Redwell Brewing Saved from the Brink by New Owners

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THE GIST
The Craft Brewing Company Ltd of Norwich, Norfolk, which traded under the name Redwell Brewing, is under new ownership after facing imminent closure. According to a tweeted statement, the company was placed into administration on Monday (Dec. 4). It was then subsequently acquired by a group of local investors led by John Hughes and Warren Thorp, under the name Three Arches Brewing according to a report by local news source the Eastern Daily Press.

WHY IT MATTERS
Redwell, which was founded in 2013 by Amy Hancock and Patrick Fisher, was well on its way to becoming a nationally recognized brand thanks to its placement in major UK supermarket chains Tesco and Aldi. But it was perhaps even more well known for its very public spats involving its intellectual property.

The first of these occurred shortly after the brewery opened, when drinks giant Red Bull filed a legal challenge on the basis that the name of the brewery was too similar to its own. The dispute was subsequently dropped in August 2013 under the provision that Redwell, which took its name from a Norwich street of the same name, didn’t begin producing its own line of energy drinks.

Redwell made national news again shortly after the release of its Hells Lager in May 2014, when a challenge was raised by London’s Camden Town Brewery, its own flagship beer already bearing the same name. What followed was a bitter public dispute, the majority taking place online between each brewery’s respective fans. When Camden eventually issued Redwell a court order in February 2015, the Norwich brewery attempted, unsuccessfully, to raise its £30,000 ($40,000) legal fees via crowdfunding.

The dispute was eventually settled out of court, with Camden Town—which was subsequently purchased by ZX Ventures, the venture capital arm of Anheuser Busch-InBev—keeping the naming rights and Redwell rebranding its beer under the name Pacific Pilsner.

It’s unknown if these legal disputes were the cause of Redwell’s financial woes but, according to the tweet, the brewery began to suffer from monetary difficulties in 2016. Perhaps somewhat curiously, the new owners registered Three Arches brewing on Nov. 29, just days before Redwell was placed into administration.

Speculation around Redwell’s future came into question in November when an “East Anglian-based award-winning craft brewery” was advertised as being for sale in the classifieds section of the Society for Independent Brewers (SIBA) website. The brewery was seeking offers of a relatively miniscule £30,000 ($40,000) or more. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ailing business did not attempt to crowdfund the amount this time around.

While perhaps surprising in its own way, the announcement is not likely indicative of a changing tide in the UK's recent brewing boom. Redwell had a reputation within the trade for the seemingly good value of its product and was often seen as a cheaper proposition compared to rival craft brands on both taps and shelves. Ultimately, the brand failed to both break out of its East Anglian homeland and to put its hometown on the modern beer map.

The subsequent administration and purchase of the business certainly demonstrates the challenges for a craft brewery placed in a local market dominated by a very traditional Real Ale scene. But it could also represent an opportunity for other UK craft brands looking to expand into this area, or perhaps even a new local brand to spring forth. Norwich is already home to a successful BrewDog bar, for example.

It remains to be seen if the new owners will continue trading under the Redwell name, but according to former owner Amy Hancock, this seems the most likely outcome.

“The new investors are currently in dialogue with Redwell’s suppliers and local customers,” she writes in an online statement. “With the aim of securing future relationships and building a positive future for the brand in Norwich.”

—Matthew Curtis