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Breal Group consolidates Brick and BBNo into Black Sheep

The London breweries Brick and Brew By Numbers (BBNo), bought by Breal Group, are in the process of closing down, with staff being laid off and brew kits being moved to Black Sheep’s site.

The private equity firm Breal Group, which has recently bought struggling British breweries including London’s Brick, BBNo, Yorkshire’s Black Sheep and Warwickshire’s Purity Brewing Co, saving each of them from facing administration reassured last month that it had no plans to consolidate Purity, but did not specify about the other beer brands.

Speaking exclusively to the drinks business, a spokesperson from Breal Group confirmed: “The brew kits are being moved to Masham. The equipment will be relocated in both Masham and, potentially, Purity.”

Industry sources revealed that the process has already been underway and “whilst everyone has been concentrating on Breal’s takeovers of Black Sheep and Purity they’ve taken their eye off the two London breweries they bought” and explained: “Brick Brewery has physically closed and the kit moved up to Masham. All the dray staff and brewers have left/been made redundant. All the sales staff have left with the exception of the head of sales. The founders are still there but for how long?”

The two founders of Brick Brewery, husband and wife Ian and Sally Stewart, reassured last summer that they “will continue to ensure that the company’s strong ethos and values are preserved, in both the flavours of Brick products, and as importantly, our community spirit” and had stated that they were certain that the brewery had “a positive future ahead” and added assurances “that the beers that you all love will continue to be brewed with the same level of passion from our fantastic team at Brick Brewery”

Stewart said at the time that Brick had been “extremely fortunate” to have found a partner in The Breal Group which had “saved us from certain closure” and assured “we will continue to never compromise on quality and innovation to continue to be the trusted brand you know and love”.

Brew By Numbers, which operated as a microbrewery with a taproom in London and an e-commerce sales channel, was founded in 2011 with the original brewery and taproom opening in Enid Street at the heart of the ‘Bermondsey Beer Mile’. By 2021 the business moved its main production to a new brewery site in Morden Wharf, Greenwich and added a 400-person capacity taproom and outdoor space on the banks of the River Thames before falling on troubled times and getting bought by Breal.

The Breal Group spokesperson admitted that the rumours of the lay offs were true and “there have been six redundancies at Brick” and as if to amplify this, sources additionally hinted that things were looking much the same for BBNo with plans to move the brew kit to Masham “in three weeks time”.

Industry insiders revealed “there are currently two sales jobs being advertised by an agency for two Northern-based sales positions which is obviously Breal. The job specs say the role is working for a traditional brewer (that is part of a portfolio of breweries) that will start to brew innovative beers)”.

But, sources told db: “All the brewing staff have been made redundant and will leave once the kit has gone up to Masham. A brewer from Brick is currently brewing the beer to get enough stock in the tank before the move, obviously he will be leaving too. There is also, like Brick, no sales team other than the head of sales and a sales support manager who does deliveries and logistics for both breweries.”

Responding to the rumours, Breal Group admitted that the plan certainly was for the London beer brands to be brewed at the site in Yorkshire for the foreseeable future. A spokesperson from the private equity firm told db: “There is an entirely new brew house being built in Masham to brew BBNo and Brick beers. There will be a little piece of South East London in North Yorkshire.”

Since picking up brewery businesses, Breal Group has been met by speculation from the beer sector which has it discussed its movements via social media, with some terming it as “opportunistic” and others upholding its moves for “saving businesses from going under”. Overall, many are still undecided as to whether the firm is ruthless or heroic.

Breal Group’s reputation has suffered, primarily, from its activities that took place following news of its acquisitions and series of actions that made staff and those close to the businesses feel somewhat disenfranchised. For instance, just weeks after the company bought Black Sheep out of administration, news of the redundancies and closures circulated and, more recently, a shareholder from Black Sheep called Breal Group’s pre-pack administration deal of the Yorkshire business “glorified daylight robbery”.

Last month, Breal had also been rumoured to be circling to attain North Brewing when the Leeds brewer and bar operator filed a Notice of Intention to appoint an administrator despite doubling its brewing capacity in recent years.However, even with its rumoured tenacity to acquire North, the business was saved by Kirkstall founder Steve Holt, a move that assisted in North retaining its independence.

There are, however, still many sceptical about Breal Group’s activities. Industry sources claimed that “by the end of the month there will be no breweries, just brands and the beer will be brewed at Black Sheep (who have made their two London sales reps redundant too)”.

Breal Group, which is registered in Cavendish Square, London, according to its website, considers itself to be “a multi-disciplinary equity, lending and advisory services family”.

Despite concerns from across the trade, the spokesperson for Breal Group has reassured that “the group is recruiting sales staff across the country, including six new sales roles in London” and told db that “overall, there will be more staff employed, even after redundancies”.

But insiders said that other breweries falling on hard times should look at what Breal Group was doing to existing small independent breweries and indeed their identities and provenance and urged that people needed to stay astute to how private equity groups operate and warned that the business was no saviour to the trade, but instead  warned there is “a pattern here”.

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