Dark Star boss: sale to Fuller’s is ‘a natural fit’

By James Beeson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Staying put: James Cuthbertson will remain at the helm of Dark Star as managing director
Staying put: James Cuthbertson will remain at the helm of Dark Star as managing director

Related tags: Dark star, Brewing

Dark Star Brewery managing director James Cuthbertson has explained why Fuller, Smith & Turner (Fuller’s) will be an ideal owner after it took over 100% of the Sussex brewing operation.

In an interview with The Morning Advertiser​, Cuthbertson described the relationship between the two breweries as “a natural fit” and lauded Fuller’s for knowing “how to treat beer and treat people”.

Describing how the sale, announced yesterday​ (20 February), came about, Cuthbertson said: “About a year or 18 months ago we started looking at the future of where we were and where we saw ourselves going. We've grown quite fast over the years and we needed to make the next step in terms of improvements in the site.

“We started looking at various options including lenders and crowdfunding platforms, but we weren't really all that comfortable with any of that. We didn't want suits marching in here every two minutes looking at all our Excel spreadsheets. People like that don't understand the beer business.

“I met Simon Dodd (Fuller’s managing director) and we got talking about some of the challenges we had and were facing,” he continued. “It was very apparent that, as a business, Fuller's have made all the mistakes that we already have, and have probably made all of the mistakes we will make in the next 10 or 20 years.

“It organically came about and seemed like a natural fit. People will look for the devil in this deal, but it just isn't there.”

'Some redundancies'

Cuthbertson confirmed that Dark Star’s brewing team and operations at its Partridge Green site, in West Sussex, would remain unchanged but admitted there would be “some redundancies” as a result of the acquisition.

“Our brewing team stays and we keep brewing the beers that we brew with the care that we do,” he said. “We don't know what happens in the future of course, but we have some headroom left at this site at present, and we will see how quickly we eat that up.

“There will be some overlap in our accounts and sales teams, and there will be some redundancies, which we will hope to keep to a minimum. However, Fuller's have worked very hard to make sure their ex-staff are well looked after, and this ties back into the overriding point which is that they just 'get it'; they know how to treat beer and treat people.”

Dark Star’s existing four pubs were not included in the sale to Fuller’s, and will continue to be operated by the brewery’s directors as a separate venture. Cuthbertson confirmed an agreement had been signed to ensure a steady supply of Dark Star beers, including best-sellers Hophead, APA and Revelation, into the venues.

“Everyone [in the pub estate] stays as they are and, to be honest for them, they probably won't notice any difference,” he said. “We have a supply agreement there so that the pubs can continue to enjoy Dark Star beer and the idea is for it to be as seemless as possible, and Fuller's have been very accommodating in that regard.”

Quality, consistency and innovation

The Dark Star MD, who will remain at the helm of the company, added that Fuller’s ethos and passion for beer was a major factor in the decision to sell to the London brewery, and highlighted last year’s Fuller's & Friends Project as a key example of how they remained relevant in the modern beer market.

“It is just clear that they are beer people; you talk to Georgina Young their head brewer, and to John Keeling, and they totally 'get it' and you are seeing the reverence for that in the industry now,” he said. “There were some great brewers involved with the Fuller's & Friends Project, and they wouldn't have got involved in that unless there was that fondness for Fuller's, and that made it really easy for us.

“When you go and talk to them, you understand that they are about beer quality and consistency, and innovation in their own way, and they understood what we do and what we are about.”

Cuthbertson highlighted increased exports and sales in small pack as two areas in which the expertise of Fuller’s could help Dark Star, and insisted the Sussex brewery would remain as innovative as ever after the sale.

“They want us to run independently and for us to keep our spirit, but they want to help us do it,” he said. “This year, we are going to do more interesting and one-off brews than we have ever done before. What Fuller’s will do is help us with entry into the small-pack market, because we are not good there really, and export. We do a bit but it is pretty tiny in our overall sales.”

Related topics: Beer

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