The immediate ambitions of the new co-owners of a South Wales brewery are not exactly grand.
They just want a pint together. A pint of their own beer. In a pub garden.
Craig Edmunds and Barnaby ‘Barney’ Hibbert took over the running of the Well Drawn Brewing Company at the end of last year, and while the pandemic has stymied their plans the pair have they have forged ahead, adapted, and already cemented themselves on the local food and drink scene in Caerphilly.
The Well Drawn Brewing Company was founded a little more than three years ago by friends Andy Millar and Matt Shannon, but as time went on the hobby was growing beyond their work and life commitments would allow, so in stepped Craig and Barney.
Craig and Barney have come to the business with very different life and work experiences but it is immediately clear how they will complement each other to ensure the business grows.
Craig’s father was in the RAF, so his family travelled a lot when he was young, with stints in Cornwall, Surrey, and Holland, before settling in Bridgend in his early teens, going to Brynteg and Llandovery College.
“From a young age, inspired by Top Gun I’d always wanted to be a fighter pilot,” Craig said.
“I went to Queen Mary & Westfield, London to study avionics on this path, and applied for a scholarship with the RAF, attending selection at Cranfield which I did well at, but failed the medical on account of being colour blind, which was news to me. It sort of turned my world on its head and I dropped out of uni to take up my first software development role.”
Over the next decade, he progressed in the software industry, until the CEO of the company he was working at told him that he would have a much better chance of achieving financial independence by creating his own company.
“The following years consisted of consulting in the software industry, and investing the proceeds of that in a small property portfolio and several other businesses,” he said.
In 2011, while he was on an extended honeymoon – a whistle-stop around the world trip, including New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup – Craig had a call from a business partner in one of his businesses.
This was Nick Holzherr and he had just come third on the BBC show The Apprentice. Nick had pitched the business Whisk to Sir Alan Sugar.
“We realised the exposure provided by the apprentice could be a game-changer for the business, so set about scaling up the business, raising angel and VC funds, and hiring a team,” said Craig.
“We had an amazing, tumultuous time before Samsung acquired it in 2018 as part of their connected kitchen initiatives.”
While Barney’s journey to Well Drawn is different it is just as engaging.
Barney grew up on a smallholding in North Wales where he would experiment with making sweet wines out of elderflower, dandelions, and blackberries, damsons from the orchard – “all were turned into over-sweet wines that were politely declined at family gatherings,” he laughs.
He studied interior architecture as an undergraduate and completed an environmental design within buildings MSc at Cardiff University, however the lure of the hospitality sector proved too strong, and he subsequently spent 20 years in catering management both at front of house and in kitchens.
Barney also designed and completely rebuilt an old bed and breakfast with tea rooms in Barry into The Gallery restaurant.
“During my ownership, it won multiple awards and national acclaim including ‘sustainable restaurant of the year for Wales’ three years in a row which I was most proud of, Barney said.
Craig says it was a moment of serendipity that meant that a couple of days after a property project he was involved in fell through, Barney sent over details that a brewery in Caerphilly was for sale.
“I think this was Thursday or Friday,” Craig said.
“We arranged to go and see it on Monday, and it blew us both away. Andy and Matt had created Well Drawn as a bit of a hobby that had got out of hand. They had done such a good job that we could see a clear path that with investment, over a couple of years we could scale it into a profitable business.
“Within a week we had agreed terms, and then a few weeks later we had acquired the business and set about growing it. Barney, myself, and my future brother-in-law Rhys then worked with Andy and Matt to hand over the reins.”
Barney added: “Good food and good beer have been ever-present during mine and Craig’s friendship many hours have been spent chewing the fat over beer.
“A craft pint was on the table when we both told each other of our wives pregnancies. Charlotte’s first-ever date with Elliot (our children) was a Sunday lunch in a food pub and again beer was present!”
The pair have invested £200,000 into buying and upgrading the brewery and they see a huge opportunity to add a sense of place into Well Drawn’s beer range using foraged ingredients alongside traditional techniques.
“This will also give seasonality to our range with the addition of the pilot kit in the brewery we can also be spontaneous and reactive to hedgerow finds and brew on a much smaller scale for special one-offs that will only be available through our Bedwas bottle shop,” said Barney.
