Establishing, operating and – with time – growing a brewery is a tough task, with unforeseen problems rearing their head at will. Irrespective of whether the recent boom in craft beer is sustainable or not, the everyday pressures of running a small business can leave some producers skating on thin ice through no fault of their own. As us consumers get caught up in the excitement of new sours and barrel-aged releases, the men and women who work all hours to create these beers sometimes have the rug pulled from under them. And that is exactly what could be about to happen to one producer in the south-east.
Lovibonds – a brewery with a hundred-year association with Henley on Thames – is set to close through one of the more unexpected threats to breweries – conversion into flats. Yes, the problem that has taken account of hundreds of pubs the length and breadth of the country isn’t often one faced by the people who supply those pubs with beer, but Jeff Rosenmeier and his team are facing the prospect of being evicted by their landlord, who has lodged a planning application to turn the Lovibonds tasting room and barrel cellar into seven luxury flats.
So rather than the shakeout of the modern craft brewing industry, or some lawyered-up trademark dispute crunching through the funds, all of a sudden one of the best small craft breweries in the UK looks set to be punted out of their buildings for the benefit of a landlord and just over half a dozen people. Even though it’s a long way from Scotland, I unashamedly love what Jeff and the guys do (I visited him in March 2015 for a piece I put together for BrewDog), and it would be a crying shame for the brewery to be kicked to the curb in this way.
Timing is never good for a notification such as this to appear on your doormat, but Lovibonds for years brewed at Luxters five miles from their taproom, transporting everything between the two sites. Now with a set up closer to home and the recent milestone of their 600th brew (the same as their 1st; Henley Gold) it’s a massive kick in the balls for Jeff to have to overcome. Urban renewal – appearing exactly when and where you don’t want it. But, do Lovibonds have a way out of this?
That parallel to pub conversions is more than an easy analogy as, like many of them, Lovibonds is the centre of the community in Henley. A town best known for its Regatta has much more going for it and many of that emanates (or is focused around) the brewery taproom. With talks, tastings, live music, charity events and even the recent fresh hop brewday, Lovibonds deserves better than being pushed aside for a few flats. It’s a sorry state of affairs, but let’s hop Lovibonds can hold on to the community hub aspect that sometimes stays the hands of developers looking at old pubs.
If you’d like to oppose the planning application, it can be done so by visiting this page and leaving a comment. Local fans of the brewery have set up a Save Lovibonds FaceBook group, too. Let’s hope the needs of the many in the town are recognised and Lovibonds can stay in existence, keeping the developers at bay.