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Big Hug Brewing Interview: Hobo huggers

BBB first came across Big Hug Brewing in The Prestonville. We had been enjoying their Juicy Pale for some time before getting into research mode and finding out who they were.

It turns out that Matt, one of the founders and the day-to-day Director, lives just around the corner from the Prestonville. Given that he was a fellow local, we set out to add Big Hug Brewing to the brewery listings and learn much more about them.

When we met to interview Matt and sink a couple of Big Hug cans in Preston Park, we found that (while not exactly a local brewer) they certainly have great social impact objectives – and more than deserve a spot on our listings page.

We love to start at the beginning, so tell us about how Big Hug Brewing started up.

Well, we didn’t get it right first time round. The company was called Bear Hug Brewing originally, and that just came about because Dan – my business partner in our mates circle – was known as The Bear, and we greet each other with hugs rather than handshakes. But someone didn’t pay for the final in-depth trademark search and so after I’d quit my job, and remortgaged my flat, and set the business up, we got a ‘cease and desist’ letter from a company in America called Bear Hug Infusions.
Basically we f..ed it up at the start (laughter). However we needed something that still evoked what we were about as a brand, and we liked the hug element. Now I even think it works better. It makes people smile.

Dan and Chris, the other founders, set up Craft Beer Rising, which is/was the biggest craft beer festival. Dan and I worked together at Bacardi, and Dan and Chris had a marketing events company. Just as we were setting up the business their events company got bought out, so there was no way they could channel time and resources into setting up a brewery. So I found myself in the spot of sort of one-man-band running things, and on a day-to-day basis really the only two things I don’t do are the brewing and the finances.
Arguably the two most important things I leave to other people. (Laughter)

 

…and the name?

The reason we’re called Big Hug Brewing is because we don’t actually own a brewery. I like to use the term ‘Hobo brewing’; we’re hobo brewers, we move from brewery to brewery. When we find somewhere we like we set up home for a while and later we move on, and we’re open and loud about that.
Not having those overheads of bricks and mortar makes us a pretty reactive, proactive, adaptable, lean business model. When we start getting some economies of scale on the business model we’ll make some money one day. (Laughter)

 

So let’s talk about the Brewing. Who does it, and how does it work?

At the start there were going to be four of us, and that included our brewer Henry. He was one of the first graduates to go all the way through at Herriot Watt University in Edinburgh, where they do degrees in brewing and distillation. But when the model became hobo brewing he decided that wasn’t for him and he joined Fuller’s as head of innovation; he now runs Darkstar brewery.

The White IPA recipe was Henry’s. That was our original first-ever beer, and Gadd’s in Ramsgate is where it started life. Eddie Gadd was recommended to us by the head brewer at Ringwood Brewery. We went down and met Eddie in Ramsgate, and he and Henry clicked. He’d never seen a recipe like a White IPA before, he was quite intrigued by us and the beer. We turned up telling about how ‘We’re going to build this global brand’ and he was like ‘Yeah, all right lads, I’ll tag along for the ride.’ (Laughter)

But at the moment we brew with Portobello Brewery in London and with Great Yorkshire Brewery. We’ve done a little bit of brewing in Brighton – last summer at Loud Shirt, and with Chris at Good Things in the past. We’ve been actively looking for a partner to brew with in East Sussex.

 

So lots of the brewing takes place outside Sussex. Would you consider yourself a Sussex brewer?

Right up until a few months ago, when it made sense to change it to Portobello’s premises, the business was registered in Brighton. I live in Brighton and I’m really trying to hunker down in Brighton a bit more. I’d call us a ‘local business’ and I’m actively trying to find somewhere to set up a brew-pub, if not in Brighton then definitely in East Sussex.

 

Do you sell a lot locally into pubs? Where can you regularly find your beer?

We do a good chunk of stuff with Laines. Juicy Pale you can get on tap at Shakespeare’s Head, and last summer and hopefully this summer at Fortune of War. Mrs Fitzherbert’s got the White IPA on keg and takes our cask as well. Bloc Bar on St James Street, we do their house lager, a Helles, and their house cider. They generally have our Weiss beer and White IPA. The Mesmerist does the White IPA on tap. Fourth and Church in Hove has our Pilsner on tap. The Ancient Mariner and The Prestonville, my local, have the Juicy Pale.
It’s quite handy that the Shakespeare’s and The Prestonville both have them and are on my walk home from the station. (Laughter)

 

We have to talk about the new beer, Pave the Way Pale. This is raising money for charity, right?

This is the beer we do for the homeless charity, and the artwork depicts a member on the scheme. Hospitality Against Homelessness is the campaign started by the charity which brings ex-homeless vulnerable veterans and ex-offenders back into employment via the hospitality sector.
They find them jobs once they are off the street, and the money we donate per can and keg covers the cost of their utility bills.
The whole concept of the art was to portray the good work the charity does. It’s got a slight superhero stance, with somebody who’s been empowered by the job they’ve got now they’re off the street and working in hospitality.

