DIY brewery UBREW has pre-sold over 75% of memberships for its second site in Manchester before it’s even opened up.
UBREW, which launched its first site in London just over a year ago, lets people use its equipment to make their own beer and provides top quality ingredients and guidance to soup up the homebrewing experience.
“UBREW is basically like a gym but you get less healthy,” cofounder Wilf Horsfall told BI. “It’s a membership model where you and your friends can turn up and use our equipment to brew your own beer. Each membership we sell as a group membership for up to 5 people so you can share the beer and the costs up to 5 ways. You don’t need 5 people though, a lot of people brew solo.”
Memberships cost between £50 and £80 a month. Brewers can brew up to twice per month and can brew around 35litres at a time. They reserve the brewing kit using an online calendar as well as a bottling slot two weeks later after the fermentation process. When membership and ingredients are factored in, UBREW estimates that the beer costs around 75p a bottle.
‘We were making it up as we went along’
Horsfall, 27, and cofounder Matt Denham, 32, first met when they both worked at a coworking space called Impact Hub Westminster in London — Horsfall was a freelance marketer and Denham working in business development for the Hub. Both were keen homebrewers who struggled to do much in their tiny flats. Chatting, they dreamed up the idea of UBREW.
The pair pre-sold memberships to help buy the equipment for their first site in Bermondsey, South London. Horsfall says: “Our very first exploration into what the market wanted was we did a normal crowdfunding campaign that wasn’t releasing any equity, it was just selling memberships. We were aiming to get 10 members, which would raise us £3,000. We were just going to be in a pop-up space. Instead of 10, we got 47 members.”
The demand spurred UBREW on to do a full crowdfunding round on Crowdcube, raising £112,000 on the site. UBREW Bermondsey hit capacity a few months after opening and currently has 150 memberships, representing between 450 and 500 members, Horsfall estimates. The site currently has a waiting list of 822 people.
“We actually didn’t foresee this taking off as quickly as it has,” Horsfall says. “Matt and I, my cofounder, imagined this would kind of be a weekend project for us and we would be taking it in turns pulling some pints down at UBREW. We were still kind of learning the ropes on how to actually run the place, we were making it up as we went along.”
‘There’s a moment towards people enjoying doing things for themselves again’
Horsfall puts the success down to a trend towards artisan products and the rise of craft beer in the UK over the last few years.
“I think there’s a kind a moment towards people enjoying doing things for themselves again,” he says. “Over the last 50 years or so we’ve gone further and further away from the production of the things we consume and you can see people trying to get back to it. It’s happening in other areas: people paying more in order to butcher their own meat, for example.
“I think particularly the rise of craft beer and people realising that beer can be as nuanced as wine, it’s making people realise that actually there’s a lot of creativity that can go into it.”
Horsfall says the typical UBREW members in London are “young professionals, people generally in their 30s. Obviously like beer and craft beer. A lot of people working in startups too, the kind of people who are looking for a community to join. A lot of them actually have no prior brewing experience at all, I’d say something like 60% to 70%.”
‘The ones that most often go wrong [are] those ambitious, crazy brews’
So what does the beer they make actually taste like then if they’re complete novices? “People are making some excellent beers,” Horsfall says. “Obviously, there are the odd batches that go wrong, but it’s all about learning from those mistakes.
“We make sure people’s first batch goes right, we encourage them to follow a simple recipe. What commonly happens is the first time they say all they want to do is brew something that’s drinkable. We’ll help them through a simple recipe, they will do really well and be really happy. Then the next brew they will come in and want to do something absolutely crazy — ‘I want to do a lemongrass Saison [a spiced French style pale ale] with gooseberries’. Those are the ones that most often goes wrong, those ambitious crazy brews.”
Speaking of which, I recently tried one of UBREW’s own concoctions — a lemongrass and ginger wheat beer. I have to say it was very nice.
UBREW, which makes its own beers, has a “tap room” attached to its brewery where it sells its own beer, beer brewed by members, and trendy craft cans and bottles from across the country. It’s London location is on what’s known as the “Bermondsey Beer Mile” — a stretch of six or so micro and craft breweries clustered along a railway line — and on Saturday it is rammed with beer aficionados doing the run.
‘We’re working with a guy in Berlin — that’s something we’re plotting’
“We have another place planned in London to tap into that 800-strong waiting list,” Horsfall says. “We’re talking to several landlords at the moment.”
He adds: “We’ve got our eyes on Liverpool, Bristol, Brighton, Edinburgh, possibly Cardiff — it’s kind of any built up metropolitan area. Manchester was the kind of test case for us. It is working.”
UBREW recently took on £140,000 investment from private “angel” investors to fund the Manchester operation but is also pursuing the same pre-sale of membership model it used in Bermondsey to help fund equipment. “That’s rooted in the idea that we should be cash positive from the start,” Horsfall says.
And despite only being just over a year old, UBREW is already looking overseas. Horsfall says: “We’re working with a guy in Berlin who wants to do UBREW over there with us. That’s really exciting. It’s still too early days to put a firm date on that one. But that’s something that we’re plotting, definitely.”