Category Archives: Scottish Beer

Beath Brewing Co – off to a flyer

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Nowadays, with more breweries up and down the country than any other time in recent memory, producers that arrive on the scene can often face a battle for recognition from the moment they start up. Weighed up against the fundamentals of starting a business are the question of getting people to notice you in a crowded market, fighting for space on already heaving shelves and managing to secure enough raw ingredients to make a play of it.

But at the basest, most pared down level, there’s the simplest of quandries new brewers face. Will anyone actually like their beer? That’s where festivals come in – as I say all the time, finding new things is the main joy of attending them, so for brewers after feedback they can be a godsend. And for Ian McGrath of Beath Brewing Company, the feedback at his first beer festival – entered to give people a chance to let him know how it tasted – was entirely unexpected.

Ian’s 4.0% red ale Are You With Me won Champion Beer of Fife last week.

You may not have heard of Beath Brewing Co, and that’s because the one-man operation has been going for a little under six weeks. Fifty days from the first brew following HMRC Certification of his brewkit in Cowdenbeath, Ian’s entrant – which is not even on RateBeer – scooped up the gold medal at the Kingdom of Fife CAMRA festival, beating out such established breweries as Eden Mill (into second) and St Andrews Brewing Co, who came third with their Mocha Porter. It then became the first beer to sell out at the festival, as is traditional for best in shows.

If you ever needed an analogy to sum up the unpredictable joy of beer festival judging, this is it. Ian has been homebrewing for five years, but only switched to all-grain last year. And well shy of his two-month anniversary, his new brewhouse is now responsible for the Champion beer of his home county. I’m not sure I can remember a similar situation – although it may well have happened before. Sometimes, when you tentatively ask for feedback, you end up with something extremely unexpected indeed. Like a festival trophy…

Innis and Gunn Inveralmond Brewery

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It’s almost two weeks since the news broke that Innis & Gunn had acquired fellow Scottish brewery Inveralmond for £3.1m, forming the accurately named (if not quite as catchy) Innis & Gunn Inveralmond Brewery. The announcement surprised a fair few people (not least myself) and was a fascinating thing to have happened. In this modern era of brewery takeovers and buyouts you tend to think solely of macro-conglomerates buying into craft, but this was almost a touch of throwback brewery business, done at the local level and reminding you that when A buys B, A isn’t always short for AB-InBev.

It’s been a while that something similar occurred in Scotland, too. Off the top of my head the last time something like this happened was when Sinclair Breweries purchased the Orkney/Atlas combination in 2006, or on a smaller scale when the Isle of Mull Brewery sold to Oban Bay in 2010. These things don’t happen north of the border very often – so when they do they raise a huge amount of questions. That goes double when the buyer is a export-heavy brand with a fairly unique identity, and the buyee a cask-heavy brewery a year shy of twenty in the same location under the same management.

The press release issued on the 7th of April had a number of interesting points. One of the main ones for me relates to I&G’s BeerBond crowdfunding programme, which launched and closed last year. The target at the time was £3m, and the release states it was this money raised that is to be used to acquire Inveralmond. I’m wondering now if this was the reason for the funding in the first place – the plans released in May of 2015 to build a brewery in an undisclosed location sounded great – but as Innis & Gunn founder Dougal Sharp notes, “Taking over an already fantastic brewery gives us a rolling start”, and mentions the understandable difficulty of securing a site and building a brewery from scratch.

So was a buyout like this always the intention of the crowdfunding? After all, you can’t really issue a call to action to your fans on the premise of buying another brewery; the artists’ impression of a shiny new facility may have been a simple smokescreen. Not that it matters, I&G can invest the money raised in whatever way they like to further their business and whether the acquisition of another company was the result of the Bond or the intention behind it makes no difference in the end. It gets Innis & Gunn to production in a matter of a few short months as opposed to at least a years’ hard planning, construction and dialling in.

After reading the release, the other thing that struck me was pretty basic – this is going to really work for both parties.

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Inveralmond receive investment whether they were looking for it or not (and they may well have been, it could be there was no smoke without fire). There’s specific mention of the brewing staff being retained by their new owners, which is understandable given the weight towards sales/marketing staff as opposed to brewhouse workers at I&G. The beer brands themselves are a perfect fit – the only beer I can see falling by the wayside is Inveralmond’s Sunburst Pilsner, likely to be usurped by the more POS-friendly Innis & Gunn Lager. Inveralmond’s range of cask ales are an excellent addition to Innis & Gunn’s keg and Oakerator® aged bottled beers – there’s almost no overlap.

