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Wychwood gets pounds 500,000 to expand Hobgoblinns: Producer of strong ales aims for flotation in 1997

SPIRITS will have been higher than normal at Wychwood Brewery's celebration of Halloween this weekend.

The company has just secured pounds 500,000 to expand its chain of Hobgoblinns - pubs themed on ghouls and ghosties.

Wychwood, whose headquarters are in Witney, Oxfordshire, started life in 1983 as the Glenny Brewery, named after Paddy Glenny, who has since decided that his true vocation lies in moose hunting in Canada.

The first Hobgoblinn opened a year ago in Staines, Surrey, and has been joined by others in Bristol, Bath, Brighton and High Wycombe. It is planned to open a further four by next spring.

Backing for expansion is coming from 3i, which is investing pounds 350,000, and from National Westminster Bank, which is providing pounds 150,000.

Over the past four years, beer production has quadrupled at Wychwood, which is now churning out 70 barrels, or 20,000 pints, a week of some very potent real ales. Turnover in the past year has increased sevenfold to stand at pounds 3.5m.

The company spends about pounds 50,000 on rebranding pubs under the Hobgoblinns name. The pubs are targeted at the student and the real-ale enthusiast, and have bare floorboards, old wooden furniture, wood-burning fires and strong beers.

Wychwood's beers include Dr Thirstys at 5.2 per cent, Wychwood Hobgoblin at 6 per cent, and one with 6.5 per cent alcoholic strength, aimed at students.

Paul Adams, formerly finance director of the Firkin chain of pubs, is one of the men behind the expansion at Wychwood. The company wants to have 50 pubs by its 1997 target date for flotation on the stock market.

Growth at the bottom end of the brewing industry is becoming a familar tale, with more than 30 breweries opening in the last year alone.

However, Ian Rogers, the managing director of Wychwood, believes that many new entrants will not survive.

'Following a 12-month boom in the beer brewing business the opportunites for independent brews to appear in tenanted pubs owned by the big six (breweries) has narrowed considerably.'

Unless the small breweries have their own pubs, Mr Rogers doubts they can compete against the big discounts being offered on barrels of beer by the likes of Bass and Courage.