New breweries always have a sense of excitement around them. This is partly down to the attitudes of the people involved, of course, as they rush around with an infectious, can-do approach, creating on-the-spot solutions to the countless problems that arise (expected or not). Walking around these new facilities, you pick up on that – it’s one of the best things about visiting breweries – gauging the potential of a brewkit, and anticipating what the prospective brewers will come up with. These days, of course, most of these spaces are entirely brand-new (such as the one I’ll be writing about on Friday). But there’s the other side to that shiny, steel, coin; established breweries expanding, gaining more room, increasing in scope. One such producer are Stewart Brewing, on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
I last visited Steve, Jo and the team with a crowd of attentive/pissed-up bloggers during the European Beer Bloggers’ Conference last month. At that point, the building was up and running (it opened officially at the start of June), but there was a large, looming space where the brewkit was going to be. Since shipped from Hungary and installed, it’s a monster – a gleaming beast from which you can see the entire brewery building. As an upgrade, it boosts Stewart’s production from 10bbl to 40bbl, adds a cold liquor tank and a lauter tun (previously they just had a mash tun and kettle). Now, steam jackets allow decoction mashing – which will hopefully (to me at least) see the return of beers such as the Stewart Doppelbock.
It’s such a difference. Chatting to Steve, he’s still at that slightly-disbelieving stage, wandering about taking it all in. Having been trading for nine years, I don’t know if they ever thought they’d get to this stage, but he can still remember the nervousness of people at a beer festival trying the first pints he ever created. You can only imagine what that must be like – and how it feels now to be forced to attend a safe-handling course to operate the glossy delivery truck with his surname emblazoned on the side (his mandated task for the day after my visit). No wonder he still puffs the cheeks out occasionally.
Also newly-fitted, external malt silos and a grist mill, to mill grain for each brewday – no more schlepping around with sacks of malt. Even the “bloggers’ reward” – emptying the mash tun – is done with a new series of automatic blades, that sparkle the lauter tun in thirty minutes. Despite all this, Steve’s still adamant that what he does is hands-on, the switches and dials are there merely to control the process, not instigate or assess it. Opening valves and raising or lowering temperatures or pressures is very different from a total push-button system. What it does allow for is more innovation – at each stage Steve keenly told me the benefits the new additions would have to his beers, not because he was trying to justify the equipment, but purely out of excitement at what it all means.
It’s a measure of how far they’ve come – from a small unit around the corner to a bespoke hanger with the brewery name etched on the outside in thousand-point font; you won’t get lost if you’re looking for it, that’s for sure. You can probably read it from Arthur’s Seat. The next step – brewers are never truly satisfied, after all – is to complete the 24-tap growler station and set up a bar area for outside drinking, to go along with the brewery shop. Although they were hoping this stage would have been reached a few years ago, it’s enormously impressive. With five brewers in-house, Stewart are finally set to become one of the big regionals in Scotland.