Big Smoke Brew Co. produce delicious modern beers but it’s their outstanding community efforts throughout lockdown that gives us case to raise a glass to them.
I’m looking forward to getting the pubs open again.” Rich Craig, co-founder of the Big Smoke Brew Co. and Molesey resident, shared tentatively when we chatted earlier this year, before any government announcements about restrictions easing had been made. “However, the past twelve months have given us opportunities to look at other parts of the business, like our home deliveries and sorting back of house, so you could say that’s been a positive...”
Rich and his business partner James Morgan have been working together for over twenty years, but despite Rich’s positive reframing it’s fair to say that the last year has been unique in its challenges for Big Smoke Brew Co.
Rich and James’ ties with the Court community date back to 2014, when the business partners took over The Antelope, a much-loved pub in Surbiton and developed a micro-brewery on site. Fast forward to 2021, and the pair have moved their brewery to Esher, they now produce a stunning array of modern beers and have a portfolio of six pubs, with plans for more.
“We always wanted to open a brewery. The Antelope was just perfect for that initially, and it remains our flagship site to this day,” Rich says with evident affection. “Seven years down the track though, we’re a bigger organisation and the beers have evolved. We now produce lots of pale ales and milk stouts but also crisp, easy drinking lagers. We want to brew what people want to drink - nice quaffable beers.”
The BSBC team have thankfully been able to continue to brew throughout the pandemic but they’ve had to temporarily close their pub doors. However, they’ve put their empty venues to good use, as Rich explains.
“It all began in the first lockdown. We felt we were in a unique position to help people in our community as we had kitchens that were sitting empty and we had chefs that weren’t doing anything and on furlough. So we teamed up with an amazing local charity called Voices of Hope, and we made hundreds of meals a week for those who needed them.”
The company’s chefs volunteered their time and Big Smoke Brew Co. paid for the ingredients. “By the end of the first lockdown we’d made around 10,000 meals,” Rich says.
Their amazing work continued throughout the second lockdown at the end of 2020, liaising directly with families, and in 2021 working with local Headteachers to pinpoint where support might be needed the most. Rich shares the project has opened his eyes to the difficulties the pandemic has brought about for so many people. He remains committed to supporting others while lockdown restrictions are in place, recently setting up a Go Fund Me page to help with much-needed provisions.
I suggest that the support Rich, James and their team have offered against a backdrop of business closures, ever-changing tiers and furlough uncertainty is wonderful, but Rich is quick and keen to point out that they’ve been able to give back to the community because Big Smoke Brew Co. received strong support from their local customers throughout the pandemic.
“We’ve been very lucky,” he says honestly. “Since we set up our home delivery service last year to reach the people who would usually be drinking in our pubs, the uptake from our local community has been absolutely huge for us.
“Thanks to the support from local customers on the brewery side of the business, we’ve been able to give back through the work in our pub kitchens. And we want to do that.”
Find out more: bigsmokebrewco.co.uk @bigsmokebrew
Any donations received will be used to purchase food to be made into meals for those in need. Any surplus at the end of lockdown will be donated to FareShare, the charity championed by Marcus Rashford, dedicated to fighting hunger and food waste.