Dark Star MD James Cuthbertson: craft brewer will “tap Fuller’s’ expertise and routes to market”

West Sussex craft brewery Dark Star is planning a fresh push into UK retail following its acquisition by Fuller’s this week for an undisclosed sum.

Fuller’s of London has taken a 100% stake in the Partridge Green-based Dark Star, whose brands include Hophead, APA, Revelation and the recently launched Helles Lager.

Dark Star will operate as a standalone entity, with MD James Cuthbertson remaining in place, while the brewery’s four-strong pub portfolio will be run as a separate concern by its directors.

There were “several bits of our business that have been relatively untapped,” Cuthbertson told The Grocer. Dark Star had not taken small-pack retail “as seriously as other brewers of our size or even smaller”. That and export were “two glaring areas where we will find some scale from tapping into Fuller’s’ expertise and their routes to market” he added.

The investment would allow Dark Star to create “more small-batch, one-off interesting beer this year than we’ve ever done before” Cuthbertson said, adding it was feasible some of Dark Star’s previous limited-edition beers might join its core range alongside Hop Head, APA and Revelation. “Creme Brulée, for example: that’s a beer that gets great traction and a lot of love. If, all of a sudden, we can get more routes to market then I can see things like that becoming permanent.”

Brewing will continue at Dark Star’s West Sussex home - at least until “we need to brew twice as much” said Cuthbertson. “We can’t do that in Partridge Green. But these are conversations down the line. There is headroom left here, and it is still early days.”

Today’s acquisition marks a step further into craft beer for Fuller’s, which last year teamed up with six craft brands, including Cloudwater, Thornbridge and Fourpure, for a Waitrose-exclusive six-pack of new brews.

It comes as sales of traditional bottled ales are flagging in the supermarkets as trendier brands steal share and fixture space. Fuller’s flagship brew London Pride, for instance, saw retail value sales drop 4.8% to £12.3m last year, with losses for Bengal Lancer (down 22.2%) and ESB (down 2.7%). But sales of Fuller’s craft lager Frontier almost doubled, growing £138k to £294k [Nielsen 52 w/e 9 September 2017].