Dickens Brewery: Writing on the Wall?

It’s been a while since Mr Fueled by Beer had anything to say about the Dickens Brewery and this post doesn’t change that, at least as far as their beer goes. However, if previous concerns about frequent poor beer quality didn’t provide sufficient cause to question the future prospects of said brewery, then perhaps this post will. Curious? Then read on…

In my previous posts (here, herehere and here) it emerged that the Dickens Brewery is one of two ventures wherein parent company, the Chapman Group, installed SW Fabrications Brewmaster microbrewery plants in two of their properties. The first went into the Alehouse & Kitchen pub in Worthing; the second into Great Expectations in Reading, one of their RelaxInnz brand hotels. There were also plans to install a third brewery at another RelaxInnz property, the New Inn in Gloucester; although this appears to have not happened.

As it turns out, last November the Chapman Group; all 28 hotel and pub properties, was sold to Dominion Hospitality (press release). Dominion is a newly formed UK subsidiary of Stellex Capital Management, a New York-based private equity firm. So far Dominion doesn’t appear to have made any significant changes to their properties; perhaps because, according to records at Companies House, their £16M line of credit with HSBC was secured only last month. But, with their capital now in place, I suspect we will soon begin to see what Dominion Hospitality’s strategy for their properties will be. If operating a microbrewery as part of a hospitality operation is not part of the strategy, then the Dickens Brewery is likely to be one of the first things to go. I can see two possible scenarios:

  1. Close Dickens Brewery and Alehouse & Kitchen, sell the plant and get out of brewing;
  2. Move Dickens Brewery plant to a Dominion pub property; then, together with Alehouse & Kitchen, build a brewpub operation similar to Brewhouse & Kitchen (which has been rapidly expanding via private equity financing).

If the Sussex CAMRA branches’ observations are anything to go by, perhaps the first scenario is most likely…

“Richard, the manager of the Alehouse and Kitchen, has recently left and his replacement has not been in contact despite our efforts. The brewery remains active but we are unaware of its specific plans at this time” (Sussex Drinker – Winter 2016, p.19).

“Dominion Group has acquired Chapman Group to become the new owners of Alehouse & Kitchen and Grand Victorian Hotel. A new local brewer will be taking over brewing at Alehouse & Kitchen from approximately the end of January and they plan to continue brewing weekly but will rationalise the range with the emphasis on quality and drinkability” (Sussex Drinker – Spring 2017, p.16).

Does all of this represent an opportunity for the Purple Turtle perhaps? Maybe they would be interested in acquiring nearly-new Brewmaster plant for the two-storey microbrewery building which has already received planning permission. This is part of Purple Turtle’s ambitious redevelopment of their existing pub and adjoining property at 9 and 10 Gun Street? One of the things I do wonder about the Purple Turtle however is whether they are still going ahead with their plans now that the future of Reading’s South Street Arts Centre is no longer in doubt? According to getreading, the original plan was hatched while the future of the Arts Centre was in doubt, and before Reading Council secured Heritage Lottery funding to save South Street. I guess it remains to be seen.

Read getreading’s Purple Turtle stories here and here.

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