Six years ago, I met up with a quartet of fresh-faced youngsters hoping to make it big in the world of brewing. The foursome were the first iteration of a project designed to become something much bigger as time went on – the debut of Natural Selection Brewing Co – the ultimate test-environment for prospective brewers. As part of the world-renowned International Centre for Brewing and Distilling (ICBD) postgraduate degree at Heriot-Watt University here in Edinburgh, 2011 was the first time the Centre partnered up with Stewart Brewing (itself founded by an ex-alum of the course) to give four of the students about to graduate a very real chance to experience what it would be like when they ventured out alone – design, brew, market and sell a beer of their own, from start to finish.
It’s a fantastic idea, akin to a Grad Show at the College of Fashion or Art – albeit with the slight difference that the brewers’ don’t merely display what they have created and have it critiqued, the entire lot is purchased and consumed by the public shortly afterwards. It is the perfect launchpad for would-be brewers as it gives them the additional must-haves of marketing, budgeting and PR. I assume they don’t fill out tax returns as well but if they do then it can’t be far removed from having an actual brewery of their own (see also: dealing with bloggers and beer writers).
The ICBD is already a global leader within the industry – aside from Steve Stewart such notables as Alastair Hook (Meantime), Rob Theakston (Black Sheep), Martin Dickie (BrewDog), and Stewart Howe (Harbour) have all come through the course, and many, many more besides. I wonder how many of them would have liked the chance to have a dry-run at getting a beer over the line before they collected their diplomas? A rhetorical question, I guess (aside from Steve Stewart, who told me years ago he would have loved to have been able to do it).
Anyway, the latest version of Natural Selection Brewing launches tonight, in a special event at OX184 in Edinburgh city centre. The sixth beer to break cover (if you exclude the multiple barrel-aged versions and specials the team usually create on the side as well), it is named Common Ancestor and is a 5.2% juniper California Common. Five thousand litres have been brewed and the team are going to be releasing it into several cities across the UK following tonight’s launch event.
The guys were kind enough to send me a bottle (full disclosure) and it’s a good beer; the juniper being far and away the most interesting component. It raises the classic Steam Beer profile of biscuity malt into an almost ginger biscuit flavour, which is really something. There’s a hint of red berry fruit and a creaminess to the mouthfeel that complement everything as well – I imagine it would be excellent on cask where the more floral aspects would also have a chance to come out.
You can discover for yourself exactly what the beer tastes like tonight (Thursday 29th June) at OX184 from 7:30 (ticket prices apply, but include beer and snacks). Check out the NSBC feeds for more details, as the latest iteration of this hugely worthwhile MSc project breaks cover.