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Big Smoke head brewer Nick Blake: now a team of four in the brewery 

Big Smoke expands brewery, enters canning 

Big Smoke Brew Co is in export talks after expanding onto new premises near Esher, Surrey, and installing a canning line.

The new 5,000 square foot site‘s 33hl brew kit and six 65hl fermenters, all supplied by Gravity Systems, means the brewer can now bring production of its leading brands back in-house and look to extend distribution nationally as well as grow its pub estate.

Rich Craig, who founded the business with James Morgan in September 2014, also revealed it has had a meeting with the Department for International Trade with a view to exporting.

“But for the moment we’re focusing on keeping up with existing demand for our core range,” he said.

Brewing began for Big Smoke on a five-barrel kit at the back of the Antelope pub in Surbiton, and as its pub estate expanded – it’s now four-strong with this month’s addition of the Hole in the Wall in Chichester, West Sussex – some production had to be contracted out.

Bath Ales was brewing Big Smoke Lager while Hampshire’s Triple FFF was brewing its Solaris Session Pale.

“The logistics were crazy,” said Craig. “We had two storage facilities and it was becoming very difficult. We were spending more time moving beer about than brewing it. There was no way we could grow.

“Yet the demand was there, and we had an increasing portfolio of pubs, so it was a matter of go big or go home, as they say. And we went big.”

Staffing has gone from three to eight, including four in the brewery led by the Antelope’s former assistant manager Nick Blake.

Meanwhile, major contracts have already been signed with new customers including the Dishoom restaurant chain, which is taking Cold Spark Citra Lactose Pale for its venues in London, Edinburgh and Manchester; the Beer52 beer club and pubs giant Ei Group, which is listing Big Smoke’s cask beer from this summer.

Big Smoke also enjoys a steady volume through six pubs own by Morgan’s family, and an expanded sales team are building relationships with new pub customers.

A tap room on the new site has started opening at weekends and the company is aiming to grow its direct sales.

 “We’re always looking for pubs, that’s an important part of our strategy,” said Craig. “Having our own pubs has allowed us to experiment with different beers and get instant feedback from customers.”

A Big Smoke pub will typically have 20 keg taps of which four or five at any time will be pouring its own beers.

The off-trade is another target. After starting out using a contract canner “which didn’t go well”, the company now has its own Microcan line, which can fill 1,500 cans an hour.

Cold Spark, Electric Eye Pale Ale, Fruju New England Pale Ale and Lager are going into can, plus a new collaboration with White Hag Brewery in Sligo, Ireland, a blueberry wheat beer called Forests of Azure.

It sounds like it won’t be long before Big Smoke is stretching its capacity again. There is, indeed, space to add another six tanks inside and additional outside, said Craig. “But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves!”

Phil Mellows
14th May 2019

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