Beavertown has to be one of the most recognisable breweries on the planet with its amazing SF-inspired cans, vibrant hoppiness and unforgettable beer names. We talk to the founder Logan Plant about what music has in common with brewing, working with Heineken and why he and his father are each other’s biggest fans.
The Beavertown story started in 2011 with former musician Logan Plant making beer in his kitchen in East London. Since then it has gone to produce some of the most distinctive beers in the country. In June 2018, Heineken took a minority stake in the business to fund a new brewery and increase capacity. Now, there can be few bars or shops that don’t stock Beavertown beers like Gamma Ray with its crazy space alien cans. It’s the craft beer that non-beer drinkers recognize and it’s certainly been a massive hit for Master of Malt customers during lockdown. The gorgeous weather might have something to do with that (come back, please!) So we thought it would be a good time to have a chat with founder Logan Plant and get the full Beavertown story.
Master of Malt: Has beer always been something you’ve been interested in?
Logan Plant: Yeah, obsessed really! My dad was a massive beer fan. And being from the West Midlands there’s a huge beer culture there, with great pubs, great environments, great beers. My friends and I, probably around the age of 18 became obsessed with a few local breweries and started to dream about possibly opening a brew-pub. And then eventually at the age of 30, my wife and I just decided to go for it. I was in the music industry for ten years, as was my wife, and we just decided that the time was right to change and go for our dreams. At the age of 32, we opened Beavertown. And that was it!
Master of Malt: You make such distinctive tasting beers. Are these the sort of beers that you just fell in love with and that’s why you started brewing them yourself?
LP: A beer like Neck Oil Session IPA started out with a cask beer that I was obsessed with back in the Black Country where I was from. And I tried to recreate it but could never get close so I just decided to turn it into this kind of session IPA style, I think seven years ago. Some of the ideas come from history but then a lot of them come from an innovative side. You might take a cocktail and you might try and reproduce that in a beer, or you might take a dessert and take the nuances of that and put it into a big stout. Inspiration comes from everywhere really. But I think as a team, the main thing with any beer is about nailing a balance. I think every beer we brew and we put into our core ranges is something that you can really sit on a session.
MoM: Which breweries were an inspiration to you?
LP: Well the first brewery that really got me into beer, was a very traditional one back in the West Midlands called Bathams. They were formed in 1887 and they brew a bitter and a mild, and they’ve got about ten pubs. That’s what I was kind of brought up on. They’re family owned and they’re brilliant. And then again, more modern day, a brewery called The Kernel. They do a table-beer which was part of the inspiration for Nanobot. Just being able to drink a lot of their table-beer made me think ‘amazing!’. Then looking to America has been a great inspiration because the craft beer industry is further ahead. Perhaps not now but four or five years ago when I was travelling around America absorbing the industry out there. Breweries like Firestone Walker in California have been a huge inspiration because they showed me that you can go big, with this style of beer and with these styles of beer and with this kind of mindset, you can take it to the people. And that’s really driven my inspiration of getting great beer onto every street corner.
MoM: What are the main differences between the music industry and the drinks business?
LP: I don’t think there are many actually, there’s a lot of similarities: it’s an artistic expression. Whether you’re writing a song or you’re building a recipe, I think they’re quite similar. I think the art and the design in beer is also very similar to a kind of album cover.
MoM: Yes, I was going to ask you about that. Who is it that designs your amazing cans?
LP: Nick Dwyer is his name, and he’s our creative director. When we started Beavertown in our restaurant, Duke’s Brew & Que back in the day, Nick was a waiter but he would always doodle and sketch before or after his shift. And I saw what he was coming up with and it kind of epitomised psychedelia and Day-of-the-Dead and really kind of crazy stuff that I was into. So as soon as we could get Nick on board, he rebranded everything for us and he’s taken us to a different level. And I think that’s really important, you know, that differentiation on the shelf, looking different, feeling different, talking different. There are so many beers in the market, how can you stand out, not only for your quality but also from a visual perspective?
MoM: And who comes up with the names for the beers?
