Life in the armed forces teaches you to act as a team. By moving and working together you become stronger and improve the situation around you. This might well be the unwritten ethos behind Veterans Brewing (VB), a new initiative heading to Sussex.
Will Farmer was running the Veterans Network, an online community where ex-servicemen can communicate and advertise their businesses, when he came across Veterans Brewing, and their work in Glasgow. “I thought: this sounds good,” he tells me. “Obviously, ale in Sussex is very big. So, I flew up there and started everything pretty much straight away.”
Established on Armistice Day 2014, Veterans Brewing is the creation of ex-servicemen Tommy Watt and Alex McDivitt. Their vision was to support veterans through employment and raise funds for good causes. “I don’t think people realise how many veterans there are,” Will continues. “There’s an estimated 2.5 million in the UK. The government doesn’t actually keep a database of how many there are. We’re about 20 years behind America in terms of veteran support, but we’re starting to realise more needs to be done.” By utilising existing contacts and relationships within their community, VB is looking to establish a range of microbrewery franchises across the country with as many veterans involved as possible.
The brewery’s co-founder Alex McDivitt is clear about his vision for the venture. “Conventional business has shareholders, who want lots of money back. We want to make money to reinvest it in to veterans and children’s charities. We don’t need lots of money, just a wage and a successful business which can be passed on to others.” Previously working with a range of charities, he and friend Tommy Watt opened their own plant in Glasgow last year. Since then, they’ve received accreditation from the Society of Independent Brewers, as well as getting their beer into Scottish branches of Wetherspoons. “Many veterans think: ‘What do I do next?’ They like to work for themselves, but they also like to work with other military people.” Now he and his team are looking to extend their scope further south. By involving this tight-knit community and continuing to create great-tasting products, there’s no reason why this couldn’t develop into the UK’s biggest brewery network.
A launch recently took place at Brighton’s The Cricketers, one of the first pubs in Sussex to start stocking VB ales. This brought together a collection of beer enthusiasts, landlords, ex-servicemen and blind veterans getting together to celebrate the product. On offer were two premium quality ales, which are being sold at a reasonable price. Tracer, a well-rounded amber ale which is designed to ‘light up at night’, has caramel tones with a light bitterness and clean finish. Its companion 303, a golden ale named after the standard round used for over 70 years by the British Army, gives a light malt sweetness and some pleasing fruit notes. Complimented by eye-catching pump fronts and bottle labels, both could be described as easy drinkers. There are plans to expand the range with a VPA – Veterans Pale Ale – a play on the traditional Indian Pale Ale.
It can be tough leaving the forces. From one day working in a close-knit team, you’re soon returned to civilian life with only a basic preparation for what awaits. “When I left the Army, I got sent on a course on how to write a CV,” says Will. “I sent that off to an employer, and they rung me up saying: ‘I don’t mean to be rude, but who taught you write that? This is how they were written ten years ago!’” In reaction to the obstacles he faced, he set up Veterans Network to encourage people to help each other out after leaving the forces. Now he’s equally passionate about his brand, willing to talk to landlords and customers alike about his product and ethos. Serving others before themselves, a percentage of the profits of Veterans Brewing Sussex will be divided between several veterans’ charities. There’s plenty of scope for great work amongst the community. “A personal aim of mine is to find a veteran on the streets of Brighton, give him a job and get him out of that. If I help one person at a time, it’s better than nothing.” Veterans Brewing’s 303 and Tracer are now available at Sussex’s finest pubs, including The Cricketers, The Long Man of Wilmington, The Ladies Mile, Stanley Arms and Three Jolly Butchers.