How do you go from pensions actuary to brewing beer under railway arches? Apparently through Scotland in a camper van. This week we spoke to our client, Robert Middleton of Orbit Beers, and learned how a complete outsider could break into a thriving industry.
If music be the brew of love
After twenty-six years in pensions actuary, Robert came to the conclusion that he wanted something different, but what? So instead of waiting until his “something different” came to him, Robert decided to go out and find it.
Two years of globetrotting later, it was a summer spent driving round Scotland in an old camper van, listening to The High Road by the Broken Bells, and sampling beers from local breweries, that focused Robert on his two true loves – beer and music – and he knew what he had to do: open a brewery and build the brand around music.
So he went back home to London and started talking to people in the craft beer business, who almost unanimously told him he was crazy, but supported him all the same. Here was a man without contacts, without experience, trying to break into a growing but fiercely competitive on-trend market, about three years too late. But they believed in his passion because they knew his story.
It’s getting bitter all the time
The Orbit brewery started making beer under a double railway arch in South London in July 2014. Orbit beers now sell to craft beer bars and bottle shops across London’s trendy hotspots, and is carried by restaurants with infallible taste, such as Michelin-starred Claridges. They have even started exporting to Poland and beer-king Belgium.
The rye of the tiger
How has Orbit done so well, surrounded by such savvy competitors? Robert says he has only ever ‘focused on two things: great beer, and great brand… Once people taste our beers, they come back.’ The name of each beer is a musical reference, they play vinyl records at their brewery, and they sell Orbit t-shirts – much like band t-shirts – behind their brewery bar.
Musical names mean a personal connection to each beer, and a story behind it. The ‘tight core’ of three beers, and a different seasonal beer every three months, means they can build the presence of their core without diffusing interest across too many products, but ‘there’s always something new to talk about’.
The sense of narrative runs through everything Orbit does.
Where everybody nose your grain
But when asked what really made Orbit work, Robert focused on people. He makes deliveries himself, so he’s getting to know his buyers, and always knows how his beers are received. And most importantly, he has excellent staff. Mario is an experienced, creatively talented brewer, and Robbie, previously a bar manager in Clerkenwell, is fantastic at sales and knows all the right people. They perfectly fit the gaps in Robert’s skillset.
What Robert’s story teaches us is that if you’re an entrepreneurial spirit with no ideas, the best thing to do is quit your job and hit the bottle.