2016 – The Year Scottish Brewing Changed Forever

Last year was quite the twelve months for Scottish beer. Now that we’re almost nearing the end of the first month of 2017, the few weeks of looking back should probably end and the attentions turn to what is actually going to happen this year, in the now. But before all that, there’s one last chance to throw a glance into the rearview mirror and run some of the numbers for what actually happened in 2016 with regard to one of the key metrics in the industry – brewery openings and closures. That’s because I think 2016 will go down as the year that the brewing industry changed forever.

The long and the short of it? 2016 was a record year in modern times for both breweries opening and breweries closing.

But it’s the kind of producer that appeared with increased regularity in 2016 that really made it a keystone year. I keep a spreadsheet of brewers north of the border, with detail on when they opened (no, come back!) – it’s not 100% accurate but there are a few other sites who do amazing work on following this wave of new beermakers appearing in Scotland. The guys at Stravaiging and Brewed in Scotland – plus the regional CAMRA branches – have their noses to the ground much more than I do. Linking it all up and the comings and goings look quite amazing:- *

(* These numbers may be missing the odd brewery here and there, it’s not meant to be completionist)

    Breweries Opening in Scotland (by year)(since 2010)

    2010 – 6
    2011 – 10
    2012 – 15
    2013 – 9
    2014 – 22
    2015 – 20
    2016 – 35

I remember back in 2012 when those 15 new breweries appeared on the scene, thinking it was quite an astonishing figure. And now here we are four years on and that figure for twelve months has been doubled. At the end of 2016 we rounded out at 145 breweries in Scotland, a number not seen for many, many decades – centuries I guess. There are plenty of more qualified brewing historians who can place that figure into context. Anyway, here’s a list of the 35 new producers who started out life last year – and maybe in this list of names you’ll spot both the major caveat with these figures and the two reasons why I think 2016 will go down as being significant in Scottish brewing…

71 Brewing (Dundee), 7Brewing (Banchory), Abertyne Brewery (Abertyne), Angus & Oink Guerilla Brewing (Aberdeen), Appellation Wines (Edinburgh), Balnamoon Malt and Brewery (Keith), Beath Brewing (Cowdenbeath), Bellfield Brewery (Edinburgh), Brew Shed (Limekilns), Brewgooder (Edinburgh), Clan Brewing Co (Glasgow), Cross Borders Brewing Company (Dalkeith), Dalrannoch Brewing Co (Meikleour), Dead End Brew Machine (Glasgow), Exiled Brewers (Edinburgh), Eyeball Brewing (Cockenzie), Ferry Brewery (South Queensferry), Flavourly (Leith), Galloway Lights Brewing (Dumfries), Gallus Brewing (Glasgow), Good Spirits Co (Glasgow), Grunting Growler (Glasgow), Hawkhill Brewery (Dundee), Hurly Burly Brewery (Musselburgh), Hybrid Brewing (Grangemouth), Inner Bay Brewery (Inverkeithing), John O’Groats Brewery (John O’Groats), Out of Town Brewing (Cumbernauld), Park Brew (Brechin), Redcastle Brewery (Arbroath), Shilling Brewing Company (Glasgow), Stow Brewery (Stow), Strathcarron Brewery (Strathcarron), Two Thirsty Men (Grantown-on-Spey), Up Front Brewing Co (Glasgow).

So here’s the caveat – as you may have spotted with names like Appellation Wines and Flavourly, that list of 35 (and all the figures so far) contain contract breweries as well as those with their own mash tun and brewes’ wellies. If you remove the pay to play beermakers from the numbers, the brewery openings by year looks like this:-

    Production Breweries/Brewpubs Opening in Scotland (by year)(since 2010)

    2010 – 6
    2011 – 9
    2012 – 12
    2013 – 9
    2014 – 16
    2015 – 17
    2016 – 24

