Tag Archives: Alechemy Brewing

Beer of the Week – Alechemy Five Sisters

As the week draws to a close it does so with the added boost of a beer or two. But if you were contemplating a single beer – one that sums up what Scottish brewing is about, what to choose? Well you came to the right place, as every Friday on the BeerCast I’ll be highlighting an unsung hero of brewing north of the border, and explaining just why it should be in your possession as swiftly as possible. It’s the fourteenth step of the journey, and we are in Livingston.

There you’ll find Alechemy Brewing, recently having moved but with a hugely welcome investment they have been able to expand and are now looking towards a future filled with canning, exports and Alechemy-branded bars. It’s fantastic news but of course wouldn’t mean much if the beers weren’t up to the task. They are, of course, and the latest Beer of the Week is one of the first they ever produced – and it’s another fantastic Scottish Red Ale – Alechemy Five (or 5ive) Sisters.

14. Five Sisters (4.3%)
Alechemy Brewing Co, Livingston, West Lothian
Style: Red IPA
500 ml bottle

Whether the 5 is silent or not, this is a enormously welcoming beer. Named after the quintet of shale bings near the town – spoil heaps to you and me – that are a local landmark (and can be seen by anyone flying into or out of Edinburgh airport), this is a throwback to the earliest days of the brewery when alongside beers such as Cockleroy and Cairnpapple their IPAs took their titles from nearby landmasses. Those two were black and golden and became Black Aye PA and Ritual respectively – but Five Sisters has retained its geographic moniker and carries the day with it.

An inviting colour, it is really a hop-forward amber ale but the enormous nose is pure Chinook; that balancing act of leafy, spicy herbal and slightly zesty citrus. There’s a fair bit of caramel in the flavour – which for me is the signature taste of a Scottish red ale (check Skye Red five beers ago). Yet unlike that beer this one rounds out with less of the nutty bitterness and more of the citrus hop flavour. It really is a fantastic act of balance and a beer you could literally drink for as long as you wanted. Five or 5ive, it is a stone-cold cla55ic.

Pick it up here:
At Hippo Beers online (as individual 500ml bottles)

Beer of the Week Series:
1. Fyne Ales Highlander
2. Swannay Old Norway
3. Broughton Old Jock
4. Traquair House Ale
5. Tempest Easy Livin Pils
6. Cromarty Brewed Awakening
7. Fallen Chew Chew
8. Black Isle Hibernator
9. Isle of Skye Red
10. Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve
11. Orkney Skull Splitter
12. Windswept Wolf
13. Kelburn Dark Moor

Alechemy on the rise

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.

Saisons: have they become the style for craft beer tinkering?


How do brewers know what goes together, when coming up with recipes? This is a question I find myself asking increasingly often, usually after having scanned a pump clip or beer board, and been greeted with a ‘Peruvian kelp-infused green tea and mustard cress pale ale’. Many brewers have this innate ability to know what combinations work, when adding extra ingredients; how flavours pair and complement, and – most importantly of all – how those raw flavours will transfer to the final beer; profiles having been transformed by time spent boiling and/or steeping. Not only that, but it all needs to be factored in on top of the vagaries of the existing malt bill and hop load, as well.

Anyway, this fairly standard thought-process for beermakers popped into my head twice in recent days; firstly last week when drinking a bottle of Alechemy Brewing Co’s Higildy Figildy – a fig and honey saison, brewed in collaboration with Logan Plant of Beavertown (see gratuitous photo below). The second; over the weekend where I tried Brew By Numbers’ 01|03 cucumber and juniper saison, which they suggest, fairly accurately, could be ‘the missing link between beer and gin’. Saisons have become more and more prevalent in recent years; they are fascinating enough when not augmented; but having come through the flurry of black IPA’s, then craft lagers, and later a plethora of sours and session IPA’s – is the previously humble farmworkers’ ale becoming the style for modern ‘craft’ beer tinkering?

If you take a look at RateBeer – bear with me for a minute – the list of top-ranked saisons is topped out by Grassroots Brother Soigné, a 5.0% lime, hibiscus and blood orange saison brewed at Hill Farmstead brewery in Greensboro, Vermont. Hill Farmstead are something of the saison experts; ten of the top fifteen on that list are produced at their brewery (last year founder Shaun Hill was even interviewed by, of all publications, Vanity Fair). The Ratebeer collection also features Hill Farmstead Vera Mae, a spring saison brewed with honey and dandelions. Others on the list – such as Tired Hands Brewing Hand Farm have been released after being aged in white wine casks (for closer to home, try Buxton’s White Wine Saison).

