A long time ago, back in the 1970s, the 12 big national breweries were busy gobbling up the smaller regional ones in the UK. The big 12 (which then turned into 4, as they fought for control and bought each other up) were keen to get their hands on all the real estate the regionals owned, as well as gain control of the pubs they supplied.
Thomas Wethered of Marlow was one of the casualties and, in 1987, to the dismay of the locals, it closed its doors.
About that time, two 20-something young men, the best of mates, decided the time was right to give up their big corporate jobs – Mark Gloyens was with major brewer Watney’s and Tim Coombes with Esso – and go back to their roots. They had been best mates all through school in Marlow, where they had been used to breathing in the warm malty smells of the Wethered brewing. During these teenage years, they had both sworn they would never give in to the whims of larger corporations. Instead, they would run their own business.
Still, it’s good to gain a bit of experience at others’ expense (!), but in 1991, during one slightly beer-hazed evening, they decided the time was ripe to do their own thing. Mark had brewing experience from Watney’s, Tim was skilled in marketing and sales and they were both fond of a good pint – all the credentials you could need. So, they made a plan.
Mark went off and did an MBA, his prize-winning thesis was aptly on setting up a brewery! Tim stayed at Esso and they shared his salary. In 1993, they started in earnest in rented Marlow premises, with a total of 2.5 people – the half being Tim at the weekends. Within 4 months, Tim had given up Esso and joined full time.
They started slowly through the 1990s then, by the turn of the millennium, it really took off. Tim puts this down to the growing consumer awareness of provenance – increasingly consumers wanted to get away from the big, mass-produced stuff and buy local and authentic. Rebellion perfectly fitted the bill.
Community and sales
Rebellion is very much a community business – a Marlow brewery, selling 99% of their production to local pubs or through their very lively shop. In fact, 10 years back they did supply nationally, but “as we grew, we shrank back to local,” Tim said and today they very much want to stay that way.
Roughly 60% goes to the pubs, most of that in cask and if you want it to reach the consumer’s glass in the very best condition, it’s safest to stay local. It’s easier to educate pub staff too and they do a lot of that. At Brew Republic, we count ourselves lucky that Rebellion are close by … even more reason to champion them and spread the word among our comrades about Rebellion’s tasty brews.
To ensure the very freshest beer, of course, is to come straight to source, if you can, and plenty of customers do just that. It’s busy whatever time of the day or evening you turn up. Their fans come in droves to pick up a mini barrel of their favourite beer or to buy it in bottle (they don’t do cans currently, but never say never). Their shop opened in around 2004, inspired by a visitor from the Barossa. This was well before the advent of tap rooms and a student over for work experience in the brewery described how all the wineries back home had their own cellar door. It got them thinking and the result is the fabulous beer and wine shop they now have. It’s big enough for a party! There you can try out the range, pour yourself a pint just to be sure you’ve made the right choice, and pick up some beer – in bottle or in the plastic reusable mini-barrel format.
We say ‘wine’ too, as they stock a wide range of Laithwaite’s bottles. In fact, the connection between the team and the family is strong – Will Laithwaite from Loose Cannon Brewery trained here, before setting up on his own, his younger brother Tom ran a Rebellion pub about 10 years back.
And back to the Barossa, they have maintained that Aussie connection to this day, sending over one of Tim’s sons and two of his nephews to work the vintage, while eight from the Barossa have lent a hand at the brewery. It’s a family sort of affair. And if you weren’t convinced before, you may well be now – Tim’s brother Andy is Financial Direct, while Mark’s brother, an engineer, is Engineering Director.
Community and giving back
The community element is very much in evidence at Rebellion – in the great charities they support, for starters. Since 2013, their Rebellion Charity Fund has handed out small grants – between £500-£2000 – for worthwhile causes. Their main charity, however, is Scannappeal – a local hospital charity, which they feel benefits all. In total they have given them over £300,000, and just in 2019 they donated £65,000. In addition, any school or charity within a 15-mile radius in need of a raffle prize or similar can knock on the door for a four-pack.
The main charity fundraiser for Scannappeal is their Open Weekend, run every other year. The first one was in 1999 – a party to mark their change of premises to Bencombe Farm in Marlow Bottom. Now it has morphed into the special weekend-long event that sees up to 4,500 visitors. You can drink free beer, listen to live music courtesy of local bands and party. In return, you are encouraged to donate to Scannappeal.
You’ll find the brewery pops up at many of the local beer festivals too – Pub in the Park, Rock Bottom, Rock the Moor …
Tim is the first one to say, their range is on the more traditional real ale side, not the craft brewing craze of the last 10 years. Their top seller is Rebellion IPA at 3.7%. All their beers are currently clear, apart from a recent kegging of 24 Carat. Their range is certainly hoppier than when they started back in 1993, but currently they aren’t super-hoppy American style. Just a lovely balance that their customers seem to enjoy and can rely on.
What the future holds
Having said that, of course beer changes with time, and Rebellion does too. Tim says they certainly have a wider choice of hops to select from nowadays – New World as well as European – and with their new kit and bottling line just about to get up and running, they will be able to do small runs of more experimental beers. Until now, the shortest run was 10,000 bottles; with the new kit and bottling line, it can be as small as 1700 bottles. You can be braver and more outlandish with that sort of number.
In addition, they are working hard on their lager (some of you will find that in this month’s case). It is their second biggest seller and they firmly believe that, just as craft beer has taken off, now lager will develop and gain more sophistication. This is their only beer that uses a special German lager yeast that helps to give it that bone-dry crispness. The rest of the range is brewed with their own special yeast that they nurture with enormous care. Each brew-time, it generates a new batch, but it’s fussy stuff and just once it all went wrong and they had to call up a new parcel of it from their yeast bank in Sunderland!
The biggest challenge in the future?
Tim was clear that yes, it would be environmental. They are already on it. Their mini barrels, which account for 26% of shop sales, are re-useable. They are also just moving into returnable, one-litre swing-top bottles. All good, but it takes planning to invest in the proper cleaning kit. And there will be more to come.
We pinned Tim down to his favourite beer – Rebellion Zebedee: “It’s so moreish, it’s dangerous. You don’t realise how much you’ve drunk. Everyone has a Zebedee moment!” And outside Rebellion, “that has to go to Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.”
As for Mark, his favourite Rebellion brew is 24 Carat and beyond that, Goose Island IPA.
Cheers and enjoy your Rebellion beers!