And the overall number operating today would shift from 145 ‘breweries’ to 120. You can argue which of these is more representative – for me I think the higher of the two is – and that’s down to the way the beer industry is heading. Look, I even did a graph to illustrate it! Aside from a blip in 2009 the two lines of production breweries opening per year (in blue) and those that include contract brewers (red) are moving farther apart as they grow:

This is indicative of where we are right now – there are around 25 ‘breweries’ who don’t have their own facility in Scotland. At Christmas 2013 there were 5. Yet all have beers on shelves and pouring from taps across the country, so to sideline them isn’t taking into account the real situation, I think. Having looked at who and where these new contractees are, you only need to glance in one direction – Drygate in Glasgow. Their programme of helping out would-be brewers has been hugely successful – and in turn, massively influential. Half a dozen new contractees appeared from their conditioning tanks last year alone. They offer a great service for those with the desire, but not the capital, to own their own facility. And there also lies the second point about where the industry is going.

In 2016, of the new brewers who opened their own production facility – and please correct me if I’m wrong here – only 71 Brewing in Dundee opened a brewery north of 10BBL (I’m not sure the size of the Cross Borders kit in Dalkeith). You have to go back to Keith Brewery’s 12BBL kit that arose from the ashes of Brewmeister in 2015 as the last to top 10BBL – and before that, the last true large-scale brewery to open was Drygate themselves, with their 24HL kit in Glasgow back in 2014. Whether there are some I’ve missed or not – the second overall trend in the Scottish beer industry is small-scale. Picobreweries. Get your name, and your beer out there, even if it comes from your kitchen or garage.

I personally think this is great – if you can guarantee the quality of what you are putting out there (and that’s a big if) then the more the merrier. It’s not going to make you money, churning out a 1BBL kit and a few kegs here and there, but it’s a hobby made good so I’m all for it. Of course, with the increased numebr of new brewers appearing on the scene, even playing small instruments, there may end up being too many musicians for instruments. That’s a terrible analogy – what I’m trying to say is that 2016 was also a record year for the number of brewery closures in Scotland:-

    Brewery Closures in Scotland (by year)(since 2010)

    2010 – 3
    2011 – 1
    2012 – 1
    2013 – 1
    2014 – 0
    2015 – 4
    2016 – 11

There’s the rub. Over the course of last year we lost the following – and let me know if any of them are still going – Andrew Usher & Co (I believe the kit has been removed), Ale House Rock Brewery, Bottle Cap Bar and Brewery, Carbon Smith Brewing, Beeches Brewery, Discovery Ales, Loch Ness Brewing Co, Argyll Breweries Ltd, Madcap Brewery, Houston Brewing Co, Fyfe Brewing Co, Abbot Brew House.

Some of them ceased for more positive reasons than others – Carbon Smith relocated to Manchester, John Reade left Abbot Brew House when it closed to the public, but has another venture that has just started. But more than a few of the names in that list went into liquidation or were brewpubs whose premises closed. Is this something that is going to become more prominent as we go on? Only time will tell.

The upshot of all this is that there has never been more choice for us as beer drinkers in living memory. But for those who start out their brewing careers, it can be tough to get a foothold. Maybe that explains the rise of contract brewing, as more and more would-be breweries start out that way before they can scale up to owning their own kit. And when they get there, how many of their fellow brewers will still be around?

6 thoughts on “2016 – The Year Scottish Brewing Changed Forever”

  1. “It’s not going to make you money, churning out a 1BBL kit and a few kegs here and there, but it’s a hobby made good so I’m all for it.”

    Granted it won’t make big money but if you keep an eye on costs, make good relationships with local outlets, price according to the market and maintain steady sales you’d have to be doing something wrong for it not to be profitable. Should be more profitable (% rather than £) when you have negligible overheads – no rent, loans or business rates, no need to charge VAT and very low delivery costs.

    I guess it depends on each brewer’s ambitions. This is small, sustainable, local and manageable with two kids. Suits me.

  2. Cheers Sreven, that’s kind of the point I was getting at although I should have maybe expanded a little. Having spoken to several pico-producers over the recent years, the bottom line is not profit and loss, but work-life balance – something I’m all for

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