I think the other reason why this will be a success for Innis & Gunn is that they can finally rally behind an identity. They can freely – and very easily – adopt the rural Perthshire character and end the frankly daft Edinburgh/Glasgow dichotomy. Look for the ‘brewed in small batches’ ‘Edinburgh, Scotland’ to be swiftly moved to something like ‘from the heart of Scotland’ instead. Innis & Gunn are as much a brand about Hunter wellies and Springer Spaniels as they are about the West End of Edinburgh and Harvey Nicks. The acquisition is a chance to rebrand themselves into something that finally makes sense; barrel-ageing, the great outdoors, Scotland’s larder etc – rather than the open non-secret Glaswegian brewery, Edinburgh offices.

And the Wellpark facility will presumably be mothballed – as the release mentions on a few occasions the desire for state of the art equipment, and a break from the past. “It [the Inveralmond brewhouse] gives us a home where we can innovate and experiment with some of the new brewing processes we’ve been dreaming up.” This is an eggs in one basket deal. Whereas the mooted stand-alone I&G brewery last year was to have been run in sync with their present home in Glasgow (and likely run more as a small-batch, visitor-friendly concern), when you’ve dished out over £3m it’s all going to happen in that one location. It’s good news for Perth, in that respect.

The only other loose ends are what happens to Inveralmond’s investment in the Usher’s Brewing Co site in Edinburgh – will this become another Innis & Gunn Kitchen? (their first in Edinburgh has been followed by a second in Dundee and soon a third in Glasgow). Also one of the stated benefits to Inveralmond of the buyout is the access to sales and distribution network they will gain, which must have come as news to Iron Horse Beverage, the ink still drying on a deal to distribute Inveralmond beer in the US signed off only last month.

The other issue is SIBA. Inveralmond founder and MD Fergus Clark has been a long-standing supporter of the Society of Independent Brewers, serving as a Trustee in the organisation that has in its Constitution the following paragraph: v. An independent brewer is defined as a sole trader, a partnership, a limited company or a public company, that is not a subsidiary of a larger firm with attendant or other subsidiary brewing interests. To my knowledge, Innis & Gunn are not SIBA Members, and on reading that I’m not sure if they can spin their recent purchase as a ‘partnership’ – unless of course the Innis & Gunn Inveralmond brewery apply in their own right to be a member down the line.

So, a few questions raised – but to be honest they are all pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. It will be fascinating to see how this is all going to play out – but on initial reading of the situation, with so little in common, these two breweries look to be a perfect match.

Breweries to watch out for in 2016

So the final ‘best of last year/look out for this year’ post has rolled around again – stretching the whole thing out into February. It’s the annual list of 10 Scottish and English beermakers who are going to have breakout years, or will otherwise be interesting to watch, to see how they get on. This is the fifth time I’ve done this, although it really doesn’t feel like it (you can check out previous years’ predictions here; 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012).

Whilst everyone has seemingly gone craft beer crazy (either with a positive or negative reaction), the skill, commitment and imagination of the men and women that make our beer hasn’t changed – whatever polarising term is used to describe it. So here is the list of Scottish and English breweries who will move to that next level over the course of this coming year, or who have interesting stories to watch (with apologies as ever to producers in other parts of the UK, who’s scenes I know less well)…



SCOTLAND

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Swannay Brewery – My overall pick to have a breakout year won’t be a surprise to many people north of the border – but that’s kind of the point. The ex-Highland Brewing Company are a near-household name in beery circles here, but I have a feeling that more and more people will discover just how brilliant their beers are in 2016. Rob Hill is the best brewer in Scotland, and with son Lewis adding new offerings to their supremely consistent cask series, Swannay have a one-two punch to rival any other. With a new identity, and online sales finally available, this could be the year Highland Swannay will become more lowland and everyone can enjoy the fruit of their considerable Orcadian labours.

