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Top 10 crowdfunded drinks trade initiatives

Published:  12 January, 2015

The rise in crowdfunding proves that in today's business world, the customer is more powerful and more vocal than ever before - and the drinks trade has been quick to capitalise. Laura Vickers reports on 10 recent stand-out fund-raising initiatives of the past two years

The rise in crowdfunding proves that in today's business world, the customer is more powerful and more vocal than ever before - and the drinks trade has been quick to capitalise. Laura Vickers reports on 10 recent stand-out fund-raising initiatives of the past two years


Milk and Honey

1. Milk and Honey

An opportunity for an Israeli whiskey doesn't come around very often, but crowdfunding has brought it one step closer.

The Milk and Honey distillery was founded by a group of friends in 2012. By mid-2013 requests to buy its first batch of whiskey were growing, so they utilised the demand to fund the first production run.

A few years' ageing would stand between the investors and their first bottle, but that didn't put them off. The founders used Indiegogo to raise US$75,000 (£48,000) - US$10,000 (£6,400) more than their goal - within 50 days.

"We were surprised by how much we learnt about our audience"

Simon Fried

The campaign has helped to shape and refine the distillery's aims. "We were surprised by how much we learnt about our audience," explains founder Simon Fried. "We also learnt a lot about who was interested in what we were doing, where they were from and what they wanted from us."

Blue Crow

2. Blue Crow

When Blue Crow Media - a company that creates city drinking guides and apps - decided to move from editorial and digital consulting to focus entirely on creating its own products, it turned to crowdfunding to aid its change of direction.

Using Seedrs, it raised £58,000 - against a target of £50,000 - over 10 weeks in 2013, giving away 5.82% equity in the process.

The money has enabled it to create several new apps, including the London Wine Guide, Craft Breweries of London and London's Best Cocktail Bars, which in turn  allow it to champion high-quality independent drinks businesses in the capital.

Founder Derek Lamberton says: "The most obvious benefit is that many of the owners of venues we champion have invested in our company. This has led to further engagement within the industries we feature. Our shareholders are mostly comprised of people who have been using our apps for a number of years now. It has been especially exciting to know who these people are and to have them involved even further."

Blue Crow will be launching a new Seedrs campaign next month to further develop its range of products, as well as releasing a series of books.


3. UBrew

Although it isn't due to launch until later this year, the team behind UBrew didn't have any problem getting beer lovers behind their innovative concept of a co-brewing premises, in which they provide the equipment, expertise and ingredients, and eager new brewers can create their own beer as part of a community.

Using the less well-known British site Crowdfunder, UBrew founders Wilf Horsfall and Matt Denham initially only aimed to raise £3,700, the amount they believed they would need to get started. "By day three of the 42-day campaign we'd already hit 50% of that target, and it became very apparent that we were going to make far more than we'd thought," Horsfall explains.

"We ended up raising £12,050 - 321.3% of our goal - and we hadn't even had any major press coverage!"

He continues: "What really did surprise me wasn't just that people wanted to buy the idea, they also wanted to phone us up and chat to us about it. I've met some great people who I genuinely can't wait to get brewing with."

Ubrew is also conducting a round of equity finance over the next month through CrowdCube - see


4. Beer 52

After raising £27,000 in private investment, James Brown - the founder of monthly craft beer subscription service Beer 52 - launched his crowdfunding campaign on Angels Den in December 2013. He broke his £100,000 target an impressive 22 days ahead of schedule.

The money allowed his team to build its new website and saw the company increase its subscribers by 200%. Brown says crowdfunding has benefited more than just Beer 52: "Off the back of the campaign, we've promoted over 50 new microbreweries and created six new jobs. And it has allowed the community to become part of our story. We offered the chance to win free beer for life as a reward and one investor now enjoys tasty beer in the post every month, forever."

Having customers get involved in backing his business has reinforced Brown's belief that he is doing something people love and he is already planning to use crowdfunding again.

"We're running another campaign in the new year for a really cool new project," he says. "Creating the world's first on-demand beer-delivery button."

Humble grape

5. Humble Grape

Labelling itself a wine café, Humble Grape is one of the first independent wine shops to use crowdfunding, and has raised over £500,000 via a campaign on Seedrs.

It has used the capital to rebrand and relaunch its website and set up its first London premises at which it hosts monthly social events. It is already considering repeating the process to secure further London shop locations.

"It surprised me that people didn't just want to buy the idea, they also wanted to phone us up and chat to us about it. I've met some great people"

Wilf Horsfall

Using crowdfunding has allowed it to expand at a far quicker rate than would previously have been possible.

