Working from its offices and tap room in a railway arch at 335 Westgate Street, South Hackney, the brewery was due to start its own production line at the start of March. They nervously watched the worldwide news about the coronavirus develop throughout February.
Founder and native Bostonian, Pete Brown (pictured left), said: ‘We were saying, it’s not going to happen here, is it? And as we know, then it did. Lockdown was announced and immediately we had to shut the bar service. Fortunately, we were deemed essential workers as part of the food supply chain and allowed to continue selling beer, so we flipped overnight to an off licence and hoped for the best.’
Having come from a country where health provision is provided by private insurance, Pete was impressed on the two occasions that he had to seek help from the NHS.
He said: ‘The first week of lockdown, we read all these stories about how there might not be enough hospital beds and how everyone else was to stay at home – but hospital workers were going in to work. I’m American, I came to London eight years ago, with no intention of staying, just making beer – and I’m still here making beer.
‘In that time, I’ve gotten sick twice and needed to go to my local hospital, the Homerton. So that first week we just said why don’t we get some beer to the hospital workers, so we got 650 bottles of beer to the hospital. We figured if someone fancied a cold beer after work, it would be them. It was awesome, they were so happy.’
Forest Road Brewing Co. is a contract brewery with the freedom to experiment more with flavours. Pete said ‘We had beer in the tank due for kegs, but our market had all dried up overnight, so we had this beautiful beer with nowhere for it to go. I came up with the idea for a bottle where we donate £1 to the NHS for each one sold. I said why don’t we call it “Stay home lager”. Two weeks later, we had our first branded “Stay at home” larger out for sale. We have raised £7,000 for the NHS so far.’
For the Forest Road Brewery, none of this would have been possible without the support of their landlord, The Arch Company, which has given tenants a three month pause on rent payments. Pete said: ‘If we hadn’t had The Arch Company’s rent holiday we wouldn’t be here, because all our overheads would have made it impossible. A combination of our landlord’s support and the government’s furlough scheme has allowed us breathing room.’
The brewery has used that time to go digital and now has a Deliveroo service. Pete also converted an old van into a beer delivery service, the Pint Mobile, which has proved a huge hit. As he says, the culture of drinking beer is deeply ingrained in our culture and he has seen how the local community of business within railway arches, and beyond, has come together to support them. But Forest Road Brewery is rare among the ‘craft’ beer industry – only a handful of start-ups are still truly independent. Most are owned by huge multi-national corporations like Mitsubishi or Heineken. Pete says: ‘There are a lot of campaigns out there now asking people to support your local brewery – I hope they realise that means businesses like ours. I don’t want consumers to think they are trying to support us but inadvertently killing the small local brewers that have made craft beer so good in the capital.’
8 Netil Ln, Hackney, London