New Year, new name!
As I am writing this I am looking at pictures from Rich and Griff of a burnt out control panel in the brewery 3305 miles away and the remains of a fire that luckily was contained to the hot liquor tank and didn't burn down the whole unit.
Charred wood and beer can go well together but I prefer it on the inside of a barrel instead of the cladding on our HLT, that just stinks up the brewery and sets us back a few weeks in cleaning and repairs. Setbacks like these have been the story of 2018 and why I am writing this update, as the title suggests we have decided to rebrand ourselves in 2019.
This decision did not come lightly and we would rather not, but after a year of letter writing and tens of thousands of pounds in legal costs our hand has been forced. We decided to give up fighting for our trademark and concentrate on what matters to us, brewing beer and sharing it with you.
Fire damage behind the HLT
When Rich and I first named the brewery, as a precaution we applied for and successfully trademarked West by Three™. The trademarking process in the UK comprises of an initial search period to check for duplication, once the trademark application is deemed valid and approved the proposed trademark is clearly advertised for a period of time.
During this period anyone who has a problem with the trademark can object to it and if there are issues with the proposed trademark it will either be granted or refused based on the claims of the third parties. This is a very open process and it concludes with a straight forward outcome, you either have a trademark or you don't and you know who objected to it.
In October 2017 we were taken by surprise when we received a letter from a lawyer representing a Scottish brewery telling us that they didn't like that one of the words in our name was trademarked by them. We hired some IP lawyers and they wrote letters back and forth for the best part of a year.
This letter writing exercise wiped out any hope of profit each month, which in-turn lead to no new equipment purchases such as a better mashtun and more FVs. Our lawyers estimated that we would need between £100k - 150k to take this to court and receive an official decision from a judge.
Equipment upgrades allow for larger quantities of even better beer, more efficiencies and you guessed it more profits. We were stuck in a hole and our brand name was the proverbial concrete block tied to our feet, and slowly dragging us down.
There were real casualties from this unseen financial burden, by February we could no longer afford Aled and then in May we could no longer afford to pay our brewer Colin.
Rich at work, designated driver for the big man
This left Rich a full time business owner, full time Welsh Air Ambulance Pilot and now full time brewer to try and output enough beer to make ends meet. Luckily we were able to keep Griff on two days a week, it has been a huge ask of them both and they have gone above and beyond to produce the highest quality product possible.
Rich and I don't lead with this when talking about the brewery but at this point I feel that it is important to share as it is part of our story. We don't take any money out of the business, we both work full time to financially support ourselves and our families, Rich as a helicopter pilot for the Welsh Air Ambulance and myself as the Brooklyn studio head for the design firm Ammunition.
Iconic Brooklyn pic of me, probably looking for the perfect flat white or something
(Picture credit: Wes Sumner & Ammunition)
We setup the brewery using our savings from working for the last 15 years and don't have any additional family money, investors or financing. Everything in the unit we have bought secondhand or cobbled together ourselves.
Working full time means the brewery doesn't have the burden of supporting us financially but the downside is that it takes us longer to do things because we have to fit it all around our day jobs. In hindsight we could have quit our jobs and thrown ourselves into the thick of it but the thing we always come back to is we love beer but we also really enjoy our jobs and if beer was our full time job would we love it as much?
Berry White IPA in Brooklyn
People often ask me "Why didn't you setup in Brooklyn?" or "Why Swansea?" and sometimes even "Where is Wales? Is it near London?". I have lived in America for the last 12 years, it is my home and since 2016 I have been a dual citizen, but as the saying goes "You can take the boy out of the valleys but you can't take the valleys out of the boy". I love Wales and I am proud to be Welsh and it has always been important to me to grow a business in Wales that benefits the region and one day creates jobs.
Me being over 3000 miles away has never helped on a day to day physical basis but I contribute as much as I can on the design and digital front and the rebranding process will fall on my shoulders and I am excited to do it all again.
For the last 10 years it has been our dream to bring the types of craft beer we have enjoyed all over the world back home and 2 years ago we took that plunge. It has been a rough road full of ups and downs and we have wanted to throw the towel in many times but there is something that always keeps us going and this year it became obvious to us.
In March we entered the Raise the Bar competition for a spot at the Edinburgh, London and Bristol Craft Beer festivals, to our utter surprise we won a spot alongside 3 amazing new UK breweries. We were humbled to be at the festivals with Boxcar (Sam), Burnt Mill (Charles & Sean) and Unity (Jimmy, Jim and Bolo), these are all breweries that we look up to and hope to emulate. It was wonderful to be at all three festivals are so grateful to Greg Wells and the We Are Beer team for organizing such amazing festivals in the UK, we were fan boys in our element surrounded by heavy hitters from around the world.
That thing I mentioned above that has kept us going became apparent at these festivals. It was sharing beer with the beer drinking public, seeing a smile on someone's face when they taste and enjoy something that you have created with hard work and love is incredibly inspirational and is the reason why we have kept at it, our epiphany was that it was the beer they enjoyed and we should not be tied down by our existing brand name.
Rich at Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival in May (Picture credit: We are beer)
After the London Craft Beer Festival, Rich and I were energised and had realised that we could change our name and everything would be ok, with this new energy we set to work on deciding on a new name.
A do over is an opportunity to learn from past and improve on things could have been simpler. West by Three was difficult to explain and our logo had been confusing to some people, so we decided that our new name would be one word and easy to read, armed with these tenets we set to work.
The name came to us quickly, we both work on this project in our free time and ultimately our time is free, so why not call ourselves Freetime? It was an instant hit, so we set to work checking for urls, social media handles and trademarks, we were awarded the UK trademark in November.
Dubbel we brewed 2 years ago, cracked a few open for the renaming, sure it helped
As I am posting this update on New Years Day 2019, I would like to finish up by saying thanks and acknowledging everyone we have meet in the UK craft beer scene over the last 2 years. First and foremost the craft beer drinking public and the independent publicans who serve them, our brewery friends, the festival and event organisers and finally our fantastic wholesale customers. Without all of you I would be writing a very different update.
Thanks for reading and a happy and prosperous New Year to you and yours!
Hamish, Rich, Griff & James