They’re the proud Salford brothers who together run a successful brewing company – and are seven-elevenths of what is the “biggest bunch of siblings in booze”.
Seven Brothers Brewing Co is a business like no other – with a 21-year age gap between the youngest and oldest sibling – all of them holding influential roles.
Starting out in 2014, this month marks their seventh year in business – and to celebrate, each brother has developed their own specially formulated craft beer with an ABV of – you guessed it – 7%.
Despite a global pandemic and the incredible hardships faced by most in the hospitality industry, the Greater Mancunian McAvoy brothers have gone from strength to strength since launching – and have more than held their own over the past 18 months.
Last month, the brothers – whose four sisters run a successful Salford-based gin and rum distillery – signed a £30m deal for their beer to be served at Manchester Airport’s new Terminal Two.
But how did they get to this point – and how can difficult business decisions be made by so many people who know each other so well, and with remarkably similar backgrounds?
BusinessLive spoke to Keith and Kit – the second oldest and youngest brother respectively – to find out.
Their love of craft ale began with their father Eric, who would often seek refuge from his 11 children in the cellar making beer.
As each brother turned 18, their first legal pint was of their dad’s beer – so ale immediately took on a “real and special significance”.
Kit, office manager, said: “It was never great. It wasn’t an amazing beer, but it was good enough for them to pre-drink with.
“As I got older, myself and Greg, the two youngest brothers, took a bit of an interest in dad’s homebrew. He had got a little bit older so he struggled a bit more with the lifting.
“So we helped him out a little bit and I took a keen interest in it, and I soon started brewing beer for my friends and family as well.
“It was just a hobby at that point – helping dad out.”
The idea of launching their own brewing business came when ex-engineer and CEO Keith was out working in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.
Kit said: “He saw this massive craft beer scene that was nothing like what we had in the UK at the time.
“A lot of it was based around this idea of the brew pub – you’d go into a bar and there was a brewery at the back behind glass.
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“It was that kind of spectacle where you go in and they’re making the beer on site, there was a lot of that over there.”
Upon returning to the UK, Keith and Greg, who had taken on a similar career path, began pitching ideas back and forth with one another about launching their own brew pub concept at home.
Keith said: “Eventually, it blossomed into a seven-way conversation between the seven of us.
“We pitched it to the rest of the guys, and 99% of us were instantly on board. It took that one other individual a little longer to come around, but he’s fully on board now.
“After many conversations and meetings in a pub over a beer around eight years ago, we decided to go for it as a business.
“The original idea was to start a brew pub, just like Keith saw out in Oslo but then it escalated into what we have now.”
The brand launched in August 2014 – seven years ago to the month – when they sold their first keg of beer.
Four left their professions to work full-time for the firm. Keith and Greg moved over from engineering, while Kit left his role as a science teacher.
Perhaps most notably, Nathan is a former Rugby League star – boasting caps for England and a Challenge Cup final winning trophy. Leaving the sport in his late 20s, he became a teacher for a short while before joining his brothers at the firm, where he is property and projects manager.
The other three – Dan, Luke and Guy – have their own careers – but are “heavily involved” in the business.
“Ever since [launching in 2014], we’ve just gone from strength to strength, really,” Kit said.
That success has been thanks to the brothers’ three-pronged strategy: the bars – of which there are now four, the brewery where beers are sold to trade and direct to consumers across the UK, and exports.
So how does a business function with seven siblings, now aged between 37 and 58?
Keith explained: “First and foremost, we’ve always remained very, very close.
“Before we decided to enter into business together, it took us a while to find our way in terms of roles and responsibilities within the business, but we got there eventually.
“Some of us have had different roles within the business like Kit, for example, was the original head brewer, now he’s heading up exports.
“We’ve all put effort into this business to get it to where it is.”
Kit added: “I describe it as an evolution between the seven of us. We’ve had our ups and downs, but I think we now all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We can already anticipate what kind of reaction one brother might have to something.”
So how do the brothers approach a disagreement or difference in opinion?
Keith explained: “We’re much better at it now – dealing with these things.
“If there’s a complete out-and-out disagreement, then we have to take it to a vote and we usually get a majority because there’s seven of us.
“You’ve got risk takers between the seven of us, and then you’ve got some who are really modest and not as much of a risk taker, so we normally get to the right decision.
“Because we were all pretty close anyway and there’s quite a big number of us, whenever there’s been a bad disagreement, and it’s got a little bit fraught, there’s been too many of us to allow it to get out of hand.”