 

 

EBF

Edinburgh Beer Factory – Few new breweries hire an entire art gallery to launch their wares, and fewer still open up with just a single beer (and a lager at that). EBF arrived on the scene last Autumn with a big-budget launch of their Eduardo Paolozzi-inspired lager at the Dean Gallery of Modern Art. That is a serious statement of intent – but one that isn’t a huge surprise given the brewery is a venture of the Dunsmore family (John Dunsmore being the ex-Chief Executive of the Tennents/Magners owning C&C Group). Look for a swift escalation of their presence in 2016, and Paolozzi doing for lager what Innis & Gunn did for barrel-aged beers.

 

 

SixNorth

six°north – Another producer on the rise, albeit at less stratospheric rate than the EBF, are S°N. And not before time, either – the self-styled (and entirely accurate) ‘Belgian Brewers of Scotland’ have come a long way since the days of their small site near the seafront in Stonehaven, with a larger production brewery and two dedicated bars – and a third to open in the centre of Edinburgh shortly. They may brew six degrees north of their spiritual homeland, but the beers produced are as faithful a representation of those beers as any you could wish for – and now with more of their own bars than ever, plus increasing distribution deals, look out for six°north as this could very much be their year.

 

 

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Fallen Brewing Co – One of the joys of the Craft Beer Revolution (or whatever else you want to call it) is the choice we now have, from breweries ever more local to us. Nigh-on perfect Belgian beer from Stonehaven? Sure! Habanero, date and cacao Imperial Porter from rural Stirlingshire? Why not! That’s the latest upcoming release from Paul Fallen, and it reflects the recent inventive upturn from his Kippen brewery. Paul’s beers have always been brilliantly well made, but you get the sense that he is only now revelling in the joy that owning your own production brewery can truly yield. Keep an eye on other outgoings from the old railway station brewery over the course of this year.

 

 

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Elixir – Ok, so this might be more of a personal plea than anything else, but the brewing world is a far less creative place when the West Coast Whirlwind isn’t firing on all cylinders. Elixir Brew Co’s Benjamin Bullen has been all too intermittent of late in his beermaking, and that is a huge shame for anyone who loves beers a little out of the usual. Let’s hope 2016 means a regular return to the brewery frontline for Elixir, as it has been fairly quiet since the launch of Benjii’s Imperial Scotch Ale ‘Benedictine Groove II: Enter the Flagon’ at the end of August. There isn’t a single beermaker in the country with as much creative force when he gets going – here’s hoping more of that Aussie Chutzpah is rolled out as soon as possible.





ENGLAND

Cloudwater

Cloudwater – I’m not sure if there was an English brewery who generated more of a steadily-rising buzz amongst the beer community last year than Cloudwater. Right from the off – way before that, in fact – people got on board with the messages emanating from the Manchester brewery created by Paul Jones and his Northern dream team. And so far, all of that has proved well-founded. The broad span of styles, dispense methods, and the rotation of Cloudwater’s core lineup every four months – there really is something for everybody. And over the course of the year ahead, as they continue to key in those beers, they are going to be the brewery to keep an eye on to see how their beers, and company, develop.

 

 

WildBeerCo

The Wild Beer Co – Another fairly obvious – but no less welcome – choice for a brewery to have an amazing year are Somerset’s finest; the Wild Beer Co. Is there a brewery right at this moment with a better range of well-made, inventive beers? An easy pick for a breakout year, but with the recent arrival of their first bar and restaurant (Jessop House, in Cheltenham) they are setting their sights ever higher. And there are few other breweries who I think could make a better go of it than the Wild Beer Co. Look for them to expand as they continue to become the next big player in the UK craft scene.

 

 

Lost and Grounded

Lost & Grounded – Social media has many pros and cons, but one of its greatest uses is watching something come together as it happens – and this also holds true for new breweries. Cloudwater certainly used this to their advantage – and this next pick are similarly one to watch as their brewery just begins to take shape. Ex-Camden Town brewing director Alex Troncoso and his partner Annie are starting up a production facility in Bristol called Lost & Grounded, and with their skill and reputation it is already being talked about as one of the breweries to watch in 2016. Still at the exciting/terrifying stage of ordering equipment and advertising for staff, the beers are a while away – but keep an eye on their progress as they will be worth it.

