All together now

The South East London Cuckoo Brewery Collective are finding ways to reach out a steady hand to those in trouble.


Covid-19 has hit the hospitality industry hard. The interlinked businesses of pubs, breweries and supply chains rely on one another’s success. When one suffers a tremor, we all feel it. It’s often said that the beer scene is a community as well as a marketplace. In hard times, communities come together. Now, then, is the time when our industry — or community, if you prefer — needs that collective strength most.

When pubs shut their doors to customers for lockdown, it wasn’t only landlords who faced a sudden financial shock. Bar staff lost their hours. So did cleaners, and pub managers, and kitchen teams: chefs, potwashers and waiting staff. The breweries who made the beer who fed the pubs lost their solid, dependable customers, and for some that will have disastrous, long-lasting consequences. For others, moving to focus directly on customers has been difficult but not impossible — and they are surviving. But there are plenty of people within the beer world who can’t move their operations online. After a few weeks of adjusting to the new and hopefully temporary normal some, like the South East London Cuckoo Brewery Collective based at Missing Link Brewery, East Sussex, are finding ways to reach out a steady hand to those in trouble. Brewer and owner of Rock Leopard Brewery, one of the breweries involved in the project, explained how.

“We’re part of five gypsy brewers based in London who brew at Missing Link Brewing in East Sussex, there’s Little Monster Brewing Company founded by Brendan Quinn, Drop Project Brewing Co. owned and run by friends JT, Will and Joe, Lost Pier Brewing founded by Dan, Ronnie and Toby, Missing Link Brewing owned by Jeremy Cook and us — Rock Leopard Brewing Co.,” he explains.

“When all this started we all felt helpless. Then Jeremy found out about Other Half Brewery’s All Together charity brewing project, and he proposed that we as a collective come together and do something. I’d recently brewed a charity beer with Cloudwater, the Step Up stout and I really wanted to get on board with another beer that could help people.”

“Nobody is looking after the hospitality trade on the shop floor so we thought while people are drinking craft beer, we should look after the people who’ve been supporting and looking after us.”

The All Together project was started by Other Half to raise money for people who need it right now in the hospitality industry. It encourages breweries all over the world to take part by brewing a beer from a set recipe, and donating as much of the proceeds as possible to local hospitality charities.

JT, co-owner and brewer at Drop Project Brewing Co. says the project was a great positive to focus on.

Like most breweries we just thought we were looking at armageddon

“Like most breweries we just thought we were looking at armageddon,” he says. “We were in the middle of building our own brewery site! The kit is still at the manufacturers and sat in borrowed space and nobody really knows what’s happening. So this was a nice project to give us a boost and to give us something to focus on. I know there are people in much worse struggles than us, but it’s definitely a bizarre time to take a step back and look at the industry as a whole. We’re really seeing who we want to work with.”

The juicy east coast IPA itself has been made by pooling resources, using malt and hops each brewery has in its stores and adding tweaks to the set recipe in terms of temperature, water chemistry and time — things that are easier to source during a lockdown.

The charity the five breweries have chosen to support is Hospitality Action, a charity that since the lockdown began in the UK has set up an emergency fund for hospitality workers struggling to pay rent, bills or afford food in this difficult time.

“I have a ton of friends who are out of work at the moment in this industry,” says JT, “ Raising money like this is pretty critical. It’s the people on the front line who ultimately suffer, the zero hours staff, they don’t get business rates relief, they don’t get loans, they probably don’t even have furlough. Some of the staff have just been hung out to dry. And that’s basically the motivation behind this project — our fates are all intrinsically linked in industry, it doesn’t matter where you sit in the chain, you depend on people who work on the bar to serve our beer and educate our customers on the beer itself.”

“People are hurting, I’m hurting,” says Stacey. “But despite all this, because we’re selling directly to customers, our margins have actually gone up slightly. So do you say, ‘I’m alright jack’ and rub your hands? Or do you try and give something back? I know I want to help, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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