In an interview with The Morning Advertiser, Simon Dodd, managing director of The Fuller's Beer Company, insisted the London brewery would not “blanket” its pub estate with Dark Star, and said it would only push the brewery’s beer in venues where it will complement Fuller’s existing portfolio.
“You won't see 400 pubs stocking Hophead (Dark Star’s 3.8% ABV pale ale) tomorrow,” he said. "We aren't going to blanket Fuller's pubs. We have identified 60 pubs where we believe Hophead and American Pale Ale and the rest of Dark Star's beers will fit in. Those are the right pubs for Dark Star and its beers.
"They are cask-led venues that get sufficient pull through, and their demographic tends to fit with where Hophead and APA fit. We have tried to identify where we think the beers will sell and be complementary to London Pride.”
Dodd also sought to distance the purchase of Dark Star from that of Gales Brewery in 2006, insisting that the Sussex brewery would continue to trade and operate as a separate company, but with the added investment that Fuller’s could bring.
“To be clear: Gales was bought for one primary reason and that was because it extended our footprint in terms of pubs,” he said. “We didn't buy it because we needed to have Gales beers, although HSB and Seafarers still do very well for us. It was a transaction to extend and grow our pub business."
National and international growth
Dodd added: “This was about investing in a brand that extends and enhances our portfolio in the way Cornish Orchards did, and the relationship we have with Sierra Nevada does. Dark Star seemed to fit very well.
“Dark Star will still trade as Dark Star, and they will do what they do; coming up with innovative new beers. We believe we can grow Dark Star nationally and internationally, and make Hophead a national brand through improving routes to market.”
However, the Fuller’s board director stopped short of ruling out moving some Dark Star brewing to its Chiswick base in the future.
“You can never say never,” he said. “If you look at Dark Star, they are on an industrial estate and they will have a finite capacity. If it gets to the stage where you can't brew it out of there physically, we'd have to look at [moving brewing to Chiswick].
“If we do choose to do that we'd have to do it the right way. We'd have to be sure we could match it and make it as good, but that is just the way we do things at Fuller's.”
Collaboration on the cards
Dodd added that licensees with existing relationships with Dark Star would be able to continue to trade directly with the brewery. “Landlords will still be able to phone up and deal with Dark Star directly if they need a delivery,” he said. “If they have a strong relationship with the brewery we obviously want that to continue.”
On the subject of why Dark Star was an appealing acquisition for Fuller’s, Dodd said: “We like to buy businesses where there is a cultural match, and if you look at Cornish Orchards and at Nectar, we bought those businesses because we fell in love with those entrepreneurs and the businesses and the culture they had created. With Dark Star, we see them as being very similar.
“They love quality, they believe in cask and they are a bit like a cooler younger brother to us. They are the naughty teenager but they produce great beer and that is what we want to do, so I think we will fit hand in hand.”
Dodd also confirmed that the popular Fuller’s & Friends Project, which saw Fuller’s brewers team up with UK craft breweries to produce six different beers, would return in 2018 and 2019, and that a collaboration with Dark Star would happen “within the next three to four months”.