Founders First, the craft beer accelerator that launched late in 2017 and became an ASX-listed company late last year, has added to its portfolio again, acquiring the Hunter Valley’s original craft brewery, Potters Brewery and Brasserie, home of the award-winning Hunter Beer Co.
Over time, the Nulkaba venue will transition to become a second brewery home for FogHorn, the Newcastle operation that entered into a partnership with Founders First in January 2019, as well as a craft venue showcasing the broad range of brands within the wider Founders group.
The move is set to see two old friends from the local beer industry reunited too. FogHorn founder Shawn Sherlock (pictured above right) and Hunter Beer Co head brewer Keith Grice started out homebrewing together in their uni days and now look likely to become brewing colleagues within the new operation. And, with Shawn's former right hand man from his Murray's days, Ian Watson, also brewing for another Founders First brewery, Slipstream in Brisbane, we can sense collaborations in the offing...
"To have myself, Watson and Keith within the group is a real boon for me," Shawn says. "It's a ripper.
"It's an industry where people are vital so to work with people like this is really great."
According to documents filed with the ASX, Founders First bought the Potters Brewery and Brasserie company for $1.5 million and plan to invest a further $2 million, with those changes and the site’s redevelopment set to be completed in 2022.
The new owners haven’t made a secret of their push towards hospitality – they plan to open a venue in Melbourne’s Moonee Ponds later this year and last year took on Ash Cranston, who previously worked at Little Creatures and helped launch Felons in Brisbane, to oversee the hospitality side of the business.
In the statement to the ASX, Founders First CEO Mark Haysman (pictured top left) said: “We see a proprietary chain of craft concept venues as a critical strategy to building our independent craft credentials, demonstrating our category leadership and creating new value for our shareholders, brand partners and customers.”
According to Shawn: “Tap points are just getting harder and harder and harder to get. This Founders model is about a lot of smaller individual breweries being able to group together to help each other like an old school collective approach, which is one of the things that appeals to me given my background [researching labour and social history at Newcastle Uni].
“I’ve lost the odd tap to Sauce and Ballistic here and there and there’s been some FogHorn move to their territory, which is absolutely how it should be, but for an individual, independent brand to be able to afford a sales force that can compete in the modern market is very hard and the Founders model is a way of getting some traction.”
The lineup of other craft brands within the Founders First group at time of writing includes Jetty Road, Sauce, Ballistic and Slipstream breweries, multifaceted beverage company Sparkke, plus distilleries Something Wild Beverages and Brogan's Way, and the alcoholic kombucha company K.Booch. While the structure of the partnerships between each producer and the investment group is different, a joint sales team was launched last year.
As for the newly twinned Newcastle and Hunter brewing companies, Shawn says: “We’ll look to grow the FogHorn brand through the brewery; there’s some potential growth of the brewing capacity here which is great as we’re limited in terms of our city site.
“The Hunter brand will continue as normal. We’re looking to rebrand the brewery side of the [Potters] business to FogHorn. But both here and at the Newcastle venue we’re looking at serving key beers that Keith has made his name with.
"Keith is one of my two best mates in the beer industry and there’s no chance I’ll be tinkering with anything he’s come up with and the locals are passionate about. They love the Kolsch and the Slaked Magpie [a 2019 Indies trophy winner] goes well. It would be arrogant and stupid to change that.”
And it’s not just the Hunter Beer Co brand and Keith’s beers that will continue following the purchase – all existing staff have been offered contracts.
“One of the attractions is working with Keith and his team,” Shawn adds.
You can read more about the Founders First story by heading here.