I can’t claim to be an expert in the style (or any style; or style in general for that matter) – but maybe the sheer versatility of the saison lies with its rustic, rural history. Brewed to augment the wages and temperaments of seasonal farmworkers, presumably back in the day each farm had their own versions. It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to imagine they might add ingredients here or there that came to hand, even at the time being careful to make them as fit for farmhands as possible, and therefore balanced, refreshing, and necessarily low in alcohol content. I wonder what the farm brewers of the Low Countries would have made of things like Smack Republic’s Maboneng Maverick; a naartjie peel and black pepper saison?

You know, I think they would appreciate it. Either because they had been busy making batch after batch of what we will probably soon refer to, gratingly, as ‘session saison’ (it’s only a matter of time, let’s face it), or because they had long since gained that appreciation, that knowledge required to augment their natural, local style of beer with complementary ingredients, and the ratios that work. Sure, there’s bound to have been a fair bit of experimentation, ‘suck it and see saisons’ – as there undoubtedly is now, but the soft, floral bitterness of a base saison seems to be the perfect canvas for modern brewers with a twinkle in the eye and a Wholefoods loyalty card. And as a fan of interesting, unusual beer, long may it continue.

Oh, the picture of the yoghurt is because the beermaking process and saisons actually popped into my head three times last week, the final time being in a supermarket chiller isle, confronted by Müller® Greek Style Yogurt Corner® ‘Blissful Honeyed Fig’ and ‘Sunkissed Orange and Nectarine’ flavours. They may as well make the yoghurt beer-flavoured, and be done with it…

New (bottled) Brew Friday


As ever, it’s fairly tough to keep up with all the news coming out of the Scottish beer scene at the moment. However, by anyone’s standards, today has seen the presses whirring at double quick time (or the modern equivalent. Servers, I suppose). In a strange, yet rather lovely, co-incidence, the brewers of Scotland seem to have chosen Friday the 17th of January to go bottle crazy. Publicans needn’t worry (well, those who don’t have much fridge-space), the thirsty Scots beer fans will continue to leave home to drink; but for those moments in front of the telly/fire/fridge, there has been a sequence of news today to bring cheer to the hearts, and bottle openers, of Scotland.

First up, this Tweet appeared from Craig Middleton of Cromarty Brewing, heralding the imminent release of some serious-looking ordnance from the tip of the Black Isle…

Next, from even further North, the relative newcomers of the Lerwick Brewery announced (via Beer Today), a deal with the Cairngorm Brewery to bottle their products, so look for their beers to appear further onto the mainland soon…

Staying up at Scotland’s top end, Scott Wright from the Herald reported news of BrewDog’s next venture – ‘Bottledogs’ – a network of UK bottle shops, as the Aberdeenshire outfit expand into the off-trade. The first outlet is expected in the King’s Cross area…

Almost at the same time, a fourth bottle-related story popped up, as Alechemy Brewing validated my tipping them for something big (within a week of my blog post, no less); Iain from the Livingston outfit revealing this humdinging lineup…


All in all, not a bad day for Scottish beer (and it’s only 2pm)

Breweries to watch out for in 2014

Last year, right at the beginning of January, I posted a list of breweries to watch out for in 2013. Looking back, the overall pick to take that next step (Cromarty Brewing Co) had a terrific year, and pretty much all of the other choices also produced fantastic beer. Despite the pressures of the recession and the increasingly contested market, the British brewing scene continues to be in good health – and for that, we have to thank the men and women making our beer; for their skill, commitment and imagination. Here, then, is a list of UK breweries who I think will move to that next level over the course of 2014…



Williams Bros – There can’t be a brewery in Scotland with a more exciting 2014 ahead than the brotherhood from Alloa. Following the announcement back in August of a £1m expansion (the ramifications of which I discussed back then), two months later it was revealed they were going halfsies on a new ‘craft’ brewery in Glasgow with the C&C Group (i.e. Tennent’s). Stand by for an exclusive BeerCast report on that particular chestnut very soon, but with so much going on, Williams Bros have to be the Scottish brewery to keep an eye on this year.




Tempest – The Borders’ finest were my overall pick to break out in 2012, and they certainly delivered some fantastic beers, cementing themselves in the Scottish brewing scene. The reason I’m tipping them again for 2014 is that, finally, it seems as if the light is at the end of the tunnel for their long-awaited expansion plan. There’s still (at least) one issue to be resolved, but once everything is squared away, the old dairy can be mothballed and Gavin and the gang can spread their wings and really aim for the top. Given the instant success of their barrel-ageing programme (see: Old Parochial), Tempest aren’t far off being there already.




