Over the weekend, news broke in the Herald that Williams Brothers brewery are expanding, and increasing the scope of their Alloa bottling plant to the tune of £1 million. This seven-figure investment sum increases their capacity by 60%, and will see Williams Bros produce over 8 million bottles a year, or 41,600HL (all figures from the Herald article).
It’s great news for Bruce, Scott and the team – Williams are a real Scottish success story, having started from the whimsical aspirations of two brothers operating a home-brewing store, and working upwards from there. The story of how a benevolent crone entered the shop at midnight and – as lightning played across her face – revealed the recipe for Fraoch, has gone into Scots’ brewing legend. Now, they export to twenty-five different countries and contract bottle for several other Scottish breweries (figures, again from the Herald)*.
*As you can see, I did plenty of research for this article
So, with the news broken, what might it mean for the future of Williams Bros? Here are six ‘bold’ predictions. Feel free to make a note, for posterity…
Fraoch to become a global brand
There’s really no reason why Fraoch Heather Ale can’t become THE Scottish ‘craft’ beer for drinkers around the world. It has fantastic branding, contains typically Scots ingredients, has provenance that you just can’t buy (Bruce and Scott picking heather shoots themselves, on a wind-lashed Scottish moor, as per instructions of mystery crone) – it even has an unpronounceable name.* There’s a turbo’d whisky-aged version that comes out every now and again, which is already lapped up in the States, as is their want over there. If WB go all-in for Fraoch, then look out.
*As far as I’m aware, it’s Froh-IKKH, if that makes sense
Joker IPA in cans to go through the roof
Interesting revelation part one – the WB expansion includes a small foray into canning. Now, canning lines are thin on the ground in Scotland, with BrewDog leading the line in putting a few of their biggest sellers in tin. Now, I’ve been a huge proponent of beer in cans for a long time – in the UK, if done well, there’s a huge gap in the market. If everything comes together for the Alloa facility, and costs aren’t prohibitive, Williams could lead the line with canned Joker IPA. At the moment, I hide a few metal-clad Sierra Nevada’s or Maui’s in the fridge, for instant drinking fixes. Replace those with Joker IPA, or the knee-trembling Double Joker, and I’d have to throw out the three-month old bacon to make more room.
PET bombers in bottle shops
Interesting revelation part two – the plans also include a bottling line for trialling beer in PET plastic. Now, from my immediate memory, I’ve only ever had beer in that format as bright takeaway from Stewart Brewing, and in growler fills from the Beer Hive here in Edinburgh. PET isn’t perfect, environmentally, but it does have benefits over glass bottles; production yields fewer greenhouse gases, and as they are lighter, less fuel is needed to transport them. Currently, think plastic bottles, and images of four litres of cheap cider and teenagers’ names on Coca-Cola spring to mind. This is an association that has to be challenged. Make them big, make them different, give them a shelf-life, try them in Scotland’s best bottle shops. Take-home a carbonated Ceilidh from the fridge, sir/madam?
More Scottish breweries to leave Cumbrian Contract Bottling
Currently, Williams handle bottling duties for a handful of Scottish breweries, but others end up trucking their tanked beer down to Workington to be contract bottled there. How many bottle-forward Scottish breweries sit within a comparable distance of Alloa? All of them? Looking to help make the bottling line pay for itself, in the near future watch for a slow reduction in the number of beer runs heading down the M74. If the plastic and metal-based markets start to create an interest, then Williams Brothers’ filling station becomes a triple-threat.
Midnight Sun to take on Cairngorm Black Gold as best dark beer in country
Black Gold is aptly-named, bagging awards seemingly every year for the Cairngorm Brewery. Yet although commonly seen in cask and bottle, it still feels slightly under-rated. Such is the nature of 4.4% stouts, maybe. Anyway, it’s a cracking beer. So too, though, is Williams Midnight Sun – also cruelly under-rated. But, it has a bit more oomph than the Black Gold at 5.6%, an added wee twist in a (complementary) nudge of root ginger, and crucially is now backed by the new care-free Williams Bros attitude. As such, Midnight Sun could be the third and final prong propelling WB into the craftosphere. Fraoch in bottle, Joker in cans, Midnight Sun in casks. Backbone.
Williams to get Inn Deeper?
As the recipient of the first pint ever sold at Glasgow’s Inn Deep, I was privileged to witness Bruce Williams himself screwing a disco ball into the ceiling – craft beer, right there. They have invested in a few other bars, carefully and skilfully giving others the backing needed to go ahead and make things happen – such as the peerless Vintage in Leith, for example. As the annual profits increase, I fearlessly predict Bruce will have to forage in a few more car boot sales for dance-floor accessories. They aren’t going to become BrewDog in their bar portfolio, but another two or three branded Williams Brothers bars in Scotland? Why ever not?
Will these predictions last the test of time? What would you like to see in the future of Williams Bros?