This beer’s flavour profile was aimed at the mass market – something that’s easy drinking, mid-strength abv. You can give it to your mum, your dad, your grandad, and nobody is going to turn round and say, oooh I don’t like that it’s too bitter, or there’s too much hops.

 

How much are you hoping to donate?

We linked up with a company called Work For Good, it allows small businesses to officially support charities. The legal requirement is that we say X-amount per can, per keg, per case goes to this charity. We give 10p a can.
I wanted something that was tangible, rather than a percentage of profits. The plan is hopefully to raise £5,000 in 2021.

Pave The Way, plus the Juicy and the White IPA, have just gone into 30 regional Sussex Co-op stores. They are very supportive of charities and brands that have a good social ethos, so it was a good fit for them. Hopefully that will help us get there.

 

Does this include some Brighton stores?

Yeah, there’s one in Seven Dials, the little one on the roundabout. Also Kingsway, the new one by the King Alfred Leisure Centre in Hove. Lewes Road. Blatchington Road. You can see the full map on our website – there are stores all the way from Hastings to Portsmouth.
The cans went in on 15th March and will be stocked  for a year, so hopefully that will get the beer into people’s hands and help raise some funds.

 

Where does this social and charitable drive come from?

It was after I spent some time in London setting the business up and I hadn’t been back to Brighton for about nine months. Then on a walk from the station to the clock tower I walked past about five homeless people. This was just after the government had introduced the bedroom tax, and I was simply gobsmacked by the number of homeless people in that short time. I was like ‘What can I do, what can we do, to try and help out,’ because it doesn’t matter how small a thing it is, if you’re making a little bit of a difference to someone then that’s got to be a good thing.

So I started an initiative called Hugs4Snugs: if we do a tap takeover in another town somewhere we ask the venue if they want to nominate a local homeless charity. We give them a bit of free stock, and if the customers over the course of a week or a weekend in the run-up to the event bring a donation of clothing, a hat or scarf or bag of clothes, we give them a free beer and the clothing goes to the nominated charity. So it’s a Hug for a ‘snug’, an item of clothing.

That’s something we do at events, and now we’ve managed to formalise a relationship with the homeless charity Only a Pavement Away, because when I saw them and what they do in the hospitality sector it seemed an opportunity to work with a charity. They actually adopted it; they do something called Winter Warmth to raise donations and give out items of clothing in Brighton, London, Manchester and Edinburgh. It’s great to think that something I did four years ago as part of a campaign is now part of a national charity effort.

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Big Hug Brewing Interview: Hobo huggers

BBB first came across Big Hug Brewing in The Prestonville. We had been enjoying their Juicy Pale for some time before getting into research mode and finding out who they were.

It turns out that Matt, one of the founders and the day-to-day Director, lives just around the corner from the Prestonville. Given that he was a fellow local, we set out to add Big Hug Brewing to the brewery listings and learn much more about them.

When we met to interview Matt and sink a couple of Big Hug cans in Preston Park, we found that (while not exactly a local brewer) they certainly have great social impact objectives – and more than deserve a spot on our listings page.

 

We love to start at the beginning, so tell us about how Big Hug Brewing started up.

Well, we didn’t get it right first time round. The company was called Bear Hug Brewing originally, and that just came about because Dan – my business partner in our mates circle – was known as The Bear, and we greet each other with hugs rather than handshakes. But someone didn’t pay for the final in-depth trademark search and so after I’d quit my job, and remortgaged my flat, and set the business up, we got a ‘cease and desist’ letter from a company in America called Bear Hug Infusions.
Basically we f..ed it up at the start (laughter). However we needed something that still evoked what we were about as a brand, and we liked the hug element. Now I even think it works better. It makes people smile.

Dan and Chris, the other founders, set up Craft Beer Rising, which is/was the biggest craft beer festival. Dan and I worked together at Bacardi, and Dan and Chris had a marketing events company. Just as we were setting up the business their events company got bought out, so there was no way they could channel time and resources into setting up a brewery. So I found myself in the spot of sort of one-man-band running things, and on a day-to-day basis really the only two things I don’t do are the brewing and the finances.
Arguably the two most important things I leave to other people. (Laughter)

 

…and the name?

The reason we’re called Big Hug Brewing is because we don’t actually own a brewery. I like to use the term ‘Hobo brewing’; we’re hobo brewers, we move from brewery to brewery. When we find somewhere we like we set up home for a while and later we move on, and we’re open and loud about that.
Not having those overheads of bricks and mortar makes us a pretty reactive, proactive, adaptable, lean business model. When we start getting some economies of scale on the business model we’ll make some money one day. (Laughter)

 

So let’s talk about the Brewing. Who does it, and how does it work?

At the start there were going to be four of us, and that included our brewer Henry. He was one of the first graduates to go all the way through at Herriot Watt University in Edinburgh, where they do degrees in brewing and distillation. But when the model became hobo brewing he decided that wasn’t for him and he joined Fuller’s as head of innovation; he now runs Darkstar brewery.

