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How to build a beer empire

“When I came up with the idea to start a brewery, my wife said, ‘That’s fine love, but please don’t end up with a beer belly.’ I’m just about winning at the moment.” 

Duncan Sambrook, former accountant and amateur rugby player, has a passion for beer. 

When his wife bought him a day at a Beer Academy, he started to wonder if it could become a career. A more in-depth brewing course at the University of Sunderland followed, and he soon founded Sambrook’s brewery. 

In 2008, aged 30, Sambrook quit his job in the city, and founded a brewery in Battersea with help from David Walsh, the retired managing director of Ringwood Brewery, and his rugby team-mate Al Buchanan. 

While Sambrook focuses more on the business development side of things these days, he did it all at the start, from brewing to deliveries. He even had to give up playing rugby as he was working most weekends. 

“I drove around London doing beer deliveries with an A to Z map, and my knowledge of the backstreets went from nothing to fantastic in a short time,” he says. 

After the global economic crash in 2008, more businesses were shutting down than starting up. But Sambrook reckons the recession also brought a new taste for beer. 

“People still wanted to eat out,” he explains, “but not at expensive restaurants. They wanted a local pub with good food and a really good pint of beer. For me, that was the turning point in London.” 

When Sambrook’s Brewery began, there were only five breweries in London; now, there are around 85. Beer is big business, but the multinationals, such as Carling or Carlsberg, are seeing their share of the market eroded by the little guys. 

“To a certain extent, we’ve borrowed a lot of America’s beer culture over the last five years.”

“I don’t think a brewery could do what we did now,” adds Sambrook. “It was a simple concept to produce locally-sourced beer for local pubs. The market’s evolved, and you have to come in and say ‘my concept is sour beers, barrel-aged, cask etc.’ You can still set up a brewery and be successful, but you have to look for the niches in the market.” 

BEER & SPORT: A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN

Sambrook’s niche? Simple. He believes beer is as much about the social environment it creates as the drinking. And nowhere is that truer than in his favourite sport. 

“Beer is essential to rugby,” he insists. “There’s nothing better than bonding with your team by having a few pints. Beer drinking and rugby is at the heart of what I’m about, and what the business is about.” 

Australian rugby team celebrate world cup victory (Getty Images)


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WET YOUR WHISTLE

Sambrook's Brewery tour (https://twitter.com/SambrookAle/status/795623145050959872)


Has reading this left you feeling thirsty? Why not take a tour of Sambrook's Brewery. 

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