Alechemy – This Spring will see the second anniversary of Dr James Davies founding the Alechemy brewery, and it arrives in the middle of a very important year for the Livingston outfit. Following the steady building of the brewery, within the last few months all kinds of things have changed, with multiple hirings, new kit, a re-brand, a barrel-ageing programme, and an entire second line of up-to-the-minute beer styles. 2014 has to be the year where all of this pays off, and the long-awaited bottling line is surely a huge step in the right direction.




Arran – I’ve had my differences with Arran Brewery MD Gerald Michaluk in the past (or to be exact, he had differences with me), but yet again this coming year seems to be one that could define his brewery. After the 2012 meta-expansion plan was torpedoed by the Government, Arran have left the Isle of Skye brewery at the altar and will look to open a second mainland brewery instead (at St Fillans on Loch Earn), and then a third at the Rosebank distillery in Falkirk. Share offers, distilleries, bars, bottling – it’s all in there too. Who will stand in his way this time?




Innis & Gunn – My outside bet for this year are everyone’s favourite chippers, Innis & Gunn. Loved by many as a gateway to interesting beer, derided by others for not having their own brewery, I think 2014 could be pivotal for Edinburgh/Glasgow’s finest. If you could lay money down on the brewing industry, I might well put a modest each-way sum on Innis & Gunn taking the plunge this year, and breaking free of the Wellpark’s comforting, lager-filled umbilical. So far, I&G have built a hugely successful empire through contract-brewing; surely now is the time for them to stand up and actually become the brewery they, and others, think they should be.




St Andrews – I’m listing the St Andrews Brewery here, but I may as well have added their near neighbours Eden Brewing as well – both are in the starting blocks for a fairly big 2014. Eden are expanding their Guardbridge site, increasing brewkit and exploring markets for their products (and also, again, looking at different forms of booze). St Andrews, for their part, have won a Sainsbury’s deal, and have just opened a brewery tap in the centre of the town (having leapfrogged Eden from Glenrothes), and are poised to complement it with a bespoke facility, located right within the centre of this increasingly sought-after beer market.




Pilot Beer – Finally for Scotland, keep an eye on the most recently-arrived producers in this list. Having flipped the covers back on their branding, the first Pilot beers are just starting to hit the bar counters. That said, things are very much in the testing phase at the moment, however, and Matt and Pat are girding their loins for an official launch sometime in the spring. Watch out for how they get on; as two Heriot-Watt graduates bringing beer-making back to Leith, Pilot certainly have huge potential.





Greene King – Yes, Greene King. This (fairly safe) bet comes purely on the back of December’s announcement of a £750,000 microbrewery expansion for the East Anglian powerhouse. Having spent a six-figure preliminary fee merely on scouting the project, GK are clearly placing a significant percentage of their eggs in the ‘craft’ basket. Other big regionals have dabbled first, of course, but how the St Edmund brewhouse fares will surely determine whether ‘craft’ is able to become as ‘mainstream’ as Greene King believe.




Beavertown – The flood of microbreweries in Hackey has lessened (a little) of late, but one that has recently moved in the other direction are Beavertown. Having relocated a couple of miles eastwards to Fish Island, Logan and his crew have even more of a local community to become a part of. Beavertown are so utterly of the moment that non-‘craft’ beer drinkers may never have heard of them; but there isn’t a British brewery around now that gets more flavour into their beers, or does it with more inventiveness. Beavertown are set for a breakout year.




Wild Beer Co – Somerset may be a considerable distance from Edinburgh, but the beers from Wild Beer Co seem to be almost omnipresent here. That’s a testament, in part, to how much of a beer town Edinburgh has become, of course – but also it’s down to the work ethic and experimentation of the Wild Beer team. There’s no shortage of ingenuity at work down in Westcombe; this can be seen both in the number of collaborations they enter into with the brewing industry, and their recently-awarded status of best new business in Somerset. Clearly, the word is out.




Alpha State – I’m going to be honest here, other than the name of the man behind the operation, I know absolutely nothing about Alpha State. And yet, this is one of the great things about drinking beer; turning up at a bar one night, taking a punt on something called Alpha State Citronvand, and being hugely rewarded. Jonathan Queally is making some spellbinding beer – alongside the Citronvand, Neapolitan and Sorachi Red IPA formed as good a trio from the same producer as I tried in 2013. I can only imagine the kinds of beers that will emanate from Alpha State this year – but I’ll be keeping an eye out, that’s for sure.




Bad Seed – I know I’ve mentioned Bad Seed quite a bit recently, but their debut beers were as good a launch line-up as I can remember. Hailing from rural North Yorkshire, their decision to make beers they liked rather than beers that would fit the local scene was hugely brave; as they start to get more widely noticed, that decision should hopefully pay off handsomely for them. Look for the word to spread wider in 2014, as Bad Seed’s bottles make it to thirstier parts, and they take steps down two very popular modern-day beer roads, those marked ‘kegging’ and ‘collaboration’.




