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Big Decision brewery rallies following £1m debt collapse

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: May 27, 2011

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An East Devon brewery saved from implosion by a top entrepreneur says that it is back in business again after collapsing with debts of more than £1 million.

Whimple based O'Hanlons Brewing Company Limited, went into voluntary liquidation in March, owing £1,056,546 to creditors.

Among them was Sir Gerry Robinson, who pumped an initial £200,000 into the business in 2009, following an encounter which featured on his Channel 4 series, Gerry's Big Decision.

The business guru was left £300,001 out of pocket, according to a statement of the brewery's affairs submitted to Companies House.

John O'Hanlon, who established the business with his wife Liz from their London pub in 1995 and relocated to Devon in 2000, told the Western Morning News that Mr Robinson was not involved in phoenix enterprise O'Hanlon's Brewery Limited.

The new company was launched in March, the same month that O'Hanlon's Brewing Company Limited entered a voluntary liquidation through the Exeter based office of insolvency specialist Begbies Traynor.

It is understood that the administrator received around four expressions of interest in the business, but talks over potential acquisitions eventually fell through.

Agents were appointed to break up and sell brewery assets, valued at around £113,000. They include plant and machinery and books debts. A directors loan account of £61,420 – the balance of a £208,000 sum borrowed from the company by Mr and Mrs O'Hanlon – is also being recovered by the liquidators.

The brewery itself is based in a barn in the grounds of the O'Hanlon's home and was leased to the business, where cask and bottled ales, including Firefly Bitter, Yellow Hammer and Red Ale are brewed.

Speaking to the Western Morning News yesterday, Mr O'Hanlon said that he was working "flat out" and that the business had not lost a single customer.

Mrs O'Hanlon added that the business had maintained operations throughout its difficulties, describing them as "old news".

"We are doing very well and should have some good news within the next week," she added.

Mr O'Hanlon said that the business had maintained relationships with both customers and creditors and was "sorting out" its affairs going forward.

He said the company was "exceptionally busy", with clients both in the UK and abroad.

The brewery had six staff prior to its March collapse. Its two former brewers, Richard Mayne and Alex Bell have found new roles with Exminster based Exeter Brewery and Rock based Sharp's.

Viewers saw the O'Hanlons successfully compete against a Hampshire based brewery in 2009 for investment from Mr Robinson.

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