Everything happens in threes, as they say – and a mere handful of days since Innis & Gunn took the plunge and opened their first bar, on Lothian Road in Edinburgh, two other prominent Scottish breweries have announced plans to do something similar; almost literally around the corner from each other. Beer drinkers of Inverness – you’re about to get a lot more options in the near future (subject to planning and licencing; conditions apply). Yes, the pearl of the Moray Firth is due to become the staging ground for something that has become more and more prevalent of late – mid-size breweries taking the plunge and opening their own branded on-trade premises. And that can only be a good thing.
It was reported in the Press & Journal that the first of these beermakers is likely to be the Black Isle Brewery; a planning application has been lodged to convert an old charity shop on Church Street in the city to a bar with a rooftop drinking terrace and a self-contained 48 bed hostel above. The same article goes on to state that the Cairngorm Brewery are hoping to restore the really rather beautiful AI Welding building on Academy Street – a mere three-minute walk away. Others have tried – and failed – to restore it in the past; Cairngorm have owned the historic building for a while so here’s hoping it can be renovated and given another lease of life.
From a rough calculation, if these two projects get the go-ahead and come to fruition, they would be the ninth and tenth small to mid-range Scottish breweries to open a bar that is distinct from their place of brewing (a figure that discounts Greene King/Belhaven, C&C etc, as well as brewpubs, of course). The others I jotted on the back of an envelope being Arran, BrewDog, I&G, St Andrews, SixNorth, Tempest, WEST and Williams Bros.* Actually, of those, WEST opened their WEST on the Corner only a couple of months ago – so the trend is definitely on the up.
* If I’ve missed any out here, let me know – thanks to RC for spotting SixNorth.
Having a street-side outlet for your beers is a fantastic idea, if you can source the capital and the planners come on-side. As much as I love heading out to Industrial Estates or other out of the way brewery locations, to get your (sorry for this) brand out there, a bar serving your beer in the centre of the city is a much better proposition. Plus it can deliver the beers in exactly the way your brewer intends, every time. It can be tough, finding a location that works for a bar and guarantees enough trade – but if you can and manage to convert it, having a bar adds a massive layer of confidence on top of your organisation.
In fact, whilst we’re on the subject – let’s put out another five breweries that I would love to see open their own premises one day…
Harviestoun – With Cairngorm and Black Isle pulling the trigger, a Harviestoun-branded bar somewhere in the greater Stirling area would do really well, I think. Give it a Scottish feel for the visitors who pass through, serve Schiehallion and Bitter & Twisted on cask and keg for the craft-curious; oh, and a devoted Ola Dubh tap.
Cromarty – Maybe an arrangement with the Anderson in Fortrose, but I can’t imagine anywhere better to go for a few beers than a bar with the original Happy Chappy himself perched on a stool at the end of the counter. And with the range of beers from Cromarty, it would surely be hugely popular.
Stewart Brewing – Another brewery expanding and getting into different lines and styles, Stewart could bank a bit of the change from the Craft Beer Kitchen and convert one of Edinburgh’s many historic buildings into a centrepiece ‘destination’ bar for all those people who love their beer and make the trip out to Loanhead to fill up the growlers.
Traquair – Yes, they are really tiny – and the stunning Traquair House is reason enough to go to them, but every Scots-themed bar I’ve been in would be transformed by a range of historic ales from the Innerleithen concern pouring from the taps. I know they only produce one beer for draught, but this is a fantasy list, anyhow. It would be one heck of a place to go.
Orkney Supergroup – Whilst we’re on the theme of fantasy bars, let’s imagine that the centre of Kirkwall cries out for a brewery bar, and Rob Hill and Norman Sinclair square up and shake hands. It would be like Theakstons and Black Sheep opening a pub in Masham, only with Old Norway, Skullsplitter and Orkney Porter on draught.
Anyway, whether those come to fruition or not, it’s great news that two more Scottish breweries are having a go and opening their own premises. I’ve only actually been to Inverness – the happiest place in Scotland – once (without stopping) – on the way back from a family holiday in the Highlands when I was about 14, and the only thing I can remember was that I went into a small sporting goods store and bought a single golf club; a 7-iron. Two points related to that – a) it probably doesn’t give me adequate knowledge of the city, and b) yes, I really was a teenage tearaway.
Thanks to Paul Grant for pointing out that the AI Welding conversion would be Cairngorm’s second bar; they already operate the Winking Owl in their hometown of Aviemore. My main point still stands, though!