Devils Backbone Expands to UK with Exclusive Retail Arrangement

Yet another U.S. craft brewer has embarked on a unique, international retail opportunity.

Devils Backbone Brewing has inked an exclusive licensing arrangement with the British retail chain J D Wetherspoon plc, which owns and operates more than 900 different-branded pubs and 32 hotel locations throughout Britain.

The Virginia-based brewery has licensed the recipe and naming rights of ‘Devils Backbone American IPA,’ to Wetherspoon, for exclusive availability, on draft, at the chain’s more than 930 locations. The beer, originally brewed by Devils Backbone brewmaster Jason Oliver at Wolverhampton, England’s Bank’s Brewery, is scheduled to be released on October 1.

Hayes Humphreys, Devils Backbone COO, said the opportunity arose when Wetherspoon approached the company with hopes of bringing a taste of American craft beer to the U.K.

“I think Wetherspoon has really gotten comfortable with the opportunity that American craft provides and gotten more in tune with what’s already budding in the U.K.,” he said. “They wanted just a flagship craft brand, I think, to kind of anchor a roll out of quite a few new products for them.”

Prior to five weeks ago, when Wetherspoon first approached Devils Backbone, an international expansion wasn’t on the company’s mind. But the opportunity was too big to pass up. Humphreys compared Witherspoon’s scale to that of the U.S.-based TGI Friday’s, which operates about 900 locations around the world. He was however quick to point out that Wetherspoon locations are more uniquely branded and vary by region.

The brewery has no current plans to distribute the beer stateside, added Humphreys, but there is a chance Devils Backbone will brew up a batch for its brewpub in Roseland, Va.

Devils Backbone’s foray into the U.K. comes less than two month after San Diego’s Green Flash Brewing announced a similar contract brewing and licensing agreement with Belgium’s St-Feuillien. In that arrangement, St-Feuillien will produce, bottle and ship Green Flash’s West Coast IPA for broader distribution throughout Europe.

Additional information on the partnership between Devils Backbone and Wetherspoon is included in the press release below.

London, England – Devils Backbone Brewing Company today announced the launch of American IPA, the first of the brewery’s beers to be sold outside of the United States. The beer is an original Devils Backbone recipe showcasing American hops and brewed especially for the English palate. The inaugural batch was crafted by Devils Backbone Brewmaster Jason Oliver at Banks’s Brewery in Wolverhampton, England and will release on tap at 930-plus Wetherspoon pub locations across the United Kingdom and Ireland on October 1st.

The beer features a mix of English and classic American hops which give it a bright, snappy, hop character. The English hop varieties, East Kent Goldings and Admiral, provide the underlying bitterness and flavor while the American varieties, added late in the process, fill out the flavor profile and give the beer a West Coast style citrus-pine nose. Working at Banks’s allowed Oliver to try some different brewing methods. The beer is made using a single-infusion mash of Pale Ale malt and fermented in open vats, which is significantly different from Devils Backbone’s traditionally Germanic approach at home in the US. The experience left Oliver nostalgic for the early days of his brewing career: “I started out at an English inspired brewery in Baltimore, and brewing at Banks’s really took me back, especially seeing the open fermentations. You can smell them, almost hear them slowly churning, and all but touch them. They’re tangible, alive and something I haven’t experienced in a long time.”

Devils Backbone American IPA will be served exclusively at all Wetherspoon locations throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. The beer will be offered on draft, rather than as a cask, which improves the sharpness of the hop flavors. Devils Backbone was impressed with their new retail partner’s commitment to selection and freshness. “We visited quite a few Wetherspoon pubs and I was struck by the number of options offered to consumers, even in the country pubs, and by the knowledgeable managers we met who really cared about the quality of the beverages they were serving,” explained Chief Operating Officer Hayes Humphreys. “We’re confident that our beer will be well tended to.”

About Devils Backbone Brewing Company

Devils Backbone Brewing Company, the largest craft brewery in Virginia, is the current and two time Great American Beer Festival Small Brewing Company of the Year. The Company operates two breweries in central Virginia. Basecamp, which opened in 2008, is the company’s original brewpub and restaurant in Nelson County. The Outpost is a modern production brewery outside of Lexington. The company produces approximately twenty beer styles commercially, with many more experimental styles in production at Basecamp. Their beer is inspired by brewing traditions around the world. Vienna Lager, the company’s flagship, is one of the top craft brands in the nation, and continues to be one of the fastest growing. The company employs approximately 100 people, primarily at their breweries in Virginia. In the United States, Devils Backbone products are available only in Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC.