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Dark Star MD Cuthbertson: quality "is at the heart" of what Asahi does 

INTERVIEW: Dark Star MD James Cuthbertson

Managing director James Cuthbertson has spoken exclusively to The Brewery Manual about his confidence in the future of Dark Star Brewing Co following the takeover of parent company Fuller’s by Japanese giant Asahi.

While confirming he’d not been involved in the deal and admitting that “all the focus” had been on Fuller’s flagship brand London Pride, he feels “pretty relaxed” about the security of the Sussex brewery.

Cuthbertson was speaking a year to the day after the announcement that Dark Star had itself been acquired by the Chiswick-based family firm, 12 months that have seen Fuller’s commit to the Sussex brewery by signing a new lease on the Partridge Green site and investing in equipment, including a canning line.

Asahi Europe is paying £250 million for the Fuller’s beer business, including Dark Star, and is expected to complete the deal “in a couple of months”.

“I’d had no sense of what was going to happen, and I heard about it very late on but there was confidentiality to consider and I didn’t really need to know,” said Cuthbertson.

“It was a shock for everyone but we’d had a year of adjusting to Fuller’s, so it was business as usual in that way. We just crack on with things.

“This period of waiting for completion is always an unsettling time, but I’m pretty relaxed,” he went on. “Asahi are not stupid. People think the first thing they’ll do is ruin everything good about the business, but they’ve bought a brewery to keep a brewery.

“We’ve just signed a 10-year lease and made a six-figure investment and they’re not going to throw that away.

“I’ve had a couple of conversations with them and they seem like a nice bunch. Quality is at the heart of what they do and they talked about the quality of ingredients and so on. I’m confident we’ll eventually be in a situation where we’ll actually learn a bit from them.”

Cuthbertson understood the focus on London Pride. “It’s a brand with worldwide potential, and that goes for ESB, too, I think. 

“That isn’t Dark Star, we won’t be a worldwide brand, but we have a regional business here with potential and there are opportunities for us, nevertheless.

“And if being part of a larger organisation brings greater security in a very competitive marketplace that’s a good thing – this is about people and jobs.”

He also revealed that the first cans off the new line – a seven-head in-line LinCan unit from ABE that can fill up to 35 cans a minute – will be Crème Brulee in 330ml, set to hit the shelves in March. That will be followed by Session IPA in 440ml cans in April.

The line will also be filling Fuller’s beers, Cuthbertson added. “Not the big brands but seasonals and supermarket specials. We want to make full use of the Dark Star site, to sweat the assets here.

“Having our own canning line makes us more commercial,” he continued. “It gives us the advantages of better stability and control over the product, and that consistency means we can take our beers into the multiples.

“It also gives us the flexibility to do short runs of one of our own specials and there are already plans to work alongside key retailers to produce some bespoke products.”

A new cold store and a bar area for hosting events have also recently been installed at the brewery.

Phil Mellows
7th March 2019

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