 

 

Mondo

Mondo Brewing Co – A lot of these predictions are based on reputations, as breweries who have been solid for years (or extremely good for less long) look like they are due for making the leap. This particular pick is all down to my recent personal experience. A visit last week to Mondo Brewing Company in Battersea was rewarded with a series of excellent beers and a mightily impressive kit and group of people. Look out for a blog post on that visit soon, when I get a chance, but these days to make a scene in London is only going to get harder for breweries due to the increasingly ultra-competitive market – but from first-hand experience, Mondo are going to make it with room to spare.

 

 

Elusive

Elusive Brewing – Finally, we end this lightning-tour of premonitions in the Royal County of Berkshire, and with yet another hugely exciting prospect. Multi award-winning homebrewer Andy Parker is a hugely talented beermaker, and the chance to saddle up and head out into the wide world of brewing is a deserved next step. Up to this point, Elusive Brewing’s beers have been released as collaborations (peaking with 2014’s BOTY candidate Lord Nelson), and the time has finally come for steel to be ordered and drainage channels cut, in Andy’s own brewery in Finchampstead. From this Spring, if all goes to plan, Elusive Brewing’s beers will be a lot easier to track down, and that can’t come soon enough.



So, what do you think? Any breweries out there who you think will have breakout years in 2016, or have stories that you really want to follow? Let me know in the comments. As ever, I’ll be checking back with these breweries at the mid-way point of the year, to see how they have been getting on…

Good vs Bad: Scottish Breweries

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I speak to a lot of new breweries; even now as I’m finding less time to blog because of the day job, I am contacted by upcoming producers almost on a weekly basis. And it’s great; it shows that more and more people are wanting to get into the brewing industry, and for us as consumers we will gain evermore beers to try, wider interpretations of styles and more variety in dispense methods. Being a ‘pint is half full’ kind of person I usually focus on the aspects of breweries that I feel are working well – or breweries themselves that I’m really appreciating. After all, my interest in beer drives this blog so I’m not likely to plough through dozens of beers from a producer until I find one I like, just so I can write about it. But then neither am I going to rip into a beermaker unless they have done something entirely heinous to deserve it.

But this tweet I saw yesterday made me step back a bit and think whether or not I agreed with it.

The first thing to say is that, of course, this is all subjective. Well – up to a point. You can define ‘bad’ however you like in a wider context, but an important distinction to make here is than Iain is a brewer, and his comment relates to the technical skill of the breweries themselves. There are a handful of breweries whose beer I really do not like, but I wouldn’t classify them as a bad brewery. That’s simply personal preference. Likewise, you can’t equate ‘bad’ with ‘new’; people are learning the ropes and have to be given some degree of slack. Now I know this is an entirely separate argument – either you believe this like I do or you think someone professionally creating a product should get it right first time or not let the public near their product otherwise, but often it’s not as black or white as that.

There’s one extremely up to the minute Scottish brewery who I really didn’t like their early beers. At all. Would I say they were ‘bad’ in the sense Iain tweeted? Yes, I probably would. Now though, they are one of the favoured beermakers of the moment in the country. It’s a natural progression. But we’re not assuming here that the pigeon-holing is static – breweries classed as ‘bad’ can get better. Indeed they have to, otherwise they are going to lose money and disappear very quickly. At least, so you would think. Anyway, so if ‘bad’ can’t be seen to be an equivalent of ‘new’ or ‘what I like’ – how can we quantify it? How bad does a bad brewery have to be? One duff pint? Three consecutive bad releases? Massive inherent bacterial spoilage of all tanks?

Well, let’s have a go. Iain went on in another tweet to say there are ‘maybe 10 good breweries in Scotland’ – let’s crunch the numbers and see if I agree…

According to my magic spreadsheet, there are currently 109 breweries in the country (a figure that includes production facilities, brewpubs and contract breweries). A scan of the list reveals 42 of those breweries from whom I have never tried a beer – or if I have, it was just the one and so long ago I can’t judge their standard. That’s a fairly amazing number, way way higher than I would have thought. And many of those are the smaller, newer microbreweries that Iain was probably referring to in his tweet. Almost 40% of Scottish breweries have not passed my lips – a number symbolic of both the recent boom in the industry here, and also the reducing amount of time I have to partake of their products!

