Tap takeovers. Battle of the Brewers. Events in the beermakers’ pantheon somehow always seem to exude an air of implied menace; even ‘meet the brewer’ sounds as if it could involve a blunt instrument and a trip to casualty if your feedback becomes too honest. Yet, as I’ve said before, these types of nights are crucial to anyone wishing to build a brand, to make the public aware of what you are doing. They are anything but intimidating; they are critical. They are also, just as importantly, bloody good fun – involving the chance to compare and contrast a brewers’ output whilst listening to their philosophy. Take two relatively young local breweries here, Alechemy and Elixir Brewing Companies. The other night, they held a collaborative takeover at the Holyrood 9A, featuring a combined thirteen draught beers from both parties.
Even if you didn’t manage to collar someone from either brewery, you could get an inkling of what they are about simply by working your way through the brews they had laid on. Elixir, for example, brought the 2013 version of their deconstructed liquid mince pie – Minception – and also two hefty kegs of Mincendiary Device – the same beer aged with a different type of chilli (regular Aji and Aji Amarillo). Following on from the infamous Benedictine Groove (the tonic wine and tablet-stacked tribute to Scotland), Elixir – clearly – have an impish exuberance about them, and this really comes over in their beers.
Since launching around a year ago, Elixir have continued with this lively energy, working out of the increasingly busy surroundings at Alechemy (more on whom later). As a contract brewery, tank space is always the limiting factor – yet Benjii and Barry have this seemingly endless supply of ideas. Big brews of regulars such as Conviction IPA and Fremantle Doctor are supplemented by the small-scale specials that, due to their size, can really give a true reflection of their personalities. Look out soon for Elixir’s version of a Finnish Sahti, the lengthily-infused, juniper-laden beer normally produced without boiling, giving it both an immediacy and a unique flavour.
Alechemy Brewing Co, on the other hand, have undergone a huge amount of change recently. Last Spring, when James Davies opened his facility in Livingston, they debuted with a range of 4%ish cask ales, such as Five Sisters and the original Cairnpapple IPA. He’s always felt that a second arm needed to be added, however, and anyone seeking a hint as to the direction Alechemy are heading would have got it fairly quickly after the event at the Holyrood. A 7.5% imperial stout (Panacea). A 7.1% IPA brewed with 42kg of hops (Almighty Mofo). An 8.2% sour lime beer (Scurveball). Alechemy are stepping up the gears several at a time.
Chatting to James, it’s very evident how driven he is, even for such a modest and easygoing character. Adding several new members of staff; slotting a number of Belgian-style beers into their lineup; introducing ‘Freestyle Fridays’ – a relaxed week-ending attitude to brewhouse experimentation. James is now in the process of sorting a bottling line, meaning no more lengthy ferrying to Cumbria and back for his bottles. Despite all this action, and the adoption of a barrel-ageing programme at Alechemy, he’s still keen to continue with the cask session side of the business, balancing both as things move forward.
So, what about the beers themselves? Of the Elixir beers available on the night, the aforementioned Aji’d Minceptions were fantastic – both extremely subtle, despite whole chillies having spent fully three weeks in the cornies. The Amarillo was sweeter, yet the Aji had a gentle rise of heat, coming around 45 seconds after knocking back each sip (and yes, I did time it). From Alechemy, Scurveball was a revelation, tasting like limeade sherbet, and the Panacea was a coating rum and raisin comforter. Alechemy’s new lager, Stereotype, was also fantastic – keep an eye out for this if you ever see it, brewed with two different C-hops, it’s as good a new British lager as I’ve had for a long time.
Anyone new to these breweries would have certainly had their eyes opened, no question – and there were people like that there; I overheard someone contemplating getting an ‘Alchemy Citrus Burst’. They would hopefully have realised that the so-called ‘craft beer’ revolution relies on brewers experimenting, trying out new things. They would hopefully also realise that that doesn’t necessarily preclude the same brewers from producing brilliantly balanced cask ale at around the 4%abv mark – such things are not mutually exclusive, by any means (despite what you may hear). Finally, I would hope people unfamiliar with either Elixir or Alechemy left having gained an appreciation of just how varied beer can be. This, surely, is the message brewers of all scales should be pleased to get across.