The White IPA recipe was Henry’s. That was our original first-ever beer, and Gadd’s in Ramsgate is where it started life. Eddie Gadd was recommended to us by the head brewer at Ringwood Brewery. We went down and met Eddie in Ramsgate, and he and Henry clicked. He’d never seen a recipe like a White IPA before, he was quite intrigued by us and the beer. We turned up telling about how ‘We’re going to build this global brand’ and he was like ‘Yeah, all right lads, I’ll tag along for the ride.’ (Laughter)

But at the moment we brew with Portobello Brewery in London and with Great Yorkshire Brewery. We’ve done a little bit of brewing in Brighton – last summer at Loud Shirt, and with Chris at Good Things in the past. We’ve been actively looking for a partner to brew with in East Sussex.

 

So lots of the brewing takes place outside Sussex. Would you consider yourself a Sussex brewer?

Right up until a few months ago, when it made sense to change it to Portobello’s premises, the business was registered in Brighton. I live in Brighton and I’m really trying to hunker down in Brighton a bit more. I’d call us a ‘local business’ and I’m actively trying to find somewhere to set up a brew-pub, if not in Brighton then definitely in East Sussex.

 

Do you sell a lot locally into pubs? Where can you regularly find your beer?

We do a good chunk of stuff with Laines. Juicy Pale you can get on tap at Shakespeare’s Head, and last summer and hopefully this summer at Fortune of War. Mrs Fitzherbert’s got the White IPA on keg and takes our cask as well. Bloc Bar on St James Street, we do their house lager, a Helles, and their house cider. They generally have our Weiss beer and White IPA. The Mesmerist does the White IPA on tap. Fourth and Church in Hove has our Pilsner on tap. The Ancient Mariner and The Prestonville, my local, have the Juicy Pale.
It’s quite handy that the Shakespeare’s and The Prestonville both have them and are on my walk home from the station. (Laughter)

 

We have to talk about the new beer, Pave the Way Pale. This is raising money for charity, right?

This is the beer we do for the homeless charity, and the artwork depicts a member on the scheme. Hospitality Against Homelessness is the campaign started by the charity which brings ex-homeless vulnerable veterans and ex-offenders back into employment via the hospitality sector.
They find them jobs once they are off the street, and the money we donate per can and keg covers the cost of their utility bills.
The whole concept of the art was to portray the good work the charity does. It’s got a slight superhero stance, with somebody who’s been empowered by the job they’ve got now they’re off the street and working in hospitality.

This beer’s flavour profile was aimed at the mass market – something that’s easy drinking, mid-strength abv. You can give it to your mum, your dad, your grandad, and nobody is going to turn round and say, oooh I don’t like that it’s too bitter, or there’s too much hops.

 

How much are you hoping to donate?

We linked up with a company called Work For Good, it allows small businesses to officially support charities. The legal requirement is that we say X-amount per can, per keg, per case goes to this charity. We give 10p a can.
I wanted something that was tangible, rather than a percentage of profits. The plan is hopefully to raise £5,000 in 2021.

Pave The Way, plus the Juicy and the White IPA, have just gone into 30 regional Sussex Co-op stores. They are very supportive of charities and brands that have a good social ethos, so it was a good fit for them. Hopefully that will help us get there.

 

Does this include some Brighton stores?

Yeah, there’s one in Seven Dials, the little one on the roundabout. Also Kingsway, the new one by the King Alfred Leisure Centre in Hove. Lewes Road. Blatchington Road. You can see the full map on our website – there are stores all the way from Hastings to Portsmouth.
The cans went in on 15th March and will be stocked  for a year, so hopefully that will get the beer into people’s hands and help raise some funds.

 

Where does this social and charitable drive come from?

It was after I spent some time in London setting the business up and I hadn’t been back to Brighton for about nine months. Then on a walk from the station to the clock tower I walked past about five homeless people. This was just after the government had introduced the bedroom tax, and I was simply gobsmacked by the number of homeless people in that short time. I was like ‘What can I do, what can we do, to try and help out,’ because it doesn’t matter how small a thing it is, if you’re making a little bit of a difference to someone then that’s got to be a good thing.

So I started an initiative called Hugs4Snugs: if we do a tap takeover in another town somewhere we ask the venue if they want to nominate a local homeless charity. We give them a bit of free stock, and if the customers over the course of a week or a weekend in the run-up to the event bring a donation of clothing, a hat or scarf or bag of clothes, we give them a free beer and the clothing goes to the nominated charity. So it’s a Hug for a ‘snug’, an item of clothing.

That’s something we do at events, and now we’ve managed to formalise a relationship with the homeless charity Only a Pavement Away, because when I saw them and what they do in the hospitality sector it seemed an opportunity to work with a charity. They actually adopted it; they do something called Winter Warmth to raise donations and give out items of clothing in Brighton, London, Manchester and Edinburgh. It’s great to think that something I did four years ago as part of a campaign is now part of a national charity effort.

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