LP: Well ‘Neck Oil’, for example, is an old term that my great grandfather used back in the Black Country and it was his name for his beer, his local beer. He’d say he was going down the pub for a pint of neck oil! So I thought it was a great name when my dad used to tell me the story. And then things like Gamma Ray have kind of come around through the art, crazy spacemen with ray guns and stuff. And then Nanobot really, as an example of modern, more recent name, really came around because the style of the beer is so delicate and so precise and that’s kind of what nanobots are! The names and the artwork correlate into a kind of story.
MoM: Are you surprised just how successful Beavertown has been in such a short amount of time?
LP: When I was brewing in the kitchen, eight years ago when my wife and I started Beavertown, I thought it was just going to be serving the local people in Duke’s Brew & Que and just keeping East London. It’s really surprised me and I’m honoured to be part of this craft beer movement. And the fact that it started to snowball maybe four or five years ago, it was amazing to see the opportunities and to see tastes change and the mainstream suddenly adopting these styles of beers. It shows that people nowadays crave more from their food and their drink. Obviously we are going through a rough time at the moment but the fact that many pubcos are now looking towards having a great range of craft beers on their bar and if you look at the likes of Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Tescos they’ve got amazing lineups of canned and bottled produce.
MoM: That brings me on to asking how’s business with all of this lockdown stuff?
LP: 85% of our business closed when the pubs and bars shut. But from that we’ve had to kind of morph and pivot and particularly work with our off-trade customers. Also our webshop has gone bonanza, it’s been absolutely brilliant. It’s gone from a two-person operation to eight people. It’s now our second biggest revenue income for the brewery, so it’s been a real lifesaver if you like. Our main aim has been about the safety of our people, primarily. Maintaining jobs, which we’ve managed to do throughout, which is great, and then just concentrating on supporting our customers and getting the market back up and running. The other positives are the launch of Nanobot, which we had always planned to make. We just thought it would be a great time to release something exciting, give people a bit of a boost.
MoM: Can you tell us a bit more about Nanobot? How do you create a low alcohol beer with the intensity that Beavertown drinkers expect?
It’s a 2.8% ABV Super Session IPA. As brewers we’re challenging ourselves to get the most flavour, so no compromise on that flavour but also to deliver that low ABV. I think it’s probably one of the hardest styles to nail. Because you’re obviously using less malt, you’re getting less sugar. . . the way that I talk about it is that Nanobot is ‘small but mighty’. It’s about getting that kind of delicacy and that kind of sessionability at 2.8% ABV but then giving those IPA characteristics.
MoM: Are you the head brewer or do you have someone else who is in charge of that?
LP: No we’ve got an amazing brew team. I was a home brewer initially and I started brewing at Beavertown but I haven’t actively brewed a beer probably for the last five years but I’m involved in every recipe instruction and I work really closely with the brewing team. They are far more qualified than I am!
MoM: How has the involvement of Heineken changed the business?
LP: It was a big process we went through to find a partner, to help us to build Beaverworld, which is our new brewery. And, for me, it was about staying in control. Heineken came in as a minority partner, which was really important. But then also to have the kind of values of a family-run entity, which I believe Heineken are. Some of the family have got to know a lot of the crew there, who are amazing, that was really important. And then to have a partner that just knows way more than us about what we’re doing. Heineken is one of the biggest brewers in the world with amazing resources and expertise, that was really key.
MoM: And finally, I have to ask as I’m a big Led Zeppelin fan, but what kind of age did you realise that your father is a hero to so many people around the world?
LP: My dad was never too extrovert, he didn’t have crazy cars, he was just another bloke down the pub. Sure I’d go on tour with him and I’d see him play big gigs as a solo artist, because Zeppelin, they disbanded when I was about one. I think it was at the age of 12 he bought me the Led Zeppelin albums on cassette and I’d never really heard of them before until that age, I think I was about 11 or 12, and I put them on and I was like ‘bloody hell!’ I suddenly realised he was in another band, he wasn’t just Robert Plant the solo artist, he was this singer in this amazing bombastic sound. Ever since then, I’m one of their biggest fans, they’re my favourite band. And most importantly, he’s just a damn good bloke. He’s very supportive as a parent and he loves Beavertown; his favourite beer is Gamma Ray! And he’s very proud, I’m glad to have made him proud because he makes me very proud. I think we’re an inspiration to one another!
Beavertown beers are available from Master of Malt.