Big Smoke Brew Co eyes pub expansion

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Smoke spread: Rich Craig says running pubs does not disrupt the brewing process like taprooms can
Smoke spread: Rich Craig says running pubs does not disrupt the brewing process like taprooms can
Rich Craig, co-founder of Big Smoke Brew Co, discusses plans to establish a nationwide presence in the UK on-trade.

As reported by The Morning Advertiser​, Big Smoke – founded in 2014 and voted Greater London’s Best New Brewer at RateBeer Best Awards a year later – is poised to move into a new 5,000sq ft facility in Esher, Surrey.

Brewing - Big Smoke

The brewer has invested about £500,000 in a new canning line, facilities capable of producing 6,000 pints per brew, and on-site taproom, which co-founder Rich Craig hopes will broaden the distribution of its product range and help grow its small estate of pubs.

“In terms of the pub side of things, we have four pubs now and opened the first one – the Antelope – five years ago,” Craig explained. “We've opened two pubs in the past six months or so. Our model is we look to places where they don't have the offer that we provide – it's not particularly revolutionary.

“What we offer is a truly independent pub but with a really good beer range – pushing our own beers but also providing beers from other independent breweries – and backing it up with really good service and nice atmosphere. It's classic tied-pub model I suppose, isn't it? We're not the first brewery to own pubs but we're doing it on a smaller scale and with a much more independent eye.”

Tap beer - Big Smoke

The brewer’s new facilities cost six figures and includes a taproom to showcase Big Smoke brews on-site. Craig also sees specific benefits to growing an estate of brewer-operated pubs.

“The good thing about pubs is that they're a seven-day-a week operation. Depending on the licence, you can open from midday until 11pm and serve beer, food, wine and all the things that pubs provide. It’s also something that doesn’t necessarily interfere with the operation of the brewery.

“We’re always on the lookout for more pubs and, if the opportunities are there, we're definitely going to take them. We definitely see owning and adding more pubs to our portfolio as something we’re going to push for.”

New consumer demands

Part of Craig’s plans for Big Smoke involve branching out of its traditional stomping ground and broadening distribution to ensure it is less reliant on drinkers in the capital. For example, the brewer has recently agreed a partnership that will see cans of its 3.6% ABV Cold Spark pale ale sold in branches of Indian restaurant Dishoom in London, Edinburgh and Manchester. 

“Mainly we’re featured in pubs in London and the south-east so we’re actively working on trying to expand that reach,” he says. “We’ve got someone working for us down on the south coast to try and get more of our product down there.

“We’re working with wholesalers such as Pigs Ears, which has a division that heads out to Wales and Bristol – places like that. We’re hoping to push further afield.”

Beer can - Big Smoke

Moreover, Craig claims that given the number of brewers pushing boundaries and diversifying their product range by adopting new styles, craft beer is in an incredibly strong place. “It’s a fantastic time to be a beer drinker in this country at the moment,” he says.

“There’s never been a broader range of beer styles being brewed in this country. The days of people expecting every brewery to brew a bitter and a stout have gone. People are brewing every style imaginable from traditional German styles to latest styles from the United States – we're good at emulating what people are doing in other countries and trying things out.

“For us personally, we’re seeing the most demand for lager and pale ale – that’s what people are drinking in our pubs and what we’re going to focus our efforts on this year, at least.

“Drinkers in the UK are much more savvy than they used to be as well. Your average pubgoer still wants a pint of lager and a burger but, in the craft beer world, people are thirsty for the newest trends.”

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