Plant shows whole lotta love for craft beer
Son of former Led Zeppelin singer left music business to set up London-based brewery
Logan Plant: “I was obsessed. I had a dream about building a brewery.”
Logan Plant attributes his love of beer to a childhood growing in the English west midlands, where his father would take him around the pubs in the Black Country, that swathe of post-industrial landscape north of Birmingham.
England, unlike Ireland, never lost its culture of local breweries and plenty in the Black Country have survived to this day.
“The pub is a very big part of life in the Midlands. Like in Ireland, it is an extension of the home,” Plant says.
The son of former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, he wears his family association lightly. “We’re from a working-class family, it is what it is. We drink a pint, we eat pork scratchings, we laugh and we cry together.
“I’m a yam yam, that’s what I am,” he says, a reference to the nickname Black Country people give to themselves. He has the accent to prove it.
Led Zeppelin split up in 1980 and, with a couple of notable exceptions, have never been back together again. “I was about 12 before I even listened to Led Zeppelin,” says Plant. “I just had a dad who took me on holidays to cool places and took me skateboarding.”
In a league table of Boys’ Own dreams, becoming a professional footballer or a rock singer would be near the top. Plant has been both and, in between, a male model. He was on the books of West Bromwich Albion before playing semi-professional football in the League of Wales with Inter Cardiff.
This was followed by a career in music as the lead singer in two bands. It did not work out the way he wanted it to. The music industry is a more frustrating and less rewarding beast than it was when Led Zeppelin were around.
Entering his 30s and was now married with two young children, a life on the road was no longer appealing. He found himself returning to a hobby he had been tinkering with since he was 20: brewing.
“I was obsessed. I had a dream about building a brewery,” he recalled. “I changed my dream and I am so happy to have done that.”
Determined to put down roots, Plant founded a barbecue restaurant in north London, Duke’s Brew & Que, in 2011. Four months later began brewing at the restaurant on a small scale using a 700-litre kit. He would brew at 6am, and the beer would ferment in the basement while he did a shift in the restaurant.
He named the brewery Beavertown after De Beauvoir Town, the area of Hackney, north London in which it was originally situated.
“We spent eight hours a day looking at the wall, my wife and I, hand-labelling 1,500 bottles,” he said.
“We had to put everything on the line bar the kids to establish the business. Adversity brings great things. I wouldn’t change any part of our journey from where we are or where we are going to go in the next few years.”
The success of Beavertown has been striking even factoring in the rise in the craft beer industry worldwide. The company now employs 52 people in a purpose-built brewery in north London producing 50,000 hectolitres – five million litres – of craft beer a year. The flagship product is its Gamma Ray American Pale Ale (5.4 ABV), which accounts for 45 per cent of Beavertown sales.
A critical breakthrough was the decision, made early on, to can rather than bottle the beer.
“I started to use to use KeyKegs [disposable kegs] and I noticed there was a massive difference in the experience. With bottles, it was OK for four weeks, but once light got in, it started to affect the state of the beer and it deteriorated. Cans are just small kegs.”
The other standout factor for Beavertown has been the artwork on its products. Beavertown cans are unmistakable even given the clutter of craft beer products on the market. Gamma Ray harks back to 1950s science fiction with its colour scheme of sky blue and yellow and its alien tableau.
Plant says it was a stroke of good fortune that a waiter at Duke’s, Nick Dwyer, was also a creative arts student and showed some sketches to him. Dwyer is now the creative director at Beavertown.
“Differentiation is the key,” Plant says. London has a claim to be the craft beer capital of the world. There are 90 craft brewers in a geographically small area. With so much choice, it takes more than a famous lineage and distinctive art work to stand out.
“You need to make people gravitate towards your beer on a shelf,” he says. “But no matter how good you look, people will not come back if the quality is not there.
Irish Craft Beer Festival
Beavertown is one of the guest brewers at the Irish Craft Beer Festival, which is running at the RDS until Saturday.
The festival, now in its sixth year, is an occasion for taking stock and reflecting on what the industry anticipates will see a 50 per cent increase in turnover this year in Ireland, from €40 million to €60 million. There are now craft breweries in 23 of the 26 counties, numbering some 90 in total.
By any measure the industry is booming. The question is whether or not this is a permanent shift in consumption or a passing fad.
Domestic demand means Beavertown has cut back on its export markets, but it will continue to distribute in Ireland. Plant is familiar with the Irish market, as he advised Waterford’s Metalman Brewing on its canning range. He is a regular visitor to Dublin.
“I know there are some great breweries in Ireland. We have similar beer cultures. We both like our beer,” he says.