Tag Archives: Luckie

Luckie Ales: Journey’s End and New Beginnings

One of the common themes in brewing is that of companies changing hands – in the modern era the attention is on smaller breweries acquired by larger players to be subsumed into a craft (fake or otherwise) empire. It’s a modern way of thinking, but mergers and takeovers have always happened of course – back in the 1840’s Scotland had a whopping 280 breweries – as opposed to around 130 today. Changing tastes, wars and the temperance movement did for some – but many were bought out and closed down. If you had to jot down a list of exit points for brewers, being bought out is right up there. But there are others of course.

The brewer could be the one who decides to pull the plug and sell. Ill health or personal reasons may intervene. The business could go belly up. Aside from the the first one the connection between many is that it’s not a pleasant end for a brewery that has maybe been trading for decades. Interviewing recently-freed brewers isn’t something I have done very much of, so I don’t know the anecdotes told about how many end up leaving on their own terms. These days with the news headlines in the brewing press it seems like either they leave when it falls apart, or drive away in their new Lamborghini (licence plate: B1G B33R).

But there is one exit strategy that comes around on the brewers’ wheel of life every now and again – one that hopefully we all will get to experience. Simple retirement. There’s probably a joke that old brewers never retire, but just last year one of Scotland’s finest did that, as Stuart McLuckie pulled down the shutters on Luckie Ales for the last time. Like much of what Stuart did, this was done quietly and without fuss, and rather than have the Luckie name hit that dead end like many others, he instead sold everything – including his recipes – so that the brewery could continue.

Stuart started out brewing as Luckie Ales in 2008 on a farm in central Fife, before taking up a small unit in the outbuildings of a crumbling distillery in Markinch. Brewing once or twice a week on a 1BBL kit, he drove the beers to local bottle shops himself. Brewing is a tough business, particularly on that scale – you have to do everything yourself; brewing and cleaning, the company stuff, the sales and the deliveries and returns (if you ever tried one of his cask ales at the Hanging Bat you’ll know his journey was worth it). I caught up with Stuart via email to find out why he had decided to call time.

“I wish I had started brewing 10 years earlier,” Stuart told me. “I would have been able to sell a five barrel brewery by now and had a few employees to do the grunt work. As it is I’ll carry on home-brewing – there are a lot of old ales to brew, especially the stronger ones needing a year+ to age, something that is commercially not yet viable. It’s a bit strange not brewing any more so I’ll need to get the garage decluttered and start brewing mini homebrew batches as there’s lots of styles – oak aged, Brett and old ales – that I would like to explore.”

I got the sense that the business had become too commercial for Stuart, which given the size is saying something. I guess the only regret he had is that he hadn’t got out of the gates earlier when the brewing scene was really in its infancy – starting out in 1998 would have given him more momentum, and got the 1BBL stage out of the way much earlier. I wish him all the best, and if his experiments with Brettanomyces come to fruition I will beat a path to his garage door.

Anyway, all Luckie Ales beers are now produced by Martin Doherty, ex-of Knops Beer, in an industrial unit in Leven, about ten miles down the road from the old distillery in Markinch. Like Stuart, he started out as a keen homebrewer and then left a career to pursue this with more regularity. After graduating from the Heriot-Watt Masters’ degree course in brewing and distilling that has become industry standard, he worked with Bob Knops for a year, before leaving to set up his own brewery in Fife. However when he saw Stuart wanting to retire, he stepped in.

“My intention for Luckie Ales is to follow a similar path to Stuart,” he told me, via email. “So brewing traditional and historic beer styles / recipes, whilst gradually introducing my own ideas. I have fairly traditional tastes myself, and I particularly love the malt (and yeast) profile of many of the existing Luckie beers – has been a treat getting access to Stuart’s recipe secrets. I want to build on this base and experiment to create some new recipes, perhaps with some more adventurous hopping to create some (hopefully) great beer.”

So the future looks in safe hands for Luckie – and equally importantly – for Stuart’s creations. After all, another way brewers used to exit the business was to hand it down to the next generation – with Luckie although the brewery was sold to a new brewer, it seems as if all the house secrets will thankfully pass on with it.

England v Scotland – the live beer challenge

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Last week, for the first time in fourteen years, England and Scotland met on the football field. To commemorate the welcome return of the home international, we thought it only right to emulate the occasion in the only way we know how – by drinking beer (and in an orderly, pre-defined, yet rapid manner). Not quite crates of Fosters in Trafalgar Square, but four English beers pitched against the very best rivals from our home turf, north of the border.

