Bruce bonus for West Berkshire Brewery

By Roger Protz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Brewing

Protz: "When David Bruce is involved, it may be a bumpy ride but it will be firkin good fun"
Protz: "When David Bruce is involved, it may be a bumpy ride but it will be firkin good fun"
Roger Protz reports on how a significant figure on the pubs and brewing scene is thinking big and aiming high after being appointed chairman of West Berkshire Brewery. 

Bruce is back.

You can’t keep a good man away from a mash tun: David Bruce, one of the legendary figures in British brewing and pubs, has been installed as chairman of West Berkshire Brewery with big plans to build its sales and success.

Bruce boasts an impressive track record. His Firkin chain of brewpubs in the late 1970s and ’80s turned the staid world of pubs on its head. He proved that going to the local could be fun. Drinkers didn’t have to sit in glum silence but could have a firkin good laugh while enjoying beer brewed on the premises.

Since selling the chain Bruce has been behind such major ventures as Slug & Lettuce and Capital Pub Company. He sold Capital to Greene King for an eye-watering £93m in 2011. While he didn’t pocket all the money — it was divvied up between directors and shareholders — you might expect him, at the age of 65, to put his feet up and polish the piggy bank.


But he’s back in harness at the brewery in Yattendon, Berkshire. Bruce has lived in the area for years, knows and likes the beers, and thinks West Berkshire has potential.

The brewery was founded in 1995 by Dave and Helen Maggs. Dave was a keen home brewer and improved his skills by going on a brewing course at Morrells of Oxford. Helen also learned to mash and boil and is now a fully-fledged brewster.

Their first brewery was tiny, able to produce just five barrels at a time. It was installed alongside the Pot Kiln pub at Frilsham, also in Berkshire, and quickly gained attention with its imaginative beer names based on local characters in and around the Thames.

The Maggs moved to a new site in Yattendon in 2005 with kit bought from Charles Wells and Morrells that boosted production to between 15 and 20 barrels. They soon outstripped that plant and moved to a former dairy in the village in 2011 where they can produce 10,000 barrels a year. Along the way the Maggs picked up new partners, Andy and Karen Baum, who not only invested in the brewery but brought expertise in sales and marketing with them.

“It became a proper business,” Dave Maggs says. The brewery now employs people to handle sales, accounts and marketing. “It means I don’t have to deliver to pubs in between mashing-in and starting the copper boil.”

Both the Baums and the Maggs have reached that time of life when they would like to take it easy. By happy coincidence, Dave Maggs was put in touch, via a mutual friend, with Bruce, who has also reached “that time of life” but his enthusiasm is undimmed.

“It was serendipity,” he says. “I’d been drinking the beers for years but I’d never met the Maggs before.

“We got together in the Royal Oak in Yattendon and could see that the brewery had potential but it was at a critical stage. Dave and Helen have hardly made a bean from the brewery — they even sold their house to fund the first site — but they needed the investment to drive the business forward.”

Bruce became chairman of West Berkshire last year. He immediately invested £100,000 and has followed that with a further £50,000. Now the plan is to raise £1.5m to fund a new brewery with a capacity of 20,000 barrels. The site will include a visitor centre, bottling plant, restaurant and even a distillery.

West Berkshire owns one pub at present but Bruce — unsurprisingly — wants to add more outlets. He also plans to develop the bottled side of the business and has managed to get West Berkshire beers into that citadel of poshness, Fortnum & Mason in Knightsbridge, central London. He sees great potential for the main brand, Good Old Boy bitter.


Shares at £125 each are being offered until the end of the month. Bruce is at pains to stress that they’re not “doing a BrewDog” and seeking investors from all round the world. They want support from local people in Berkshire and surrounding counties who know and like the beers.

The brewery’s employees have been offered share options. The Baums and the Maggs will remain the main shareholders while David Bruce will increase his current holding of 6.9% to around 15%.

The investment programme will be conducted through the government-backed Enterprise Investment Scheme that gives shareholders such advantages as no capital gains or inheritance taxes.

The Maggs are passionate about using only English ingredients, such as Maris Otter malting barley and Fuggles and Goldings hops.

When Bruce heard that a local hop farmer was giving up, he immediately went into a huddle with Helen Maggs, then announced the new brewery site would grow its own barley and hops.

You can be sure of one thing: when Bruce is involved, it may be a bumpy ride but it will be firkin good fun.

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