So if we filter the remaining 67 breweries into four different categories, let’s see how they fall. Firstly, we have GOOD breweries. These are those from whom I have never had a bad pint, or since their grace period have grown into standout producers in Scotland. And that number for me is higher than 10, at 32. From new trusted small micros to industrial giants, these are the ones I feel truly confident in. Just under half of the total of breweries I am familiar with, then – but maybe I do grade above the mean, who’s to say? Next up are what I’ve classed (for want of a better phrase) as DULL – largely the long-established, mid-size producers who brew well, but don’t excite me. There are 10 of these.

Then there are the 15 breweries who sit on the fence. As PASSABLE beermakers they haven’t won me over yet – either they are in that new period where I’m still waiting for a true standout, or over the years I’ve had the odd beer that just didn’t work. Either way, these are pump clips or bottles that I approach with caution. And so, right at the end, that leaves those who I believe to be BAD. Breweries who are consistently poor (in my eyes) and make beer that is just unpleasant to drink. And that number is 10. So 15% of the breweries I am familiar with, and 9% of Scottish breweries as a whole, in this far-from-scientific study. And to counter Iain’s point that there are more bad breweries in Scotland than good (we will have to compare lists sometime); I would say there are three times as many good breweries as bad…



It’s an interesting exercise- but one in which you need to be reasonably careful – even with all the rough working and subjective descriptions of terms in inverted commas. If you have a few beers that are objectively bad from a brewery – i.e. infected, or overly brewed and imbalanced, or not befitting the style then that’s an easier way to put those breweries on the ‘bad’ pile. But for that you’d have to drink as many releases as you could from each – and persevere with a brewery that falls down, repeatedly. But then what about the variation introduced by storage, contract bottling, micro-canning and the biggest of all – cellarship? Can you quantify this with so many variables? Well, no, not really. But it at least results in a list of breweries to veer towards, and a list to veer away from…

On the double – the rise of Tempest Brewing Co

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“My relationship with hops is a difficult one,” says Gavin Meiklejohn, leaning against the back bar of the Safari Lounge in Edinburgh. “I mean, they got me into brewing – but the global demand for specific varieties just leads to shortages. Especially once the big boys step in. Take Nelson Sauvin – the price for 20kg of Nelson has doubled. They are a finite resouce you know, you can grow them, but you can’t pick them fast enough.” Gavin is the founder of Tempest Brewing, the borders producer that have recently moved from an old dairy building in Kelso to a much larger unit on an industrial estate in Tweedbank. At a tasting event hosted by Cornelius Beer & Wine, he expanded on his love for that particular, increasingly hard to find, hop.

“I wanted a New Zealand terroir hop for my flagship,” he said, holding up a bottle of the always excellent Long White Cloud, and talking about how his home-brewing career in New Zealand began his path towards owning a brewery. “This beer came with me from there. It was the style that got me into beer in the first place – it’s Kiwi hops, for me. Long White Cloud isn’t an NZPA – it’s made in Scotland. Right from back when we used to hand-stamp the name on the bottle. It’s just getting harder now, though – everyone wants Nelson Sauvin.”

Long White Cloud isn’t a single-hopped beer; it also contains other (equally hard to source) New Zealand hops; Waimea, Rakau, Kohatu and Motueka. Gavin also asserted that he thinks there are few breweries in this country using New Zealand hops like Tempest – and when it comes to a beer like this one I’d have to agree. It captures the vinous nature of the country as well as any other beer I can think of, that’s for sure. There’s a citrus quality at first, like a Marlborough Sauvignon, before the equally typical greener notes come through as in a New Zealand Reisling.*

* That’s about all of the wine chat I’m good for…

Yet now, Long White Cloud has direct competition – and from the same source. The Cornelius tasting event was also a platform for the launch of an imperial version, Longer White Cloud, which rolls in at 10.2%. The original may not have been on my list of beers to double up, following the appearance of Fyne Ales Ragnarok (aka Imperial Jarl) three months ago – but it might as well have. Longer White Cloud is another of those ‘Oh, that would really work’ ideas that only seem to make sense once somebody else has suggested them. (Although I am still holding out hope for a Pilot Imperial Ultravilot at some stage).

