Jasper Cuppaidge went from backpacker to successful craft beer entrepreneur. In 2010, the Australian founded Camden Town Brewery in London, where it became especially known for its range of clean and refreshing lagers. Within five years, the brewery would be purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev, which would give the brand international legs. On the day the brewery launched in the U.S., The Beer Necessities caught up with Cuppaidge at its Manhattan HQ to learn more about this incredibly interesting dude.
TBN: How did you end up running one of the world’s most successful craft breweries?
JC: Well… I originally come from Australia and I was traveling around the world. When I got to London, I ran into some fellas I’d been surfing with in Mexico, missed a flight, got a bar job, and loved it – loved the hospitality industry. I worked my way up from collecting glasses to managing pubs and restaurants. I was always striving to work for myself so I bought my own place [the Horseshoe pub in Hampstead] with some money from my friends and family.
The Horseshoe was (and still is) a famous foodie pub in London. What was your vision for it?
We made sophistication uncomplicated and accessible. Stuff you’d normally have to go to really fancy, upmarket places to get: great food, great wine by the glass, great coffee – we made it affordable and for everyone. But when it came to beer, at the time, there just wasn’t much that was exciting.
So is this how the idea for Camden Town Brewery came about?
We’d have the main global brand players on the taps, but when it came to innovation, there was only real excitement coming out of breweries like Brooklyn and Sierra [Nevada]. So I thought ‘I’ll make a brewery! I’ll build a brewery in my pub’. So I went online, did a few courses, did a lot of traveling – and that’s how it started.
Sounds like you kind of made it up as you went along.
Haha. Yeah, 100 percent. I had actually brewed beer at boarding school – illegally, obviously – and blew a lot of stuff up because we were always trying to [rush] fermentations so as not to get caught! It’s a bit like cooking: When you cook a cake, you make it once, then you make it again and get better – then you have a great cake. Remember, beer had been in decline in the UK for many years at the time. There was very little innovation, no resources; there was nothing. So I built this thing out of scrap metal and started making what was pretty poor beer in the basement of my pub. I loved it. Although, my team didn’t like it because the place reeked of hops and grains. One day I found a massive A4 note on my desk that just said ‘please fucking stop,’ and still, to this day, I don’t know who it was.
But then the beer got good...
The beers kept selling so we built a bigger brewery in Kentish Town [area of London close to Camden]. We went from one customer one day to nearly 2000 today, and we’ve got an amazing fan base who love our beers. We run it a bit like a restaurant: service orientated, great relationships, good friendships. And here we are today in New York City.
Are you an NYC fan?
Yes. This city inspired me when it came to restaurants and bars. I came here for inspiration when it came to beer. Now we’ve brought Hells [lager] here because they were inspired by us. That’s an incredible circle.
What difference can you see between the UK and US craft beer scene?
When we started making beer in London there were three breweries. Now, in the space of six years, there are just over 100 breweries in the city. The scene is much more mature in the US, for sure. It’s now an expectation that every bar you go into has some sort of craft offering, which is amazing. But I’d say that because the UK can see what happened over here, we’re now moving a lot faster.
Which American beers do you like?
Where do you start? It’s more about brands and breweries, I think, but there are still many. Ska Brewery in Durango, Colorado. Firestone Walker are obviously world class. Boulevard and Sierra – how well they make beer is unprecedented. And then, of course, Brooklyn. I really resonate with Brooklyn because we’re very brand-led at our brewery too. Aside from the great beer, I feel Milton Glaser has done such a beautiful job with that brewery. Everything they do just looks class.
How will you retain your independence as part of large company like ABI?
First and foremost, it’s got to be about beer. We set out to make great beer. That hasn’t changed. I think our beer has actually improved since we joined ABI. We’ve had access to incredible knowledge – hundreds of years of knowledge – and great people. We just need to continue to do what we do. Continue to innovate; continue to up our game; continually make better quality beer. They’ve invested in us to grow. I think our fans have had an incredible five years but the next five to ten years are going to be better.
Final question: Who would win in a fight – Brooklyn or Camden?
Aww, God, that’s a hard one! I’d have to bow down to [Brooklyn Brewery founder] Steve [Hindy]. I love that guy and he’s just too much of a legend. So for the sake of being friends, I’d let him beat me up.
Note: Camden Town Brewery is owned by Anheuser-Busch.