Buxton – Only a couple of weeks ago I picked Buxton as my brewery of the year for 2013, so they really had to be in this list. The main reason is that as I write, the Peak District resounds to the clang of hammers and the soft Irish cursing of Colin Stronge. Once the new Buxton brewery is fully online, and their capacity increased accordingly, look for all of the reasons why they were so good last year to be multiplied by a similar factor. If everything transfers to the new facility (and I’ve no reason to doubt it won’t), Buxton could be on the brink of something very special.

I’ll be revisiting this list later in the year to see how the breweries are getting on, and whether tipping them for greatness was the right way to go or not. Which breweries do you think will have a great twelve months?

Best new beers of 2013…the best of the rest


Last week, as is traditional for the second week of December, the BeerCast was turned over to the newcomers – the six best new British beers of 2013. They were, in my eyes (in order of release):-

Harbour Aji Limon IPA
Magic Rock Salty Kiss
Tempest Old Parochial
Fyne Ales/Wild Beer Cool as a Cucumber
Bad Seed Saison
Beavertown Stingy Jack

Of course, with twelve months of full-on beer drinking under the (gradually expanding) belt, there were plenty more that could have made the list. As we move into the final blog-posting week before Christmas, it’s time to look back at the rest of the great new British beers we were lucky enough to try, and run down some of the ones that were just as outstanding as the six mentioned last week.

Arguably the stand-out brewery in terms of individual beers that tickled my tastebuds was Alpha State – any of their offerings could easily have made the top six. In fact, it was touch and go as to whether their fantastic Sorachi Red IPA was going in, meaning it was probably the seventh-best beer I had in 2013 (there’s something for the pump clip). Their Neapolitan was also superb, one of the best home-grown dunkelweizens that has been released for a very long time, and another beer that made me reconsider a style.* Citronvand, also (which the photograph above comes from) – pretty much every Alpha State beer I managed to find, essentially.

*Well, consider a style, maybe. Been a while since I was fully versed in the lore of the dunkelweiss

Collaboration beers were, yet again, another trend of the brewing year, and although Fyne and Wild’s Cool as a Cucumber made the top six, there were a few ‘meeting of the minds’ beers that just missed out. Coal Porter, produced by Alechemy and Elixir Brewing Companies, was an absolute cracker, and the pick of BrewDog’s collabfest was also (so nearly) one of the beers of the year; the Imperial brown coconut IPA made by Arbor and the staff from BrewDog Bristol. Likewise, two stand-out dual-brewery offerings that I tried at the Thornbridge takeover of Islington’s Craft Beer Co deserve a mention; Coalition (made with Terrapin Brewing) and the fabulous Twin Peaks, co-brewed with Sierra Nevada.

Two Kernel beers really stood out (‘only two?’ I hear you ask) – the fruit-laden IPA Mosaic, and the perfectly balanced London Sour (although that might well have been released in late-2012). Elsewhere in the other capital, Camden’s Seven Hop Lager proved that golden and fizzy need not be boring – not that we needed reminding of that – and further north, Buxton’s White Wine Saison was the pick of their incredible takeover of the Hanging Bat. Also on drinking trips oop North, an otherwise disappointing trip to Friends of Ham in Leeds was rescued by Summer Wine’s Devil Loves Simcoe, and Marble’s Black Marble also stood out from a trip to the North West.

Ending in Scotland, as I am duty bound to do, four fantastic beers proved that our brewers here are as good as any in the world. Take four styles – a lager, an IPA, a Black IPA, and…er…a pink peppercorn and lychee fruit ale (file under: speciality). I don’t think you’d get four better depictions of those beer types than the following; Alechemy’s Stereotype, which was, for a lager, perfectly hopped (i.e. just enough but not too much); Stewart’s spellbinding Ka Pai IPA; Well Fired Black IPA from Tryst, which I had once, on cask, back in January; and Elixir’s taste-sensation that was Jump the Shark.

Yes, the overall winners of the new beers of the year were largely unusual and rare – a salty beer, a chilli beer, a cucumber beer, etc. Is this what modern brewing is about? Well, yes and no. Most importantly, those were all examples of beers that could have been truly awful if not thought about creatively, planned carefully, and brewed perfectly. The beers in this post today were also superb, and representative of a huge range of styles, from lagers to sours. Yet again, it’s more evidence of just what great shape the British brewing industry is in.

With that, there’s one more post to come in 2013 – our brewery of the year. Who will it be? And were there any beers that you tried this year that should have been in the above list? Let me know in the comments…