Tenterden's Chapel Down disposes of Curious beer and cider brand, and its brewery in Ashford, with private equity firm Risk Capital Partners poised to takeover

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Winemaker Chapel Down has ditched its Curious beer and cider range - less than two years after it unveiled a multi-million brewery and visitor centre devoted to it in Ashford.

The Tenterden-based firm said the impact of the lockdown over the last 12 months, while seeing wine sales soar, had hit its trade to pubs hard.

The Curious Brewery in Ashford is set for new owners
The Curious Brewery in Ashford is set for new owners

Some 90% of its beer is sold to pubs and restaurants - most of which have been forced to close for lengthy periods due to the pandemic.

The Curious Drinks business will now be placed into administration before being immediately acquired by private equity firm Risk Capital Partners (RCP).

No money will change hands due to the deal and there are no plans to make any redundancies, with RCP planning to continue to grow the business.

The brand had been seen as a rising star in the Chapel Down success story, with the opening of the Curious Brewery in Ashford in 2019 being heralded with great fanfare.

Taking 18 months to construct and costing £1.7million, the venue also boasts a 120-cover restaurant.

Chapel Down chief executive Frazer Thompson
Chapel Down chief executive Frazer Thompson

Explained Frazer Thompson, CEO of the Chapel Down Group: “The Covid-19 pandemic has upturned the best laid plans of businesses all over the world and has required companies to respond to the crisis with flexibility and agility.

"In our case that involved pivoting our multichannel strategy to have a stronger focus on supermarkets and e-commerce direct sales to consumers for our wines which resulted in volume sales growth of 38% in 2020.

"Demand and respect for English wines and Chapel Down in particular, is growing all the time, and as the leading brand and business we see a significant opportunity and a very bright future for Chapel Down. We certainly won’t be abandoning the hospitality business – we love it – and will support its return vigorously with our wines and spirits.

“It has, however, been a very difficult year for the Curious Drinks business which, as a young brand with 90% of its sales to the on-trade hospitality sector, has been severely impacted by the uncertainty and frequent shuttering of that industry.

“Following a strategic review, the board has taken the decision to focus our energy and resources on building the Chapel Down brand and business to ensure that we continue to flourish. While this has been a difficult decision, we are very pleased to have found in Risk Capital Partners an excellent home for Curious Drinks – and the Curious team – where the business will be able to fulfil its exciting growth potential.

The restaurant at the Curious Brewery in Ashford, which opened in 2019
The restaurant at the Curious Brewery in Ashford, which opened in 2019

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the team at Curious Drinks and the brewery, and all those customers and suppliers who have supported it over the years. I look forward to seeing its continued success in the coming years under new ownership.”

Luke Johnson, founder of Risk Capital Partners, added: “We see terrific potential in the Curious Drinks business, and we’re very excited about its future, despite the challenges of the past year. Brewing will always be a cornerstone of British culture, and the craft beer revolution has only strengthened that. Curious is a great brand made in a fabulous facility, and with our support we believe the business can be developed further. We are particularly pleased to be taking on all Curious employees, who bring with them a wealth of insight and knowledge.”

The deal will remove Curious from the Chapel Down Group along with its net debt. It is a move which will reduce Chapel Down's unaudited net debt from £7.2m to £0.1m.

A date for completion of the takeover by RCP has yet to be confirmed.

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