It was down to me to select the Scottish beers, and BeerCast Paul was delegated to pick up four from England. As we both originally hail from south of the border, for balance we invited BeerCaster Stu along, a ukulele-playing Scotland fan from Zambia (no, really). As for the beers, there were no rules other than one for each of the vague styles of ‘golden’, ‘amber’, ‘IPA’ and ‘dark’ – with identities revealed at the end of each round.

Would the beer score emulate the football result…?

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First Half, Round 1 (Golden) Fyne Ales Jarl v Dark Star Sunburst

As Stu lays out a passable ‘Flower of Scotland’ on the ukulele, the night ahead seems even longer. Yet, thankfully, the beers arrive and the first matchup begins. Although they both look invitingly golden, each with a mere suggestion of haze, the flavours are very different. One is noticeably sharper, with more lemon and grapefruit, whereas the other is milder and peachy. Even if I hadn’t seen them poured, I’d have picked which was which in a moment, so it comes down to personal preference. As Stuart concludes “the peachy one is more mellow, it’s smoother – I prefer that to the bitter one”. As the voting comes in, England take the first round, with a 2-1 victory.

Eng 1 Sco 0 [Dark Star Sunburst]

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First Half, Round 2 (Amber) Luckie Scotoberfest v Harbour Amber

In real life, the football is turning into an old-fashioned ding-dong encounter, with goals flying in at each end – punctuated by throaty yelps from the room with the telly in. Pouring in the kitchen, I only saw about half the game, but the delivery man from Sitara Spice timed perfectly with the second round of beers, right before half-time. For England, Cornwall’s Harbour Brewery, facing off against the pride of Fife, Luckie Ales. I selected Scotoberfest as the German influence could have helped the Scotland team in case of a penalty shootout, but it wasn’t needed as a) friendlies don’t go to penalties, and b) the Harbour had unfortunately picked up an infection. So three votes for Luckie.

Eng 1 Sco 1 [Harbour Amber o.g.]

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Second Half, Round 1 (IPA) Stewart Radical Road v Wild Beer Madness IPA

With the half-time beer scores tied, curry finished, and England leading 2-1 in the actual football, both second halves started. It was certainly all to play for. Recovering from the disappointment of the infection-related amber round, the English team (i.e. Paul) fielded a hugely strong hand in Wild Beer Co’s Madness IPA. Up against it, Stewart Brewing’s Radical Road – two big-hitting, hop-forward IPA’s. It was hugely close – the Madness was fantastic, sweet, sticky and resinous, with a huge rich fruitiness to it. The Radical Road tasted like a liquidised Fruit Salad. It really could have gone either way, but in the end all three votes went to the same beer – the one from Stewart Brewing. Scotland take the lead (but not in the football).

Eng 1 Sco 2 [Stewart Radical Road]

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Second Half, Round 2 (Dark) Tempest Old Parochial v Camden/Odell Versus Baltic Porter

Could England come back to force a draw, as they took the lead in real life? The heavyweights were rolled out at the end – for Scotland, Kelso’s finest Tempest Brewing Co and their 10% barrel-aged Imperial Scotch Ale, Old Parochial (or ‘Old PArochil’ as I typed, the emotion clearly getting to me). For England, Camden’s 7% Baltic porter brewed with Odell – cries of ‘Ringer!’ silenced on the lips as the flavours of both came out. Stunning stuff, the latter was hugely roasty, with chocolate, coffee and a fabulous balance, whereas the former positively thrummed with soft, rounded whisky, caramel and umami. Again, voting was tight, but there were nods of acceptance as Scotland that prevailed once more, with a 2-1 vote.

Eng 1 Sco 3 [Tempest Old Parochial]

So, there you have it. Scotland lose the football 3-2, but win the beer match 3-1. Gordon Strachan and the boys can draw some comfort in that, I think. Rather amusingly, the national team’s next game is against Belgium – they couldn’t…could they?

The Mystery Bottle

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Time. It may be a great healer, but it sure pays havoc with the old grey matter. Recently, in moving house, my elegantly sorted and ordered beer cellar had to be transplanted to the new location. Boxing up the fifty or so bottled beers I’ve got wasn’t too much of a hardship – thankfully everything made it to the other end without mishap. When I got there, though, and had them all neatly arranged (by brewer, style, then subset by abv), there was one bottle left over. It was like assembling an IKEA wardrobe; the piece that remained stared at me, immobile, questioning. What was it? Where did it come from? And how important could it be?

