Something big is brewing at a company in Arundel which was taken over in January and is now on course for major rebranding and expansion in the years ahead.
The past six months have been a steep but very exciting learning curve for the Walker family, who have bought Arundel Brewery, based at the Ford industrial estate.
Since then Samantha Walker and her brother-in-law Neil’s feet have hardly touched the ground as they got to grips with preserving all the traditional values of this long-established, award-winning local brewery, while at the same time giving it a more contemporary edge.
The company’s mantra is ‘great local beer produced by great local people’ and that’s precisely how the Walkers intend it to remain.
They are also determined to stay very much part of the Arundel community. Samantha’s first action was to join the Chamber of Trade, closely followed by taking a stall at the town’s monthly farmers’ market.
Now they have strengthened that commitment by becoming one of the main sponsors of this year’s Arundel Festival and in the very near future, bottles of their famous Sussex Gold beer will be appearing with stylish new labels, with a special limited edition planned for release during the weeks of that event.
This rebranding, which will also apply to the Arundel Special Bitter, is a bid to attract more younger fans.
“What we want to do is keep the existing customer base, but we also want to take advantage of the growing interest among younger people in the craft beer movement – there’s an increasing desire for locally-produced, quality beers,” said Samantha, who is focusing on the marketing and brand growth side of the business.
“There are many small breweries all over the country which are having great success, and we think Arundel should be part of that.”
The brewery supplies draught beers to licensed premises all over West Sussex and also has a range of bottled beers which have proved very successful in supermarkets – they are stocked locally by branches of Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Threshers and Unwins, and in independent off-licences and restaurants. In 2008, Arundel Special Bitter won first prize in the 2008 Tesco Drinks Awards. Seasonal and special occasion brews are also produced throughout the year.
Samantha’s brother-in-law Neil has been kept busy learning every aspect of the brewery, while former managing director Jeremy Owen, who has been involved with the business since it was set up more than 20 years ago, has retained a small share and is still taking an active interest in its progress, concentrating on the technical side.
“When we took over, there was an extremely good existing team who have tremendous loyalty to the business and we have kept all of them,” said Samantha.
“It was very important to us to have some continuity. The only change has been in the ownership and I like to think we are moving ahead by giving everyone who works for us a new focus and real commitment to seeing it grow over the next few years.”
“One sip and he was in love!”
The Walker family have been great fans of the Arundel Brewery since Samantha, her husband Stuart and their son moved to East Preston about seven years ago.
“Stuart and I were down here house-hunting, staying at the Bailiffscourt hotel. One day Stuart asked the barman there which local beer he had, and he was given Sussex Gold. One sip and he was in love!”
Samantha is brimming over with enthusiasm about her new role.
“The business fascinates me,” she said. “I’m an avid cook so the whole brewing process intrigues me. I know there’s a big movement in the United States for more females to get involved in what is seen as an all-male environment and although
“I have no ambitions to be an actual brewer myself, but one of my goals for next year is to ‘get my hands dirty’ and find out more about that side of things.
“My son will be 14 in August and I made a very deliberate decision when he was born that I would be a full-time mother and housewife for many years. Now that he’s older, I can get my teeth into something else and for me, building up the brewery is laying down something for the family, so there is a heritage element to it.
“He can see it’s something which is being grown by myself and his uncle and that it’s a business he could get involved with in the future if he wants to.
“It will be interesting for him to see how we develop it over the years. He’s been involved in all the rebranding discussions, which is a rare insight for a teenager to have.
“And although it’s about developing something for the family, we feel a great responsibility for the guys who work at the brewery. They all love the product and I get the feeling they are really excited about the changes which are going on.
“It’s been a mad first six months since we took over as we were determined to hit the ground running, and to get as much involved with the Arundel Festival as we could.
“The Gallery Trail is a key part of the festival, something which we go to every year. So we invited all the artists to get involved in submitting a design for beermats which will be going into all the pubs in Arundel and further afield during the festival.
“We’ve had some tremendous entries so it has been quite difficult to choose three designs.
“We wanted them to be good examples of what the trail has to offer, which is such a huge scope, as well as something which would look good on a small shape like a beermat. We’ve chosen three lovely designs and it’s something we’d like to run every year – and we hope there will be a collectable element to it.”
Samantha will be starting brewery tours in the summer and also intends to start a beer club in August or September.
“We’re so proud of Arundel Brewery that we now want to shout about it,” she said.