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The Wild Card team: co-founders William Harris (second from left, front row) and Andrew Birkby (far left, back row) with head brewer Jaega Wise (middle back row)

Wild Card doubles down on brewing expansion

Waltham Forest’s Wild Card Brewery is set to raise the stakes by brewing on two sites in the east London borough after raising £300,000 on Crowdcube.

New premises on the Lockwood trading estate in Walthamstow, rented from the local council, will house a 12-barrel brewery and eight 2,200 conical fermenters from China enabling the firm to brew up to twice a day, extend sales beyond the capital and reach new export markets. (The equipment is from Staffordshire Brewing Supplies.)

Brewing there should be under way by the end of this year, while Wild Card’s ‘old’ six-barrel brewery on the Ravenswood estate, installed in 2014, will continue to brew specials and barrel-aged beers.

William Harris, who started the business as a ‘cuckoo’ brewing operation with Andrew Birkby in 2012, described the expansion as “a big step up”.

He explained, “It’s been a hard battle to keep up with demand. We’ve gone from brewing once a week to twice a day on the six-barrel plant.

“We started with a £4,000 investment and it’s been a lean existence for five years, but now we can get on with developing Lockwood, investing in new equipment, expanding our sales team, and having a bar on both sites.

“We’ll be able to expand distribution outside of London and we’ve already started exporting to Russia. We also want to do more special one-offs in cans.”

Expanding at Ravenswood was not an option, he explained. “Finding space is extremely difficult in London. Outside London it’s common to grow into the units around you, but that’s impossible here. There are eight units on the estate and they’re all growing, exciting businesses.”

Wild Card hit its initial £250,000 target on the crowdfunding website after just seven days and closed on £300,000 two days later. Some 380 investors are enjoying incentives from free beer and merchandise to parties and events and a chance to brew themselves.

“It was really fast,” said Harris. “There is no big investor, it’s the enthusiasm of the local community. Most of the investment has come from people we don’t know who have put in a minimum of £10, though we me might have met them here – having a bar on site helps.

“It’s been a big part of our success that our neighbours have always drunk our beer and we’ve always had people talking about us. Taking the crowdfunding route was a big opportunity for them to join us on our journey. They have bought a stake in the company.”

Wild Card has carved out a distinctive identity with its playing card branding, and attracted media attention in part thanks to head brewer Jaega Wise’s parallel career as a soul singer.

Almost all production now goes into keg and bottle, with cask beers reserved for the company’s own on-site bar.

Phil Mellows
29th September 2017

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