They say the keys to creating a successful business are hard work, a strong idea and great timing, so when Dougal Sharp decided to launch Innis & Gunn he felt he was ready as the first two were already in place.
Already an industry veteran and used to the long hours of the brewing trade – Sharp has been in the industry for 30 years having started working alongside his father at Caledonian Brewery in his teens where he learned “brewing from the ground up” – the hard working ethic came naturally.
The good idea was one that Sharp says quite literally “stopped him in his tracks”.
“When I first tasted beer that came out of a bourbon barrel, it gave me the inspiration to leave the family business and set out on my own to create something completely different.”
A year later, in 2003, Innis & Gunn – the name for which came from Dougal and his brother Neil’s middle names – was born.
For the third element, great timing, there was a little bit of serendipity, having himself come into the brewing business during what he describes as the first “beer revolution” in the early 90s with cask ale, Sharp says that Innis & Gunn were at the crest of the wave of the “second beer revolution” with the arrival of craft beer onto the UK, and more importantly, the global stage.
“We launched just before the arrival of the craft beer in the UK, I remember at the time, we were in this unusually sized 330ml bottle with a beer with a lot more flavour and a higher strength, using oak barrels and doing a lot of things nobody else in the industry was doing at the time.
“And a lot of people said ‘this will never work’ but I was young enough, and naive enough, not to believe anybody so I just went ahead and did it.”
Mirroring the current astronomical success of Innis & Gunn, Scotland’s brewing scene as a whole has never been stronger.
Sharp says he isn’t surprised by how well our little corner of the world is doing when it comes to creating products the rest of the globe wants to enjoy.
“It’s cold and dark in Scotland for a long time, and you can dream up a lot of new ideas when you are sitting at home on a cold winter’s night,” Sharp laughs.
“I’m delighted that Scotland is such a vibrant place for food and drink companies, I think it’s testament to the creativity of Scots and the way agencies such as Scottish Food and Drink and Scottish Enterprise support the sector.”
Sharp admits that excellent start to their journey as a brand and the great response they received for their products threw up a “range of emotions” saying he felt “vindicated, happy, excited and more than a little relieved”.
“You can sit down and write your business plan, it’s only a statement of intent, so you’ve no idea what’s going to happen, especially with such a revolutionary product, as it was at the time.
“It’s taken us a long time to get this point, we’ve been through lots of ups and downs, as any new business does.”
Sharp says that it’s incredible for him to see just how much the company has grown in such a short space of time.
“Looking back, we sold 40,000 cases in our first year and this year we’ll sell something like 3 million cases, we’ll have four bars by the end of this week [the fourth Innis & Gunn Beer Kitchen is due to launch in Glasgow] and certainly more by the end of this year.
“I think it’s absolute testament to the fact that drinkers are tiring of industrial mass-produced beers that are tasteless. People want to taste something and they want to get behind the brewer and the story.”
It’s this that Sharp says gets him out of bed in the morning, getting to watch the smile on people’s faces as they try his beers for the first time.
“Every thought that we have and every thing that we do is about making our customers the best beer we can and that is what we do.”
It seems it’s working as Innis & Gunn is the number one imported beer in the US and Canada according to Sharp, and the second biggest craft beer brand in Sweden, but the brewer believes they’ve only scratched the surface of what they are capable of.
“The one thing we all share is a huge interest in beer with flavour.
“There are so many drinkers in each of these markets who have never even heard of Innis & Gunn yet and our job and our mission is to make sure that we get amazing craft beer into people’s hands both here and around the world.”
To do that, the Innis & Gunn founder says that they hope to supplement the growth in their portfolio across all of their beers with Beer Kitchens in places such as Stockholm, Gothenburg, Toronto, Alberta, DC and Vegas, because they recognise the value of delivering people the Innis & Gunn experience in their own bars.