Community Supported Breweries

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Rob Hopskins:

"The Community Supported Agriculture model, of communities buying shares in new local food ventures, can also be used for projects other than farms. One example is in the establishment of local breweries. Setting up a microbrewery can be an expensive businesses, so the story of Topsham Ales in Devon is very useful here. Transition Topsham held a few meetings, often in their local pub, which had been voted one of the ‘Top 5 Real Pubs’ in England. Their engagement efforts included reviving the Wassail tradition which hadn’t taken place in the town since 1936, and holding an Apple day and planting a new community orchard (sponsored by Bovril, as odd a matching of funder and recipient as I have yet come across in any Transition initiatives!). Then, at a meeting, the idea emerged of creating a community brewery as a project that brought together all the strands the group was interested in: localisation, community ownership and social enterprise. The fact that one member already brewed beer on a small scale helped. They saw a brewery as a great tool for deep engagement across the community, as a passion shared by most members of the community, something attractive to both sexes, something tangible and a great way to demonstrate Transition in action.

The idea was discussed at one of the local pubs and met with a very positive response, so a meeting was held where a wide range of skills were discovered among those who attended, including someone who knew someone who was trying to sell microbrewing equipment at half price. This offer, and the deadline attached to it, focused the mind of the group, and it became, all of a sudden, a real project. The group began meeting more regularly, and identified a potential site for the brewery at the back of Globe Hotel.

The group contained people with many useful skills, a solicitor, someone with experience of planning, and someone with lots of experience of setting up co-ops. The Topsham Ales Co-operative was then set up, its first committee was voted into place, a 3 year business plan was created which was circulated around everyone, and then the issue of membership was addressed. The idea was that the project needed to raise £35,000 in order to get the business going, and would invite members who would each invest a minimum of £500, in return for which they would get one vote and an annual dividend (to be agreed by the members). There was also an opportunity for people to become ‘Friends of Topsham Ales’ for a small fee, in return for which they receive regular updates on the project’s progress.

Within 2 months, and with very little marketing other that word-of-mouth, all the £37,000 of shares were sold to 56 members, and there was a waiting list of people wanting shares. Much of the work done to get the brewery established was done by volunteers, but some professional work was paid for with shares.

The building work was done on the brewery space, the equipment was purchased, the barrels were purchased and the first attempts at brewing were undertaken. At the time of writing, the brewery is still refining its brewing, ready for a launch in February 2011. It plans to sell through 3 Topsham pubs, and a couple in Exeter, as well as, in time, producing bottled beers. It will produce 3 main beers and some one-offs, and is getting ‘Topsham Ales’ pint glasses produced. They are keen that the beer be a celebration of Topsham, what they term “drinking the view”, and have done a lot of research into local history when designing the names of the beers.

Topsham Ales sees itself as the opportunity to model localisation in practice. It gives its spent yeast to a local baker, its spent hops are fed to local pigs, it will do its local deliveries by bicycle and trailer and it is sourcing an increasing amount of its hops from a grower in East Devon." (

More Information

  1. Community Supported Bakeries