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Banksy Helped Me Start a Brewery

The only collateral Glasgow brewer Jake Griffin had to realise his dreams of owning a brewery were the three paintings he bought for cheap in 2004 by an unknown street artist named Banksy.
All photos by Roberto Parrucci.

Before craft brewers take their beer to market, many hit their customers up for money through crowdfunding ventures. BrewDog, Scotland's biggest craft brewer, sit where they are today because of the money handed over by those who like their product.

But Jake Griffin of Up Front Brewing in Glasgow has no intention of asking you for any money.

"I have no bank loans and no funding from anyone other than myself," he says. "I'm funding it all up front and paying for it all up front."


Jake Griffin, founder of Up Front Brewing in Glasgow and owner of three original Banksy pieces. All photos by Roberto Parrucci.

Griffin is able to do this because back in 2004, he bought artwork by an unknown artist named Banksy. Of course, we now know Banksy as the elusive and as yet unmasked graffiti artist whose work springs up unannounced on street corners from Brick Lane to Brooklyn. Pieces like the "rage flower thrower" in Jerusalem, the girl hugging a bomb, and This Is Not a Photo Opportunity stencilled on Cheddar Gorge.

"I purchased some artwork that, at the time, was very cheap," Griffin remembers. "I just wanted it on my wall. As it happened, Banksy became really famous and the value shot up."

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Always a fan of street art—and an amateur graffiti artist himself—Griffin was simply looking for something to add some colour to the barren walls of his student digs. He spotted Banksy's work and over the course of three years, purchased Applause for a mere £300, then Doughnuts and Stop and Search for £500 each from a website called Pictures on Walls. Screen prints of these pieces have sold for as much as £15,000 in recent years.

Little did Griffin know, these impulse purchases would one day allow him to start his own brewery.

Around the same time as his first Banksy purchase, Griffin found himself with an excess of fruit left over from his allotment. He decided to make use of it by brewing some beer, and so travelled to his local home brew shop. It was here that he met one of Scotland's biggest craft brewers, Scott Williams of the family-owned Williams Bros microbrewery. The two hit it off and under the guidance of Williams, Griffin decided to launch Up Front Brewery.


Still, Griffin needed a look for his new beer venture. Taking a chance, he decided to contact artist Stanley Donwood, a long-time collaborator with Radiohead, and asked if he could use some of his work on the cans for Up Front Brewing's Ishmael IPA and Ahab Stout. Much to his surprise, Donwood replied saying he was only too happy to oblige.

"I'm quite up front and I'll ask people for things where others might not," Griffin says. "The most important thing I've been gifted is the beer artwork from Stanley Donwood. I basically just asked if he would provide the artwork and explained my situation and he very generously provided two pieces of his work."

But a brewery needs money to really get off the ground, and Griffin soon realised that his only available collateral was in the three Banksy artworks.

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Consigned to the prospect of selling them in order to get Up Front Brewing started, Griffin discussed his options with Williams, who suggested a solution he hadn't considered: pawning them. Griffin liked the idea and immediately asked Williams if he would be willing to take the artworks as a guarantee towards a loan of £20,000.

Williams agreed. Up Front Brewing was on it's way.

"I think Scott likes to find out what people are passionate about and foster that if he can," says Griffin. "He saw that I was passionate about brewing but also passionate about running my own brewery, and that I was never going to be able to afford that without some serious help."


Williams himself says that he is"holding the Banksys hostage in an undisclosed location until he [Griffin] is in a position to pay me back."


Up Front Brewing's IPA and stout.

As he builds the funds to afford a permanent home for Up Front Brewing, Griffin is brewing from a rented space in Drygate Brewery in the East End of Glasgow. He's currently working on creating canned, rather than bottled beer.

"Very few craft brewers do this," Griffin explains. "I had two options: I could look at what had been successful in other breweries and attempt to replicate that or I could look at where I think the industry is going. Most breweries are now looking to put their products into cans."

The agreement Griffin made with Williams states that he has two years to make Up Front Brewing a national success before the Banksys are sold to cover his debt. There are just 18 months left, but if anyone can make a Radiohead-inspired, street art-funded brewery a goer, I have no doubt that it's Griffin.