HomeOnline DegreeThe entrepreneurial couple building Wales’ first alcohol-free brewery with billionaire's £1.5m backing

The entrepreneurial couple building Wales’ first alcohol-free brewery with billionaire’s £1.5m backing

If you’re partaking in a dry January and you’ve run into a non-alcoholic beer, there’s a good chance you’ve tried Drop Bear.

One of the most exciting names in the UK’s non-alcoholic beer scene, Swansea has skyrocketed since its launch in 2019, winning more than 20 awards, racking up supermarket listings and raising £1.8m in funding.

Read more: 16 Welsh Breweries You Need To Try Right Now

With their bold flavored beers and colorful brands, they have brought something new to the market that is dominated by a big name non-alcoholic beer and ale.

Founded by Joel Drummond and Sarah McKenna, a couple from Swansea and Melbourne respectively, Drop Bear was the UK’s first alcohol-free women-owned brewery when it launched in 2019.

With so much success so quickly, you’d probably expect the pair to come from a brewing background. However, Joel previously worked for a translation agency in Swansea and Sarah worked in sales and marketing for a residential camp in the Australian Outback.

“I was very much into languages, so I wasn’t very relevant to beer!” Joel said.

“I had what I call my quarterly life crisis. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so I did the logical thing and ran away to Australia. I met Sarah there, stayed for a year and then decided to go back to Swansea for a master’s degree in translation and interpretation.”

With bold flavored beers and colorful brands, Drop Bear has brought something new to the non-alcoholic beer market.

When I spoke with Joelle, who now runs the marketing and sales department at Drop Bear, she explained the rationale behind their decision to create an alcohol-free brewery.

“Sarah and I are both foodies. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was four, and as you can imagine growing up in the ’90s, vegan food was basically like cardboard! So I was always on the lookout for someone who had really strong flavor profiles.”

“Food and drink have always been a big part of our relationship. When we were dating in Australia, we traveled all over Victoria, heading to different vineyards and breweries.”

When Sarah took a break from drinking in 2018 for personal reasons, Joel gave up alcohol as well and realized there was a lack of alcohol-free alternatives for them to drink.

“We’d drive around in Swansea, Cardiff, wherever we were and we’d be with friends and we’d sit there with a pint of IPA and we’d be offered a pint of orange juice or black coffee and not the same vibe is it?” said Joel.

“When we got home, we started digging around online to see what we could order and quickly realized there were two brands but were pretty much the same product. And there was no really funky brand as great as the one you see in a handcrafted alcoholic beer.”

After doing some market research that showed explosive growth in non-alcoholic beer, Joel and Sarah took the leap and started Drop Bear in October 2018.

It only took Joel (right) and Sarah nine months to launch Drop Bear after they had the initial idea

“We’ve always come up with business ideas, some laughable and some more serious, but none of them were really right. But when he started talking, we were like, ‘Oh my God, yeah, let’s do it!'” Joel said.

The tongue-cheek brand is named after the grizzly bear, the legendary carnivorous koala bear, which is said to be in the habit of attacking tourists.

Starting with not knowing brewing, it was a steep learning curve for Joel and Sarah to develop their first recipes.

‘We flew to Bristol and went to a home brewer; the poor shopkeeper had to give us lots of instructions because we didn’t know what the hell we were buying to be honest. Then we went to the supermarket and bought a 10 liter pot and got loads of books From Swansea’s library, we’ve harnessed the power of YouTube and are just getting started there.

“We never sold anything from our kitchen but started experimenting. The first drink took 14 hours and was supposed to take about four. There were a lot of issues that we didn’t anticipate but we learned that the first time and we adapted quickly.”

With a batch of raw recipes, Joel and Sarah brought a former Heineken brewer on board as a consultant to help them develop their products further.

“We tasted the recipes, discussed our vision and took it and made sure it was commercially viable and we could go to the brewery, say ‘make this’ and it would be fine and nothing would break.”

After completing the recipes, Drop Bear partnered with a Yorkshire brewery to produce beer and began selling it in June 2019. From concept to launch, it only took Joel and Sarah nine months.

Drop Bear brought a former brewer from Heineken on board to help them finish their recipes

Drop Bear’s four bold-flavored beers are inspired by the kind of things Sarah and Joel love to drink.

“With our Tropical IPA, we use all these new world class hops from the US that have tropical fruit flavors that are easy to drink.

“With Yuzu Pale Ale, we wanted to create a pale beer that wasn’t just a pale beer. So we were right, let’s make one with some fruit. You usually see lemon or lime but we like to make things more complicated. So we chose Yuzu, which is a Japanese citrus fruit. “.

While some non-alcoholic beers are made by mixing malt and hop extracts with carbonated water, Drop Bear beers are made through a proper brewing process.

“The method we use is a combination of using less grain, manipulating the temperature and monitoring the fermentation so that there is less sugar in the beer so that it produces less alcohol during fermentation.

“This is the most natural process and means you can tailor your beer to the flavors you want right from the start and you can brew it until you get those authentic flavors.”

Since its launch in June 2019, Drop Bear has been a huge commercial success story. They have won more than 20 awards, built listings at national retailers, released their beer in cans and achieved 2,000% sales growth in 2020.

However, one of Joel’s proudest moments to date is being awarded B-Corp status for Drop Bear in December 2021. This award is in recognition of their work towards being an environmentally and socially responsible company.

One of Joelle’s most proud accomplishments is her B-Corp certification

“We are the first B-Corp brewery in Wales and the eighth B-Corp brewery in the UK. We are already doing what companies have to do. I think the responsibility for climate change is everyone’s, but in order to make a big impact, companies need to do something.”

Another major achievement is the £1.8 million in funding, which Joel and Sarah have raised, including £300,000 in crowdfunding and an investment of £1.5 million from Henry Engelhart, the former chief executive of the Admiralty.

“This is a huge moment to receive that amount of money. When Sarah and I started Drop Bear, we were in our mid-twenties. I certainly don’t come from a privileged background. My family is from Dells, I’m a Swansea girl and I didn’t have a million sitting in the bank waiting Building a brewery.It was all personal savings, and no one wanted to touch us.

“So we literally came from nothing. And now we’re here with people like, ‘I believe in you so much, I’m going to give you millions of pounds,’ and you’re going to be able to be in the supermarkets and build this huge brewery. When I think about it, it’s very emotional.” .

Drop Bear’s next big achievement is to build the world’s first carbon-free and alcohol-free brewery and Wales’ first non-alcoholic brewery. They hope to open the brewery, which is located in South Wales, at the end of summer this year.

Drop Bear founders Sarah McKenna (left) and Joel Drummond, from Melbourne and Swansea respectively

“It’s a huge project that I’m going to run but it’s really exciting. We’re going to use renewable energy as much as possible. We’re going to have solar panels, we’re going to reduce our waste and any waste that is being made in order to produce beer in innovative ways. For example, the thing we’re looking at right now is sending out waste. for anaerobic digestion so that it can be used to create renewable energy for local communities.”

When Joel and Sarah launched Drop Bear, it was the only non-alcoholic female-run brewery in the UK. And while Joel is pleased to see other alcohol-free breweries owned by women in the UK, they are still in the minority.

“We are still largely underrepresented in beer as a whole. But, by having more and more different types of women from different backgrounds, we can encourage more young and older women to look at brewing as a viable career path, because I haven’t “.

If 2022 isn’t busy enough for Drop Bear, Joel and Sarah are also planning to finally get married after years of delay.

We have had to reschedule it four times due to the pandemic. We’re going to make it happen this year, because I can’t wait any longer. I’m just sick! “

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