In its first year of trading, Powder Monkey Brewing has exploded onto the local hospitality and leisure scene. Its historic and unique location offers an equally distinctive proposition to the ever-growing number of customers, while its beers are winning awards. CEO Andy Burdon FBII talks to BII News’ Editor Kate Oppenheim CBII about its success and future plans.
Being forced to temporarily close due to the discovery of World War II bombs comes with the territory for Andy Burdon FBII, as the boss of Powder Monkey Brewing, housed on the Navy’s historic Priddy’s Yard site in Gosport, Hampshire.
Powder Monkey, the bygone name for someone who was employed on naval warships to carry the gunpowder from the magazine to the guns, is a clever moniker for a business located in premises that date back to 1878, and were used as stores for gunpower and shells up until the end of the Second World War.
For Andy, his team and the group of investors and shareholders behind the brand, the creation of Powder Monkey has been a labour of love: from first discovering the site in 2019 and negotiating the lease in 2020,
to beginning brewing and opening their bar in July 2021, with the first full month of trading happening in August 2021.
One year on, Andy is pleased to say: “It has been a great success story. We’ve transformed what was a derelict building and repurposed it into something that people want to come and visit. The building blows people away!”
Powder Monkey’s brewhouse is a 25hl, four vessel, steam-powered brewery, with 120hl of fermentation and beer storage facilities, along with its own keg and canning line. In August this year, it was flat out, says Andy, producing the equivalent of 4,500 cans per brew. In its first year, it has gone from a starting base of zero, to brewing three times a week.
“We’re still relatively small, in brewing terms, but unusually for something our size, we are quite sophisticated, because we do our own canning and kegging on site,” says Andy, adding that brewery revenue doubled in Q2 this year over Q1.
Powder Monkey’s growth is fuelled by Andy and the team’s desire to take every opportunity to achieve organic, long-term growth, with a large focus on building the brand. It is involved with several organisations, including Hampshire Fare, which champions local produce, and BBQ Magazine, which promotes its two beers suited to flame-cooked food.
“We’re doing some great things, such as supplying festivals and events, plus we sell our beers to local businesses, as well as through our bar, The Powder Monkey.”
The brewery is SIBA FSQ certified and is producing award-winning beer. Its BBQ Rye IPA won the silver prize in SIBA’s Regional Award 2021, while it achieved gold for its Explosion IPA. In September, the brewery launched the official beer for the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s famous warship, which sunk off Portsmouth in 1545 and is on display at the Historic Portsmouth Dockyard Museum, along with thousands of artefacts from the ship and its crew.
“Our Head Brewer, Mark Hamblin, spent a lot of time visiting the Mary Rose exhibition to research and understand what life was like on board, as he wanted to produce a beer that would be a modern interpretation of the smells and tastes, such as the spices, that they would have had on board at the time.”
Mary Rose beer is a 4.6% ABV wheat-based keg and can beer, which has a herby, cracked pepper and smooth bready clove flavour. Available on draught and in can, it’s already being sold alongside other Powder Monkey beers in the shops and restaurants in the dockyard, with Andy in negotiations to make it more widely available in handpicked premises around the Portsmouth area.
Back on the water-front at Gosport, The Powder Monkey bar offers customers the choice of indoor and outdoor areas, seating over 175 covers, and is open from midday to 10pm Sunday to Thursday and noon to 11pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The food offer, currently high quality imported German hotdogs and lamb koftas, which Andy describes as “soakage food”, is being evolved, by working with local and artisan suppliers. A new menu was launched for this summer.
“We want to really open up our offer. We’re constantly on the look out for new opportunities and where we can add to our revenue stream – and food is part of that. We are also doing more events and live music, alongside our popular Sunday night bingo,” he says, explaining that they are very community-focussed and appeal to a broad customer base, from families to OAPs. With their naval connections, they also offer a veterans’ discount for members of the forces.
“The Powder Monkey is not only a craft beer bar that attracts true beer lovers, but a community hub, somewhere everyone can relax, feel comfortable and enjoy great food, beer and cider in a spectacular building with great views of the sea.
“Our customers love us because we offer something different. The bar is right on the water and we sell our beer, plus ciders from Devon’s Sandford Orchards, while our spirits are crafted by local suppliers. We focus on selling a combination of local and non-mainstream products.”
Once a month, they host a local producers’ market at the brewery, with stalls selling quality, local produce from artisan bread to biltong and coffee.
“We like to collaborate with local and other businesses and, as a result, we get a lot of referrals. We aim to build long-term relationships and we are always having conversations with people about how we can connect with new pubs, shops and small chains to stock our beer, as well as brewing beers as gifts for our corporate client base.
“Everything we do, we do in a customer committed and friendly way,” says Andy, adding that its regular brewery tours attract lots of new guests, who get to sample the beers at the brewery bar, which is housed inside the brewery.
Andy also works closely with Portsmouth City Council and Gosport Borough Council, as well as spending lots of time networking with local organisations, including the university, which is developing an augmented reality project. In the near future, this will take visitors back in time to see the gunpowder store as it looked in Victorian times.
As for the bombs that caused the recent closure of the bar, there were at least five unexploded Second World War shells accidentally uncovered by a JCB-driver, who was working on a nearby building. All were successfully defused, but it’s more proof, if any was needed, that Powder Monkey packs a powerful punch with its explosive brand and unique customer proposition.
Powder Monkey Brewing Co achieved two wins at the SIBA Regional Bottle & Can awards 2021, with a silver for its BBQ Rye IPA, in the speciality medium to dark beers category, and a gold medal for its Explosion IPA, in the IPA category.