Posted by on Jun 26, 2015 in Editorial | 9 Comments


The other day I was somewhere I’d not been before, trying a beer from a relatively new Scottish producer. It’s one of the best things about drinking beer, I think – certainly one of the best things about writing about beer; searching out and evaluating all these recent arrivals onto the scene. The way the number of beermakers is still increasing in Scotland, this occurrence is something that still happens with regularity. We are now (according to my clunky Excel spreadsheet)* at 103 breweries north of the border – ninety-one production and a further twelve that contract out elsewhere to get their beer to market. I tend to include both in the overall total, but you may not – which is fair enough.

*Yes, I do actually have one

Anyway, the 103rd and latest entrant on that list is Aberdeen’s Fierce Beer Co – and with any one of a number of others set to cause me to add another row underneath, it ensures there is always something new to try on the horizon. I don’t see that slowing down any time soon, either. Whilst the number of breweries opening has reduced a bit since the surge of 2012/13, the number of smaller, ‘garage brewers’ or those gypsying their craft elsewhere has increased dramatically over recent times. It’s now easier than ever to get your beer up to speed at home and then get it out there relatively soon afterwards. The prevalance of key-kegs, home bottling equipment, and mid-sized breweries with tank space has been joined by the most recent trend of all – brew it yourself stations that encourage people to turn up with their own recipes and let their imaginations loose on rented equipment.

And it’s great. It means the variety and choice of Scottish beer has never been greater in living memory. We’re not ever going to get back to the forty breweries in a city era – or actually, if we do, it will be forty bedroom breweries; people producing small-batch brews from every district. Anyway, with all of that said, every time I go into a bottle shop or a pub I’ve not ventured into for a while, there’ll be a raft of things I’ve never really heard of. And that usually results in me buying them, to see what they are like. And that’s where the problems sometimes begin.

On Twitter the other day I saw a discussion about concerns over beer quality of new micro (or craft as we call them now) breweries. This is a cyclical debate, appearing every so often – and it has many potential factors that play into it, to affect the quality of a new beer on offer, but the one that I always return to is closer to home. And it is this: as a customer, how forgiving are you? When the possible issues of brewing skill and technical ability, cellarship and storage, and even – for it has to come into it – your own ability to discern off-flavours or faults are all combined, you are left with a single question to answer.

How much leeway should we give new breweries?

It’s something I’ve often wondered. As people rate first-time releases from new brewers and give them lower scores, or wrinkle up the face when indulging a first sip from a recent entrant to the market – how much of a grace period should you allow? That last scenario was exactly what happened to me the other day. From a single gulp of the beer, it tasted like grainy, overly dry-hopped homebrew. It wasn’t bad as much as it was fairly disappointing (if it were genuinely bad, I would have taken it back). In these situations, I always wonder if the brewer themselves was happy with it. If they were sitting across from me, would they have had the same reaction?

Great brewers are never really happy with their wares though, there’s always something they feel they can improve on. This is a facet of people who create things, maybe – I remember reading once that the reason restaurants employ waiting staff is so that the chefs don’t have to serve the food and apologise for every little thing they haven’t got perfectly right. But even with all this on board, should we expect new breweries to be totally up to speed straight away, right from the gate? There are several in Scotland who now make amazing beer that is very different from their early releases.

This is natural – if you’ve ever read some of the stuff I wrote when I started out, you’ll know exactly what I mean. And maybe that’s the parallel here. Some people blaze onto the scene as soon as they arrive, but the majority of us are a work in progress. We take time to learn our trade, the quirks of the equipment, how to optimise every stage of the process. And every moment I spend in breweries brings home just how complicated a process it is. So; celebrate those who are barnstorming from the off. But the next time you try a new brewery that isn’t quite there yet – give it time. Because chances are, they’ll get there eventually. Give them some leeway.


  1. Joe
    June 26, 2015

    As a consumer it is far easier to give leeway. If you buy a bottle and it turns out to be shitty then you’re only ~£3 down. What about bars who are more often than not asked to buy purely on spec? Buy a duffer on keg and you’re ~£100 down and possibly have something sitting on your draught list for ages. Not only that, but your rep of only stocking good beer takes a dent.

  2. Richard
    June 26, 2015

    Can you not send it back though? What’s the allowance for returning kegs in that situation?

  3. Joe
    June 26, 2015

    Now we’re in the territory of off flavours vs just not good beer. If it had significant defects then it goes back for full credit immediately. If it’s just not good it’s a more difficult conversation.

  4. Peter McKerry
    June 26, 2015

    Richard just pipped me to the post there – I was of the understanding pubs/bars are able to return a dodgy batch of beer?

  5. Richard
    June 26, 2015

    Right, of course. Beer bad can be returned, beer not very good is harder. Obviously, I was coming at this point from the view of a consumer, but being the server makes these decisions all the harder. I assume ‘once bitten’ is much more prevalent across the trade than for us drinkers.

  6. wrinkletusk
    June 26, 2015

    This reminds me that I should try redchurch again, because the only bottle I have ever had from them was a hot mess. Reminded of my first forays into homebrewing when I didn’t have temp controlled fementation. How that redchurch was put to market is beyond me. I certainly wouldn’t have released it.

  7. steve
    June 26, 2015

    definitely try redchurch again wrinkle, all of the beers i’ve tried from them have been bottled and all have been solid to excellent-resulting in redchurch being my highest rated uk brewer on ratebeer for two years running

    as to how much leeway you should give its a problem I regularly come up against…its the conundrum between wanting to foster and increase the number of breweries in your area Vs the need to let others know that they’d be wasting their money and would be better off supporting the brewers who’ve bothered to get the beer dialled in before going to market. I usually allow a few months before retrying and if its still no good will say so. On ratebeer however I rate as is from the off.

    There’s a local brewery who appear to have a bottling issue, though after a few communications on the matter seem to have gone silent – ignoring the issue and blaming reviewers palates instead of themselves for releasing the beer in the first place.

  8. john
    June 26, 2015

    There is no excuse for a first beer from a new brewery being poor.This is their first born.You have got to get it right.Your reputation depends on it.Okay you can get better but there is so much competion.The comments about Redchurch say it all.They nailed there first beer and every other since but a bad experience can harm your reputation. cheers

  9. Dave from Fierce Beer
    June 26, 2015

    Great post, and thanks for the mention (assuming the grainy over-hopped effort was not mine!!)
    In my opinion there should be very little leeway, as the last thing us new start-ups want is false praise. If something is not good, we need to know.
    Constructive criticism is everything.
    There is no point trying to enter a market packed with class, and punting poor products, as eventually it will fail – and sometimes sooner is better.
    So….little leeway initially, and above all – honest feedback.


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