The plan was to trade through to early December 2020, getting a feel for things, meeting customers, and then spend what’s usually a quieter month working on upgrades to the unit, before going full tilt come late January.
“It didn’t quite work out this way, after two good months of trading the third lockdown was announced in Wales, and 90% of the business that was cask sales to pubs sales dried up pretty much overnight,” Craig said.
“We were able to sell a small amount into South West of England, but pubs there were keen to support their more local breweries, which wasn’t unreasonable.
“We assumed there would be a good Christmas trading period and so continued brewing with that in mind, and we were incredibly surprised when that didn’t happen, leaving us with us with about 4,000 litres of beer we didn’t know what to do with.”
This is where the tight-knit brewing community in South Wales stepped in and the Boss Brewing Company in Swansea bottled 2,000 litres for Well Drawn, while the rest was bottled and kegged in-house.
The first phase of the brewery upgrade works was then completed in mid-January, where they added a mezzanine over about half of the unit with office and storage space, but with no sign of pubs reopening, they made a decision to move on with the second, and then third phases of the unit upgrade – adding more mezzanine space for a taproom, as well as a food offering and bottle shop.
“The bottle shop opened on Saturday, February 6, the eve of the Wales-Ireland match, and we opened with a good range of our own beers in a bottle, three firkins of our beer for takeaway in reusable containers, and a small selection of beers and ciders from other local breweries.
“We decided that to support the launch we’d leverage our food experience, and created an ‘opposition inspired’ pie for each six nations match, that we gave away free with each purchase, and made in collaboration with our neighbours, Peachleys Bakery.
“For Ireland, we went with Ham hock, parsley and smokey pale ale, for Scotland it was Aberdeen Angus beef, haggis, neeps and tatties with a stout gravy, England was steak and kidney, Italy was Bolognese, mozzarella and a wild garlic pesto and France was duck and cherry.
“When we opened the bottle shop we wondered if anyone would want to come to an industrial estate for food or drink, but it’s actually become a bit of a hub for Caerphilly now.”
They have now launched a brewery burger for takeaway and cook at home, which has enabled Barney to bring the sustainability he loved at The Gallery in Barry to this project.
“We feed our spent grain to the best mangalitsa pigs and dexter cows, to produce an amazing pattie, treated with the utmost respect and just a hint of seasoning. We bake brioche rolls with our stout, giving it a depth of flavour not usually seen,” said Barney.
“We then pack this all together with homemade sauces, pickles, and the best local ingredients to produce a unique burger, unreproducible anywhere else.”
This method was picked up by SIBA, the UK brewery industry body, and the brewery were finalists in the innovation and green categories alongside some of the best known independent breweries in the UK.
“We didn’t win, but we’re immensely proud to be recognised in this way so early in the journey,” Barney said.
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The pair are now trying to plan, but are cautious.
“We now look to the future and the easing of restrictions, we can’t wait to have people visit for burgers and beers, from April 26th, and then indoors when restrictions allow,” said Craig.
“The upgrade works have reached the point where we started brewing again this week, and we’ll gradually ramp things up as demand increases.
“We’ve also hired a new head brewer, Matt, who’s already working on new recipes for us, including a great fruity pale which we’ve been sampling this week. This will likely be the first can in our range and will sit in a new sub-brand intended to differentiate our more modern beer styles from the classic real ale styles in the core range.
“We’re still small – the aim is to sell 100 casks per month by the end of this year, giving us a solid foundation from which to plan the next phase. Despite adding nearly 70% more floor space the unit already feels a bit small so we’ll need to be thinking about that!”
They are not looking at other brewery’s to gauge their success, Craig says they are simply focusing on producing “a great product on both the beer & food side, and seeing where that takes us”.
“Phase one of our business plan is a turnover of £300,000, which we aim to get to by the end of 2021 and we’ll be funding it ourselves through to this point,” explained Craig.
“Phase two of the business plan involves establishing ourselves as a major force in the UK, and we’ll inevitably need more capital to do that. I don’t foresee access to capital being a problem at this stage.”
There is also talk of opening a venue in Cardiff, but for now the focus is on opening their outside taproom on April 26.
“We can’t wait to have people here, drinking our beer and eating our burgers,” said Craig.