Following our first two brewdays – with Alechemy and Ayr Brewing Companies, for our third we got to stay a little closer to Edinburgh. In fact, our destination was within sight of our home (apart from Calum, who resides in the luxuriant ‘burbs of Falkirk). A few miles around the curving coast of the outer Forth Estuary is Prestonpans – home of DemonBrew. Looking back at the city on a blisteringly cold January morning, gave great views of the snow atop Arthur’s Seat, and the city panorama all the way across to the swanky condos of Leith (or, it could be Newhaven gas terminal – it’s hard to make out at this distance).
DemonBrew are situated in the back room of the Prestoungrange Gothernburg – aka ‘The Goth’ – a spectacular many-roomed pub, right on the ‘pans waterfront. Built in 1908, the Goth is owned by Gordon, Baron of Prestoungrange, and has dining rooms, function suites and a central bar. It’s cheerfully traditional, closing in the afternoons during the week, and opening at noon on weekends (which is why it was closed as we arrived). Fortunately, the cleaner was on-hand to let us in, and we found DemonBrew ‘head honcho’ Dave Whyte (or, more accurately, ‘only honcho’) round the back, weighing sacks of Simpson’s malt in preparation for the brewday.
One of the chief reasons we came out was to experience Dave’s
antiquatedhistoric 5bbl kit – which looks striking but is fairly archaic. I always imagined Dave running about, dodging jets of steam, banging things with the back of a spanner – much like every episode of Dr Who when the Tardis goes anywhere. In truth, Dave has become adept at the nuances of the kit – there are signs everywhere that read things like Actual temperature is three degrees above temp on readout. Brewers are amongst the most resourceful people in any industry – they can work around a problem just as easy as buying a new part – which is often not easy, given Dave’s situation.
The reason is, although the pub (and ultimately the brewery) are owned by the good Baron, they are leased to different companies. The Goth is a registered charity – after a 5% pa cumulative return, it gives back all proceeds to the Prestoungrange Arts Festival. A further company sub-lease the bar and run the business, whereas the company that owns the brewkit is completely separate, and then lease the gear to Dave. At least, that was my take – it’s all extremely complicated – Dave’s trying to make it all work, but when parts break, it can be tough to get everyone in line to fund a replacement. As it is, his biggest customer (the Goth) can’t shift enough of his beer to merit more than a few brewdays a fortnight.
That’s tough on Dave, as he’s obviously got serious talent as a brewer. Previous tenants of the Goth kit have had their own reputations, Dave is simply trying to establish his own. He took over following the tragic death of Roddy Beveridge, who died suddenly in late 2010 at the age of 43. Roddy had only just put the beers of Prestoungrange back on the map under the Prestonpan Ales banner – including the old Fowler’s beers such as the infamous Wee Heavy. Roddy also resurrected Gothenburg Porter – the house beer at the pub – which Dave now brews, albeit to a slightly different recipe. He also markets the beer under the DemonBrew brand – as Demon Black. And that was what we were to help brew during our visit.
Mashing in the Demon Black – the chocolate malt creating almost psychedelic patterns when swirled into the pale malt. I’ve been in several breweriees, and never seen the same mashing prop twice – in this case, he uses a common garden rake – which seems to work pretty well.
Demon Black is 4.4%, and consists of Pale, Dark Crystal and Chocolate Malt and Roasted Barley, before being hopped with Summit and Pacific Gem. Despite the 5bbl capacity of the kit, Dave brews 3bbl runs, with only half a dozen casks produced. It’s so small scale, it’s practically nano-brewing – Dave has a second job to bring the money in. The space at the Goth is so limited that he can only brew again once all the casks have gone out – getting the DemonBrew name out there is key. But how do you raise awareness with such small runs? It’s pretty tough – but Dave’s an affable chap, and seems to take it all in his stride. Getting a bigger brewkit is key, though.
Dave weighs out the Pacific Gem for the late addition. He’s hugely fond of the two similar Kiwi varieties – the Pacifics Gem and Jade. They do have subtle differences – Gem has a fruitier, berryish quality, whereas Jade is more citrus-led. His dedicated Pacific beer – Pacific Kick – is a cracker, and we got a sneak taste of an as-yet unfined version straight from the fermenter. He’s also just started to bottle his beers (as in, this week), and should get some out in to the market very soon.
…but hard work is always round the corner. It was Calum’s turn to clean out the mash tun – somewhat easier than the 12bbl saucepan I climbed into at Alechemy, but there you go. He did eventually get in to scrub the husks from the sides, but my camera battery expired very soon afterwards. One unusual thing about brewing at the Goth is the windows that allow punters of the bar the chance to see what’s going on. Actually, now I think of it, that’s fairly common for brewpubs – but it was still unusual to be gawped at – particularly when we were standing around, hands in pockets (it was freezing in there), waiting for something to happen. Being the back-room of a pub, outside the brewery door were stacks of soft drinks and mixers, and I managed to commandeer the top of a chest freezer to write notes.
As Dave uses pellet hops, the cleanup job on the copper was a lot easier – he actually did it himself, after run-off into the two fermenters. The sickly-brown sludge is far easier to hose off than the crushed cones. Before we left, we did have a chance to sample the Gothenburg Porter from the bar – they like to serve the beers cold there (it comes in the same python as a the lagers, so chills en-route). The temperature hid the roastiness somewhat, but once it warmed a little the dark, chocolatey flavours came out a lot more. It’s a great beer, and hopefully more people will be able to sample Dave’s beers very soon. Look out for the newly-designed DemonBrew pump clips in Edinburgh, and hopefully the bottles soon after. Many thanks to Dave for letting us drop by and help out!