.

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    1. Gosh, you’re right ‘Muglewump’- I’m just a witless young beer blogger with more money than sense and I’ve been played for a complete fool! All those years making great beer down the road from me, earning those awards, opening a brewery bar, hiring amazing staff, spending time and money honing and dialling in their recipes until they became consistently world-beating beers, it was all just a ruse to get me to write this blog post. Amazing.

      When I wrote that blog post, it was the final piece in an elaborate conspiracy built by the myriad Illuminati forces controlling Camden Town Brewery. When they were making amazing beer, it wasn’t to build a successful brewery, it was to trick me into helping them build an even bigger brewery. Incredible. When IHL took a gold medal in the International Brewing Awards yesterday, that was probably the end result of yet another attempt to twist my simple mind from already thinking they were a great brewery, to their dark purpose of making me think they were, erm, a great brewery.

      When they won my respect years ago, they assumedly must have decided I needed a series of extra pushes years down the line anyway, and wasted resources allowing me and others to brew a beer there, trick Crowdcube into setting up this investment offer, and by being one of the best breweries in the country, cunningly manipulated someone who already liked and respected them into, erm, liking and respecting them.

      Not sure which I find more insulting – the slight on my character or the assumption that any of this hadn’t occurred to me before. Just because I am young does not mean I am stupid, and just because I, like many, attend press launches and events with free beer does not mean that I am a spineless corporate shill. Before you accuse me of taking your comment too personally or too seriously, consider that you questioned my integrity as a writer, which I value above my talent as one. I’ll leave your comment on this post as a testament to your mistake in underestimating me, but do not expect future comments of yours to be treated any differently than spam.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Lol, yeah, you’re right, at 1am last night when we were dancing to Lionel Richie with the guys from Camden they were all rubbing their hands together and cackling with glee about all the mileage they’d gotten out of us. We’ve been totally duped – but hey, if you’re launching a brewery and or beer product drop me a line, I’m sure we can come to some sort of agreement if you’ve got the cash to back your pitch up. Because that’s why we do this, yeah. x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. With respect Matt, that just shows precisely why Chris writing this was a bad idea. He is too close. Nothing wrong with that in general of course. But once it turns to offering advice on investments, then I really think you need to be a little more self aware.

        I don’t particularly object to a lot of what Chris has said apart from: “In the coldest, most calculating terms, it is a sound investment.” On what basis can he say that? On any level I can see it is a really bad investment.

        Which is fine if you want to support a brewery you like anyway. If you don’t expect to see a meaningful return, but want to help them out then great. But don’t expect other people to do the same.

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      2. Rob, as I take these concerns seriously, I have now added a statement at the foot of the post stating my opinion on Camden’s offer is just that, my opinion, and is not professional financial advice.

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      3. Rob, Chris and I write our beer blogs for fun, in our spare time and we don’t get paid for doing so. It gives us a platform to enthuse about what we are truly passionate about and cast opinion on things that we do not necessarily agree with. Not writing about what you’re close to because some people might see it as being biased is against the very nature of blogging itself.

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  6. Most of these crowd funded projects look like poor investments. 2% of Camden worth £1.5 Million?

    This is gonna sound patronizing, I really don’t mean it to be, but anyone thinking of investing money needs to read their Ben Graham. The books are on Amazon.

    Like

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