Five years is a long time in brewing, and 2012 seems like an age ago. 86 breweries have opened in Scotland since, and the competition has increased dramatically as more people wake up to the idea of locally made beer (craft or otherwise). For those who have been in play for half a decade or so and want to move to the next level, these are potentially tricky times. But for one in particular, this week just got a whole lot more exciting. As we speak Alechemy are initiating the first test batches at a new brewery location, a mile from their previous home in Livingston. Thanks to investment from Glasgow-based Catalyst Drinks, the brewery founded by James Davies has taken that next step in a big way – and they are about to strike out for the craft beer trifecta – volume, cans and bars.
Its’ fantastic news for James and the team – Alechemy have always brewed great beers but to me the problem has been getting their names out there and then being able to increase production as a result. The move has brought with it five new vessels and more on order, with those set to arrive in the summer increasing capacity to an even greater extent. The new site is almost double the size of the previous one, giving the brewery more room to breathe and then expand into over time (their new unit is 6,000 square feet) and as the enlarged brewhouse comes on line the existing 12BBL kit can work overtime to fill the tanks and in turn, their order sheets.
The second part of that trifecta addressed by Catalyst’s input is the adoption of canning, with the investment being used to install a canning line in the new space (with a kegging line added as well). I get the sense that this isn’t the modern-day Damascene conversion as it is for other brewers (like Fallen, for instance) and more a testing of the waters – I spoke to James over email for this post and he told me that Alechemy will still be contract bottling for now – at Carmichael Mobile Bottling in Loanhead – and whilst the cans will serve the domestic craft beer market it seems likely that exports will continue to be sent overseas in glass rather than aluminium.
Covering all the bases is the best way to make things like this work which is why the final titbit that came out recently is so interesting. James confirmed that Alechemy are in the final stages of opening a craft beer bar in Glasgow’s Merchant City (it was originally planned for the end of next month but is now likely to open in the summer). Once you open a bar, things definitely change – it focuses the attention of production, gives your brewery a place to hold events and acts as the outward face of your entire company. It’s no small matter, but the key to this decision is not just the investment that has arrived but who it is that has provided it.
The Directors of Catalyst have years of experience in the hospitality industry, with other irons in their fire being a small chain of boutique hotels and a similar crossover with Drygate – plus a connection to the Fuller Thomson bars in Edinburgh and Dundee. I expect the Alechemy Bar to be very much along the lines of the last of these, which is great news for the drinkers of Glasgow (the site will be very near to BrewDog’s Merchant City site). I’m guessing if it does well there may be others in the pipeline for fellow beer fans towards the east of the country as well.
Having known the guys at Alechemy since they launched it’s fantastic to hear that this expansion has come to fruition. Whether part of an official Five Year Plan sitting in James’s desk drawer or not, working hard for half a decade and then taking that next step is perfect timing. Alechemy will be changing up their beers and branding, gaining new footholds and then showcasing what they can do in their own city-centre bar. That’s what investment can do, and it’s a brilliant thing to see for everyone who has enjoyed their beers to date.