Bill’s probably the best locum brewer in the world!

By: JimOldfield

August 2nd, 2012

BillKing_020812Bill King’s not blonde or Danish… but he’s probably the best locum brewer in the world!

If you had to go away on holiday or business and leave your precious brewery running, chances are you would want to leave it to Bill.

In fact, you might want to stay away longer and just let Bill get on with it!

That’s because the man behind the innovative service Locum Brewing is no ordinary brewer; this King is brewing royalty.

And it’s not simply because he was a fifth-generation CEO of the renowned Sussex brewer King and Barnes, and then founder of his very own hugely successful microbrewery WJ King & Co.

Rather, during Bill’s 28 years in beer, he has done every conceivable job in the industry from sticking the labels on the bottles and being the drayman’s mate, to being the chief executive of a 58-pub and brewery empire.

King_aerialBy the way, he is also a master brewer.

Now, after selling WJ King & Co in 2010 – which he built with his wife from nothing, into an enterprise with a £500,000-a-year turnover – to pursue his dream of gaining a commercial pilot’s licence, Bill is back in beer, ready to lend his vast experience to other brewers and slake his own unquenchable thirst for beer knowledge.

He has launched Locum Brewing & Brewery Consultancy Services to offer “Practical Assistance for Breweries”.

That covers everything from standing in as brewery manager, head brewer or even production line brewer, to offering his considerable expertise as a consultant on new start-ups, plant specifications, brewery installations, recipes, supplier sources, yeast handling, quality control, bottling, health and safety, food safety, beer duty, advertising and marketing, stock control and cask tracking.

Unsurprisingly, his expert service has been in high demand, with several of the UK’s larger micro-breweries entrusting him with their 30 and 40 barrel plants as brewery manager and head brewer for months at a time.

King_launchAnd for Bill, the enjoyment is in learning and developing his brewing skills even further, so that he has even more to pass on to his 16-year-old son… who now also harbours ambitions to be a brewer.

Although Bill was born into a brewing dynasty and grew-up in the brewer’s house in the brewery grounds, he himself didn’t start in the King and Barnes family business until he had learned his trade. And that meant working in breweries elsewhere.

After gaining a degree in Physics – which although not directly related to brewing, did give him a good understanding of specific gravity – Bill began with a year’s training at Young’s Brewery, where not only did he learn about brewing, but also drinking and playing darts!

He followed this with a stint at Watney’s Mortlake brewery – where they were producing Fosters, Carlsberg, Holsten Export and Stag Bitter at the time – as a trainee shift brewer and then packaging brewer.

King_old_photoNext came retail experience in a variety of King and Barnes pubs, followed by a year at the Birmingham Brewing School at the University of Birmingham for a Masters degree in Brewing Science.

Finally, aged 25, he was welcomed into King and Barnes as second brewer, before working his way up through the production ladder to eventually become production director and then joint managing director with his cousin Peter.

On Peter’s death in 1994, Bill became chairman and managing director and continued to run the pub estate and brewery so well that it became a “beacon” and began to attract attention and take-over bids from other larger breweries.

Said Bill: “In 1999, an approach from Shepheard Neame to purchase the company, set a process in motion that ultimately led to the shareholders of the brewery selling to Hall and Woodhouse Ltd. “Five generations of King family share dilution had left the direct family with only 30 per cent of the shares, which was not enough to stop the sale.”

This suddenly left Bill disenchanted with the industry… and without a job! However, after a short break from beer, he and his wife Kathy soon bounced back to form W J King & Co (Brewers).

They purchased a five barrel ex-Firkin Brewpub brewery and installed it in an industrial unit in Horsham. After creating two “commercially sound” beers, they were only lacking customers, but this was soon resolved when David Mallard, an old friend and colleague from King and Barnes, who was very well-known in the trade, offered to help with selling the beer.

King_flyBill said: “He was a Godsend and, at 71 years old, he started hauling in the customers. He refused to be paid until we could afford to, saying that the King family had given him good employment and he wanted to repay that debt; a nicer gentleman you would not find.

“David did so well that by November of launch year we reached a pivotal moment when all four of our five barrel fermenters were full with beer ready for sale”.

Nine years later, in 2010, the brewery had a capacity of 50 BBLs per week with hundreds of weekly customers and dozens of cask and bottled beers in the portfolio.

Bill said: “Our decision to sell the business in 2010 was borne out of many factors. We had grown the business from nothing to a turnover of £500k per year and we were employing eight people.

“The lease on our premises was up for renewal and this combined with me reaching the milestone age of 50 and the fact none of our children at the time were interested in continuing the business, made us realise that the time was probably right.

“My interest in aviation was becoming an increasing obsession and Kathy’s interest in nutrition gave us the idea that we could still remain busy but in different areas.”

Kathy took up full time study for an Open University degree and Bill studied aviation, leading to a commercial pilot’s licence which he achieved in March this year.

But beer is in Bill’s blood, and he hopes Locum Brewing will help him give his son a flying start in the industry.

“Maybe the King name will once again be associated with a brewing company” he added.