The brothers say their closeness is an asset for the firm, which employs 80 people in total.
“Prior to launching the business, we’d go out drinking together,” Keith explained.
“We’ve all stuck around Salford and Greater Manchester. Not many of us venture too far away from each other. Nothing’s allowed to get out of hand, and we’ve had big fall outs in the past but at the end of the day, we are family and the others make sure we just let bygones be bygones and we just crack on.”
An extraordinary attribute of the McAvoy siblings is not only the brothers’ business, but also that the sisters have their own gin and rum distillery, called Four Sisters.
The 11 siblings, who have a grand total of 29 children, believe they are the biggest single family in the alcohol business in the world – and who would argue with that?
With their literal ‘sister’ firm also experiencing considerable success in recent times, is there cross-company competition over who can land the largest deals, or make the biggest profits?
According to Keith, it’s more of a “silent competition that simmers under the surface”.
He said: “We do joke about it. We were three years old when they decided to go ahead and create a distillery,
“I think there was a little bit of, well, if they can do it, I’m sure we can.
“And they’ve proven to be right – of course they can.
“If I was ever going to be asked – what company would be more successful, a company run by women or one run by men, I’m pretty certain what the answer is, and it’s not going to be us.
“We’re both doing well enough to have a little bit of kudos about it.”
With the two firms sharing the same HQ, the brothers revealed that the two firms could merge at some point in the near future – “sooner rather than later”.
“It might be time to join forces, and become a single entity,” Keith said.
“It may have its advantages from a commercial and funding point of view. We’ll have to wait and see on that.”
Hospitality has undoubtedly been one of the sectors hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, but the brothers managed to withstand the worst of it by innovating and adapting.
Keith said: “What we found was that our direct to trade business evaporated completely, but our direct to consumer trade increased dramatically.
“Everybody found different ways of making sure they got their favourite tipple in and that was through our ability to be able to deliver directly.
“The numbers have been good, considering what we’ve been up against and we have come out of this pretty well. I know our sisters have too.
“But it’s not been easy by any stretch of the imagination, it’s been really difficult, actually.”
One of the innovations – inspired by the Four Sisters’ gin business – was to launch a ‘drive-thru’ concept at their brewing HQ for customers to collect their zero-contact purchases.
Kit said: “That was incredible. We had queues in the industrial estate here, with people driving through getting their beer”
Keith added: “That’s symptomatic of this industry – just as we are really close-knit siblings, the community pulled together during Covid.
“Not just on our doorstep, but from even further afield
“At that point, we’d already raised finance three times through crowdfunding. Those guys have supported us like crazy.
“They closed ranks and made sure they supported us wherever they could, and the numbers stayed okay throughout the pandemic.”
The brand’s beer houses are situated in Ancoats, Middlewood Locks and MediaCity.
But it recently revealed it had signed a lucrative £30m deal for its beer to be served from a new site at Manchester Airport’s new £1bn Terminal Two.
The deal with airport bar operator HMSHost International will mean the firm’s range is served at the new Amber Alehouse – which opened last month.
The team now expect to see growth of almost 550% by 2023.
Keith said: “It was good news – and something our investors were delighted to hear.
“If we’re talking pre-pandemic, and the same amount of volume of traffic going through airports, then those are the kind of figures that are realistic.
“It’s going to be a challenge to get back to that normality, but that’s the potential of this. It is a big deal for us.
“The whole idea is that we want our craft beer to be enjoyed by as many people as possible. The fact that we have this international gateway increases those opportunities exponentially.”
The firm is set to open new venues in Liverpool and Leeds over the coming months – with the possibility of expanding its UK reach even further.
“There are lots of discussions going on about where we can accelerate and move to,” Keith said.
“That is part of the strategy for us – getting beer out across the whole country, for as many people as possible to enjoy and see our brand everywhere.”
With the seven brothers having launched seven years ago to the month, their celebrations began earlier this year by each of them developing a 7% ABV beer and releasing them month by month.
Finally, with 11 siblings – all distillers and brewers – surely their Christmas parties must be something to behold?
“Our latest staff party was testament to that,” Keith explained.
“They’re always very big, and we obviously have really big family Christmas parties too, where the girls bring the gin and rum and we bring the beer.
“There’s always the odd family member who brings their Budweiser or Corona along, so they have to sit on their own, in a separate part of the house.”