Take one man with a passion for beer, money in the bank and time on his hands and you have the recipe for one very successful business.
After selling his IT security firm in 2011, Darron Anley was supposed to be taking a break, but just three weeks later he was on a ‘how to brew beer’ course in Manchester. And the rest, you could say, is history.
Today Anley is at the helm of Siren Craft Brew, a Wokingham-based brewery complete with tasting room and bottle shop, which produces some 3.2 million pints of beer a year and enjoyed a mouthwatering turnover of £3.8m in 2018.
It’s been a fast track to the top, with plaudits including ‘Best Brewer in England’ in 2015 voted for by Ratebeer users, and taking the Supreme Champion Beer of Britain award from CAMRA 2018 for its Siren Broken Dream, a coffee and chocolate flavoured Breakfast Stout.
Talking to Anley, he comes across as a beer evangelist: “I have had a passion for beer for a long time and would always search out something new in the bar on the hand pulls.
“There is a brew for everyone; there is such a wide area of flavours – our sours are really interesting for people who say they don’t like beer, they try one and see it is different – and there are so many hop flavours.”
At the brewery’s heart is its core Siren range, four now in cans (of which more later) and one in a bottle.
The descriptions alone read more like a high-end wine than a beer – witness Siren Calypso which roars with sharp, spritzy and mouth-puckering sensation, accented by tropical and citrussy hop aroma; while Siren Yu Lu is brewed with Earl Grey tea and lemon zest with distinct peach and apricot notes.
Or try one of the seasonal brews, such as its 7.4% Tropical Stout Caribbean Chocolate Cake with hand-roasted cacao nibs and characteristics of vanilla wafer.
If those don’t whet the lips, then you’re a hard act to please.
Distributed nationwide, the brand successfully sells in free houses, direct to the public and increasingly through supermarkets, including Waitrose and Morrisons.
It took Anley a good 18 months to go from bright idea to setting up a full-scale operation, helped in no small way by his fellow brewers.
“In 2012, I went to a brewer’s conference in San Diego and I learned so much. They gave me some great advice, from making sure I engaged a professional brewer to thinking big,” he says.
From the early days of brewing at home, the business has grown rapidly. In 2018 however, Anley was faced with a dilemma. Beer drinkers were preferring cans to bottles and he decided it was time to invest in a canning line.
“I’d always said I would only do it if it was of the highest quality and that meant investing between £750,000-£800,000,” said Anley.
A crowd-funding programme followed but he also recognised the need for more formal investment, turning to Barclays to support the expansion programme.
He continues: “Mathew Howson at Barclays was my relationship director and he has a good understanding of the business. Barclays was able to give us a decent package, including cashflow invoicing finance and asset finance, giving us more flexibility and support, which was good to have.”
With the canning line installed in summer 2019, he says there has been a “huge turnaround” in volume of sales and he is now looking ahead to further expansion including, hopefully, a series of city centre taprooms.
So does he ever give a thought for the IT industry he left behind? It seems not.
“The brewing industry is very friendly and very collegiate, much more so than the one I was in before,” he concludes. “This is the first industry I’ve ever seen where people will actively do something to help you out of a problem, and we do the same for others.
“We are so lucky, we drive this business the way we want, we’re not trying to be the biggest craft brewer, we want to pull people in and just have fun.”
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