Highland Brewing Co to begin kegging

Posted by on Feb 18, 2013 in Scottish Beer | 3 Comments


Rob Hill has seen pretty much every development in brewing, in a career stretching from his days as a twenty-something assistant at Moorhouse’s in Burnley, to managing his own plant on Orkney. As head brewer at the Highland Brewing Company, he’s steered one of the UK’s remotest island breweries to national acclaim – culminating in last year’s crowning of Orkney Best as Champion Beer of Scotland. Having built that reputation on a supreme foundation of cask and bottle – Highland are now set to embark on a new path; in a couple of weeks, they will begin kegging.

Speaking to Rob, it’s clear this is a business decision rather than a personal one, and it has been long thought out. “We can get keg beer into places we can’t get real ale into,” he says, on the phone following a massively long brew-day, interspersed with unloading breeze blocks in the pouring rain.* “We can see an opening. There are many small markets up here – places that don’t have cellars, don’t have facilities. It makes sense.”

*Nobody goes into brewing for the glamour

Rob’s a great brewer to chat to. “If people want keg beer, then they want it. It’s not something I’m interested in,” he says, in his trademark short, clipped sentences. “I’d be happy to carry on doing cask. But I’ve got the lads to think of. This is their game. Real Ale may be booming, but it’s tough. You’ve got to fight for every penny.” Recognising that younger drinkers are interested in alternatives to cask ale might not sit with his personal opinion – Rob’s a cask man, and always will be – but he knows it can help Highland grow.

With that last quote, he’s also alluding to his son Lewis, whose ideas are increasingly becoming played out at Highland. Hoppier pale ales and IPA’s – such as last year’s Duke – are beers Lewis gravitates towards, and I imagine the decision to begin kegging was one in which he was heavily involved. It’s probably no co-incidence that the first beer to receive the keg treatment will be the aforementioned Duke – which I’ll bet should work perfectly with the carbonation levels raised.

I asked Rob if he’d be looking to tweak some of the recipes to make them suitable for kegging. “Why should I do that?” he replies, cheerfully. “It’ll be the same beer in the keg. We’ve never had a pint of cask back. We’re not going to change our recipes.” Why did they decide on that particular beer to keg first? “I’ve had pints of Duke on cask that have been chilled down, and it works. The Duke will be first – after that, we’ll have to see. The kegs are due to arrive in a couple of weeks, so we should get the beer out there sometime in March.”

With the equipment already in place, it’s only the actual kegs that are required – so it’s no surprise that Highland are keen to get a quick turnaround. They’ve been busy converting two old conditioning tanks into keg-ready vessels – previously, they were used to transport beer down the A9 to be bottled. As ever, Rob is typically sanguine about the new venture. “We’ll try it and see if it works. We hope it’ll get a good response. We can do forty to fifty 9’s a week, so we’ll see how it goes.”

“We’ll keep on doing cask beer, though. That won’t change.” he adds.


  1. Richard Morrice
    February 18, 2013

    Move with the times my brewer friends. Keg and lager should not be dirty words just because big brewers made (still make?) tasteless beers in these formats.
    Stay true to your beliefs – sell keg beer and lager if you can make ones that you are proud to sell (and drink yourself) and stay open minded.
    I feel better now I’ve got that off my chest!
    Richard Morrice

  2. Richard
    February 18, 2013

    Yep – Stuart Cail last week, Rob Hill this – two of the grand old dames of Scottish brewing stating the same point of view. It’s all about choice, after all…

  3. Barm
    February 20, 2013

    It’s nice to finally hear a brewer honest enough to say the kegs are about selling beer to places that won’t touch cask, rather than coming out with some mince about hoppy beers being better with extra fizz.

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