Four Pillars

6. Four Pillars Gin

The Four Pillars team had been experimenting with creating an Australian craft gin for over 18 months when they decided to crowdfund the first batch "to get our story out into the world" in November 2013. Using the crowdfunding site Pozible, they planned to spend a whole month selling the first batch of gin, but they sold out after just four days, raising over US$30,000 (£20,000). The gin was launched in December 2013 and went on to win a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition within six months.

"That initial community of 300 supporters has a huge stake in our distillery and in our future success," founder Matt Jones says. "We simply would not be where we are today - including already being sold in the UK, Denmark and Singapore - without them."

As a sign of their gratitude, the Four Pillars team has rewarded its supporters with first access to any new products, and the Navy Strength Gin and Barrel-Aged Gin they have launched since have been enthusiastically received. This year they will crowdfund again to build "Australia's finest craft gin distillery, an amazing celebration of the twin crafts of distilling and cocktail making in the Yarra Valley".

Soul Tree Wines

7. Soul Tree Wine

Founded in 2011 by Oxford MBAs Melvin D'Souza and Alok Mathur, Soul Tree Wine is a British business producing wine in India, with the aim of putting Indian wine more firmly on the map.

Working with and supporting underprivileged Indian farmers, they have focused on creating wines to match curry and spicy cuisine, and already have over 600 outlets in the UK, including Michelin-starred restaurants and boutique hotels.

After having bootstrapped their way through the early stages of the business, they are currently using Crowdcube to raise funds so they can scale up production, hire more staff and invest in branding and marketing. At the time of writing they have already raised well over £150,000.

Alok believes the positivity from their campaign will hopefully reflect on the Indian wine industry as a whole: "India is not really known as a wine-producing region but it is extremely heartening to see how intuitive investors are finding the proposition and how they are reacting to it. Our investor community already includes a great mix of people from industry stalwarts to wine experts."

The campaign continues until 20th January.

Hop Stuff

8. Hop Stuff

London's Hop Stuff brewery turned to crowdfunding after ruling out bank financing because of a poor debt-to-equity ratio. Within 30 days, it had raised £30,000 on Crowdcube.

Without that, it would never have got up and running: "The crowdfunding was seed capital. There was no business before it, but we knew crowdfunding had been used by breweries before and we were very aware that a lot of the local community were looking to support us. Crowdfunding allowed other people to own a little part of the brewery," explains founder and chief executive James Yeomans. "We see a lot of local support from those who invested."

"The crowdfunding was seed capital, there was no business without it"

James Yeomans

James has since been able to resign from his job and focus on the brewery full time, and he is now monitoring the development of mini-bonds for a possible "crowdfunded beer bond" as a future project.


9. The Jura Wine Book

Wine writer and Jura wine region expert Wink Lorch knew there had never been an English book about Jura wines and was desperate to create one.

However, publishers wanted to group this small region with nearby Savoie and Bugey, and neither she nor the Jura wine producers agreed. So, in April 2013, Lorch used Kickstarter to try to amass the funds needed to self-publish.

In just one month she raised £12,500 - £5,000 more than her goal - and received donations from complete strangers as well as friends and acquaintances.

"All 375 people who pledged presumably have a strong belief in either me, in the Jura wine region, in the future of wine books, or maybe all of these things," she says. "They were persuaded to get out their credit cards - in many cases through a system they had not used before."

The book received high praise on publication from respected wine writers such as Tom Cannavan and is now stocked and sold all over the world. Lorch's success has encouraged other writers to crowdfund their own niche wine books, as Richard Bray did with Salt and Old Vines, which was released in May 2014.


10. Heroes Drinks

Founded by military veteran Chris Gillan, premium-vodka producer Heroes Drinks pledges 20% of its profits to armed forces and veterans' charities, and is the first company of its kind in the drinks industry.

Chris and his colleagues first pursued an equity-based crowdfunding campaign using SquareKnot, intending to use investments to grow and promote the brand about which they were so passionate. However, as the campaign ran and he began to attract investors, he realised he wanted Heroes Drinks to be a social enterprise, and he knew he would rather focus on raising money for charity than for shareholders.

He made the bold decision to abandon the crowdfunding campaign and refocus on securing the company's social enterprise status - a lengthy process in Scotland, where Heroes Drinks is based. "It just wasn't the right platform for us," he says. "But a lot of people are really behind what we're doing and want to help us grow, so we're launching a rewards-based crowdfunding campaign in the coming months."

The company has since been shortlisted for Startup of the Year 2014 for Scotland at the Big Start Up Loans Competition.