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Home | Features | Former S&N head launches own brewery

Former S&N head launches own brewery

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Dunsmore: building for a long-term future

John Dunsmore re-enters brewing with craft in Edinburgh

Former Scottish & Newcastle CEO John Dunsmore has launched his own family brewery.

Wife Lynne and daughter Kirsty have joined him at the Edinburgh Beer Factory (EBF) in Bankhead, where the first beer from the start-up is ready to go out in keg and bottle.

It’s a 5.2% lager, named Paolozzi after Scots-Italian pop art pioneer Eduardo Paolozzi, is being brewed in a Munich style on a 24 hectolitre Italian kit supplied by Enterprise Tondelli.

Two recruits fresh from the local Heriot-Watt University, head brewer David Kemp and Mike Meletopoulo are taking care of production. Former Tennent’s and Harviestoun sales manager Gregor Harris and Rosie Nicholson, from the Vaux brewing family, are also on the team.

“I’ve always wanted to start a business from scratch,” said Dunsmore, who was also CEO at Tennent’s brewer C&C Group before leaving in 2012 to invest in new businesses and brands.

“To begin with I was looking for a craft beer to invest in but that comes with a lot of complications – and it’s not your own baby.”

He explained that Paolozzi was chosen as the brewery’s ‘muse’ to symbolise “the positivity of Scottishness” and get people to think differently about Scotland and beer.

The artist’s ‘Illumination and the Eye’ is featured on the bottle and font, and EBF will be showcasing other artworks at the brewery when it opens to visitors next year. 

The beer is endorsed by the Paolozzi Foundation. The brewery will pay a charitable donation for every bottle and pint sold to promote Paolozzi’s work and ideas to the general public.

In the first year Dunsmore aims to produce 1,200 hectolitres, exclusively focusing on the launch brand. “We have no thoughts about a range at this stage. We just want to develop Paolozzi and do it in the right way, seeding it in the right bars.

“We’ve arrived too late to be among the first wave of UK craft brewers, which have been able to create a series of interesting products under an established brand name. So we’ve got to rifle-shoot and bring something genuinely different to the market.”

The expansion of American craft beer, now accounting for 11% of the US market, suggests, he believes, there is “pretty good scope for growth in the UK”, where it’s currently estimated to make up only 3%.

“We could be wrong and not succeed, of course. You always take that risk. But it’s a risk based on an assessment of what’s going on, and we’re seeing a consumer suspicion of global brands and an interest in local provenance that isn’t necessarily based on a long history. There are a lot of companies now with great stories that aren’t very old.”

That insight is reflected in Dunsmore’s other business interests, which have provided prototypes for EBF. They include gluten-free bakery Genius Foods and, through his Hothouse Investment Club, Chapel Down winery, which is also starting its own microbrewery, hemp-based food firm Good Hemp and the Scotch Malt Whisky Company, bought from LVMH. 

“Innovation can happen in big companies, but it happens despite being big, not because of it,” he said. “I’ve been excited by the creativity and agility I’ve seen in the smaller companies I’ve been working with in the past few years, and that’s spurred me on to create something from scratch.”

He’s on the board of Fuller’s Brewery, too, which has inspired his family-based approach.

“With a family-owned business there’s no compromise driven by external shareholder pressure. You can make the right decisions based on strong values and a long term perspective. EBF is exactly the right set-up to do just that: small and nimble, young and old, male and female.

“We’ll be slower – we won’t be rushing into doing any crowd-funding. But we’ll be taking care to do the right thing in the right way and build a sustainable business.

“That’s what I’ve taken from Fuller’s, the lesson that you look at everything you do with a view to still being here in 40 years’ time.”

Should EBF be as successful as Dunsmore hopes, there is space at the Bankhead industrial unit, by the city’s new tramline, to add a second brewhouse: a “modular capability” as he describes it. “But we want to do it slowly,” he emphasises.

Even so, he’s already looking ahead to the Progressive Beer Duty threshold. “There’s a danger you become dependent on it, that it helps you get started and then it punishes you. So you have to anticipate that.”

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