Just over a year ago, I wrote about a brand new brewery, proposed for the North Queensferry area, overlooking the Forth Estuary. Dave Robertson was planning to establish the Forth Bridge Brewery in Inverkeithing, with crowd-funding being used to get him the necessary capital to get the venture underway. Using the carrot of ‘beer for life’, Dave told me he hoped “to raise more than £200,000 in less than a month”, and embrace the ecological sustainability provided by biomass to make FBB one of the greenest, and most profitable, new modern breweries in the country.
Fast forward a year, and things have changed. Not only has the site of the proposed brewery moved across the Forth to the other Queensferry, but Dave’s plans have mushroomed in scale. The biomass project is still very much the backbone of the operation, but what has changed drastically is the scale. Dave is now seeking £1.25m in equity, to construct a brewery that will – if all goes to plan – output 10m litres of beer annually. That’s not a typo. Ten million litres. To do this, his kit will run multiple tablet-controlled brews per day, every weekday. Batch-brewing on a colossal scale.
As it turned out, Dave’s self-hosted crowd funding didn’t raise anything near the £200k in a month – the figure currently stands at £14k, from 103 backers; as with the Arran Brewery (whose equity offering closed last week, short of the target), it seems crowd-sourcing isn’t necessarily an instant financial flashmob. The original £200k target has been pushed back to £50k; the amount required to get the brewery operational until the bulk of the £1.2m in funding can be secured from private investors.
With that in mind, Dave has secured a place at EIE14 in May, Scotland’s largest investor event (the sixty-second pitch he produced for this can be seen on the FBB website); pushing the sustainability aspect and energy potential of the Forth Bridge Brewery business. A site for the brewery has also now been earmarked, close to the iconic bridges, just west of South Queensferry. Trial batches of beer are being finalised as we speak, to be taken to the EIE14 event.
This huge, everything-on-the-table approach has to be admired. It’s how you gain investment, after all; you aim big. If you lack the genuine crowd-appeal that BrewDog have, multiple small investors just aren’t going to appear and support you. So, use what you do have to land a few high-profile backers instead. In this case, FBB have the sustainability provided by biomass, and are leading with the technical expertise required to adopt it. This would not only make FBB energy neutral, but also potentially be used to supply others, when fully operational.
However, there are several things about the Forth Bridge Brewery plans that, to me, just don’t add up. Principal among them is that I simply can’t see the beer world being ready for 352,000 pints of FBB beer a week. Where’s it all going to go? According to what I have been told, a substantial amount of it will be shipped to China. Whilst scope certainly exists to develop that market, and the nod to history of transporting IPA holds up, it took another brewer to point out to me the counter-intuitive nature of a company priding itself on ecological credentials moving vast quantities of what is essentially water to the other side of the world.
As Dave explores his options, and works to gain funding, the scale of the operation has changed hugely. Following input from a potential investor, plans ramped up from 10bbl to the 30bbl-mark (although they have since been scaled back a little to 25bbl). If, like me, you’re wondering how a 30bbl kit can result in 40,000 litres of beer produced per working day, the answer is in the duplication. Multiple-brewdays aren’t new in the brewing world, but EIGHT brews per day? Even with the time-saving facility of biomass to heat the HLT/kettle?
With a mix of 100/200bbl fermenter’s, this kind of output is probably theoretically possible, but to me it just sounds totally implausible. I’ve yet to meet Dave, and admire his attitude, but a website developer launching an Ellon-sized brewery? Even if Forth Bridge manage to incorporate fifty staff (rising to over 200 by the end of year two), surely the only reason for these kinds of numbers is to attract attention, and therefore, investment. It’s the equivalent of a Herald-article on the latest grand brewery renovation from Arran. Style over substance. Bluster over logistics.
Time, of course, will tell if this manages to happen. Who knows? Maybe the Chinese will turn their backs on lager and embrace bottled session beer from Scotland. Maybe the fruit hybrid IPA will wow an investor at EIE14, and Forth Bridge will get the investment they seek, and the brewery will take off. After all, money-toting Dragons don’t see the small picture. But are they seeing a viable picture?
It was pointed out to me today that a year has passed since I wrote this post (thanks Niall) – so maybe time for a quick update. The other week, this tweet appeared on the official Forth Bridge Brewery twitter feed, following a period of quiet. Signs that they have reverted to the original 10BBL plan from the 30? Again, only – and yet more – time will tell.
Looking to purchase a brew system up to 10bbl for our new brewery. Anyone selling? DM us details. Cheers.
— Forth Bridge Brewery (@ForthBridgeBrew) March 28, 2015
A post on FBB’s Facebook page in January suggested that next year’s New Year’s Day Loony Dook in South Queensferry could be supported by Forth Bridge’s beers. That’s as maybe – but if you’d pledged money to the brewery, wouldn’t you be wanting at least something back before then?