Jack Cregan, 31, and Nick Vardy, 36, opened the Bison Beer Crafthouse in March 2015. They are best friends who lived together, rather aptly, above an off licence whilst at university. Between them they have spent 16 years working in sports marketing, but this is the first time that either has attempted to run a business.
When Nick became a father, to three daughters and one son, the dynamic of their friendship changed; and instead of going out on Fridays and Saturdays they decided instead to get five or six beers they hadn’t tried before and have them at home with some dinner. The Bison Beer Crafthouse came about because Jack wanted to do something different and have his own business, whilst Nick had identified the potential of the craft beer market and the rest, as they say…
The two say that their partnership works because Nick is a “tediously patient” creative manager, and Jack is more of an editor/producer – Jack is the “go doer” and Nick is the “let’s do it properly.” That said, the planning phase was “ridiculously short” – they had the idea over Christmas and three busy months later the shop doors opened for the first time to a thirsty public.
The shop was originally going to be called the West Beer – like the West Pier in Brighton. However, the name was similar to that of a local brewery so the drawing board was revisited. They mused on the theme of growlers (screw-top glass pitchers, favoured for draft beer take-out) which led them towards bears; but the prevalence of bears in North American beer branding was an obstacle, so an alternative mascot was required. Both gents were cultivating big beards at the time and when they hit upon the notion of a bison, similarly bearded and with a certain bearlike appeal, they knew they had their brand. And thus the mythical Brad Bison was born: Drink. Explore. Discover. These are the three core values personified in his shaggy and loveable visage.
The Bison Beer Crafthouse stocks over 400 beers at any one time, with around 700 having graced the shelves to date. The Bison boys choose their beers through first-hand market research; seeing what sells, reading both local and international beer bulletins, and perusing any number of the burgeoning array of specialist publications on the subject. They say that they are prepared to give anything a go; they tend to deal with breweries directly and every week a dozen or more new beers come into the shop. Nick describes craft beer (a term ever more disputed and indeed diluted, it seems) as “beer created with quality, creativity and dedication”.
The Bison Beer Crafthouse also offers beers on tap. They have one Bison Beer as standard and change other offerings on a regular basis. They listen to their people to know what might be good to try, with current tastes leaning heavily towards hoppy IPAs and APAs. They like to offer a variety while still hitting styles that people are into. Their customers are people who want a more relaxed, informal and social way to buy beer, and Nick and Jack are always keen to bounce ideas off their customers.
The shop has a ten-year lease and the Bison boys plan on staying forever. They are aware that the business will have to adapt. It’s all about versatility, creativity and innovation they say – and there’s no doubt that other outlets, even more mainstream offies, are fast cottoning on to the craft beer craze. They’ve got no set ambitions; to them the beer industry is so vibrant and ever-changing that opportunity is in ever-growing supply.
The boys have recently been running the Bison Pub Project. This was a campaign to raise money to buy a large, empty pub by the seafront in Brighton. It was going to be turned into a Burger King but the seed funding was successful and The Bison Arms will open! The aim is to create a community-based business that can involve local trades, artists, illustrators, writers and chefs. They want a space of which tourists and locals alike can be proud. Looking at the style and success of the Bison Beer Crafthouse, and seeing their enthusiasm first hand, they seem well set to achieve their goals, and Brad Bison will soon be championing a fantastic new pub to complement the already manifold delights of the shop.
Get down to the Bison Beer Crafthouse and grab a growler!