As you might expect, such is the gravity of this one that it veers away a little from the sharper, zestier fruit of its namesake and instead leads with sweeter stone fruit like apricot and peach, with a fair whack of melon in there as well. As Gavin said, “A beer like this could have high residual sweetness with the big body, very syrupy, but we worked out how to dry it out with our house yeast but at the same time not make it too bitter – we really wanted to make it drinkable. I guess we achieved it, we’re really happy.”

That seems to be a key word for Tempest at the moment. After struggling for years at the previous location, and with a re-brand at the start of this year, their move has come at the perfect time; it really does seem as if they are all a bit happier than in previous years. But it was whilst we were all tasting their new Imperial Oyster Stout Double Shuck (brewed with 200 Lindesfarne oysters) that Gavin underlined his long-standing philosophy, “It’s all about balance, and taste. That’s what I want to achieve. That’s what they’ll probably put on my tombstone – drinkable…”



Many thanks to James and the team at Cornelius Beer & Wine for hosting the evening. For an in-depth look around Tempest’s new facility in Tweedbank, check out the ever-fantastic Walking and Crawling blog for a behind the scenes tour.

New Edinburgh brewery – Valve Brewing Co

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I’ve no idea how many new brewery launches I’ve been to over the years – it sure seems a lot. Irrespective of the beermaker who is breaking cover, and the style or number of beers that they are opening their account with, these events always have a certain amount of common ground. Chief amongst them is the underlying backdrop of mild concern as the brewer or brewers anxiously wait for the first beer to be poured, or the first feedback given. I can only imagine what that feels like, as the product of months or likely years of work behind the scenes finally see the light of day. But this week, I experienced at least a little more of what that might be like, with the launch of the latest Edinburgh brewery, Valve Brewing Co.

The main reason for this is that the man behind the brewery is Paul Marshall, otherwise known as BeerCast Paul – one of my closest and oldest friends. I like to think I’ve become friends with a few guys over the years who own breweries, but this is very definitely the first time it has happened the other way around. I’ve known Paul for over twenty years, and have shared an interest in beer for pretty much the exact same timespan, ever since the days of £1.20 pints of McEwan’s 70/- at University (bought at the main student bar as neither of us dared venture into the smoke-filled ‘real ale’ bar our student union had).

Anyway, I’ve known for years that he wanted to start a brewery – we shared a flat and a lot of bottles of homebrew for some time. Maybe that’s why I can empathise slightly with how he must have felt as the first three of his beers poured at the Stockbridge Tap last night – but even then, only just. Actually, when I asked him he replied that it was all slightly surreal, as though he could see his pump clips there, and read his brewery name on the board, but couldn’t fully reconcile what he was seeing with the fact that he had finally launched his brewery. I doubt he’s the first brewer to have this reaction, either.

Valve Brewing Co are just one of a small flurry of new producers opening in Edinburgh at the moment – the scene here has quietened a little since 2012 when the last cluster of local breweries arrived – but it’s still getting ever larger. Based in the south of the city, Paul brews in his converted garage and uses the twin influences of traditional English styles and ingredients (he’s from Yorkshire, but none of us are perfect) with the heavy-hitting US hops. Having also lived in California, styles of the West Coast have also underpinned much of what he plans to release – as evidenced by the first three Valve beers out of the gate.

Matchbox, for instance, is a classic blonde ale hopped with Summit and Summer and is enormously easy to drink, whereas Number 23 IPA takes its name from the homebrew batch that was the progenitor for his US-hopped India Pale Ale (and I can’t tell you what it tasted like as the entire cornie keg had gone before I’d finished the other two – which I guess tells you something). Finally, there’s the 3.8% Garden Hop Bitter – a fairly unique Edinburgh beer as it was single-hopped with Target that were grown and harvested from Paul’s back garden. You can’t get more local than that. Look out for others to arrive soon, as he works his brewing schedule around his day job.

It’s always great to meet new brewers, and find out about how they got to that nerve-wracking tipping point of no return as the brewery name is chalked up on a board for the first time – or as likely these days, added to RateBeer and UnTappd – but it’s even better to know those brewers first and share it with them. I don’t use the j-word lightly (or ever, usually), but for this particular brewery launch, it has been great to share a little in that journey. You can keep up with how the city’s newest brewery are doing via the links below, and thanks to the team at the Stockbridge Tap for another great – if slightly surreal – night.



Valve Brewing Co, Edinburgh
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