I do get beer sent to me occasionally, now and again – not as many as some bloggers, as I don’t really write beer reviews (that’s a subject for another post). Usually, I get given hand-bottled trial batches that are on the way to being finalised. Universally, these are plain brown with no identifying features, pressed into the palm by a brewer, or brewery rep. Most, I drink fairly quickly to deliver feedback – although I have had a few sitting around for longer. As a result, on opening I have the beery equivalent of that lucky-dip tombola moment at Church fetes, with the label-less tins of food. Will it be peaches, or beans? Or a brown ale?

Racking the brain, I was pretty sure I’d polished off all of the test batches I’d been given, likewise all of the homebrew trials I’d been passed. So what was this mystery bottle? No redeeming features whatsoever. Plain, base metal cap. Who could it be from? Think. Think. No – nothing specific came to mind. No hurried conversations in car parks, no clinking Morrison’s carrier bags proffered with a hopeful expression. There was only one thing for it – only one way to find out. Reach for the Spiegelau goblet and the bottle opener, and crack it open. Peaches or beans?

Liquorice, as it turned out. Molasses and marzipan. Huge, kitchen-filling sweetened wood aroma. Whatever it was, this beer was monumental. Thick and unyielding, flat but for the tiniest smudge of a lacing, it sat in the glass wrapped confidently in self-assurance. Hmm. This, clearly, stands out. I remember being given some whisky-aged beers, but I definitely drank them. Did I get another from Black Isle? Somewhere else? No…oh….hang on…oh shit. That trip to Luckie Ales. Stuart giving me one of his most special aged beers. The 17%abv Younger’s Majority Ale he brewed, only the once. An unlabelled bottle. Three years old.

Bollocks.

Oh well, this is one beer my first-born won’t get to try (as was the intention with a Majority Ale, after twenty-one years of ageing). The moral of this story – always label the beers you’ve been given. Or just drink Fosters, that way nothing will ever surprise you. Mind you, nothing will surprise you like this, ever again. It may have been a huge mistake to open, but once the mistake is made, pin back the ears and go for it. I’ll pick up a set of sticky labels tomorrow. Tomorrow afternoon, that is…

Luckie Ales – Scotland’s best brewing secret

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These days, with the way the world is, secrets can be hard to keep. This is particularly true of the modern British beer scene, with so many drinkers, bloggers, festival-goers, tweeters, Facebookers and UnTappders (UnTappdians?). Even though the industry has flourished through the thousand-producer mark, remaining below the parapet can be difficult, if not practically impossible. In large part, that’s because beer is a hugely social pastime; and that conviviality, that exuberance, makes it a rare occasion if you encounter something few, if any, people have drunk before (unless, of course, it’s from a new producer – which at the moment is a weekly occurrence in itself).

But, despite being shoehorned onto these thirsty, rain-lashed islands, a few furtive gems remain to be uncovered – and here in Edinburgh, those in the know are spoiled by one of the very finest. Stuart Mcluckie delivers his beers in person to a handful of outlets across the east of Scotland, produced on his one-barrel kit once or twice a week. If this were London, and Stuart a young, beard-toting hipster, the public would be clamouring to get hold of the beers he creates. As it is, he’s a softly-spoken, jumper-toting, ex-Maths teacher who brews in complete anonymity in the outbuildings of an abandoned, crumbling distillery in central Fife.

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Luckie Ales began in 2008, with Stuart initially creating his beers on a farm in Dunshalt. Two years ago, he moved to a small lock-up unit on the site of the old Haig’s Distillery in Markinch, a stone’s throw from Glenrothes. Visiting Stuart, there’s an eclectic mix of light industry occupying the old redbrick complex – car tuning, local radio, a carpet warehouse – and, behind a steel grille, Luckie Ales. This really is a secret – Stuart keeps the outside deliberately unexceptional to deter thieves – and is a world away from most other breweries I’ve been to. Inside, a cheerful jumble of equipment on shelves, a few stacks of plastic casks, and his three fermenting vessels (also plastic).

Brewing to this nano-scale means that very few people outside of Edinburgh, Dundee or St Andrews may have even heard of Luckie Ales, but it also serves to keep the demand constantly high. Being small-scale maintains the mystery – you could call it the ‘Kernel Effect’ – and Stuart’s tiny runs are often snapped up as soon as they hit the shelves. This scarcity is often exacerbated by the Luckie style – being a font of historical recipe ideas, his beers are usually strong, complex and fascinatingly interesting, so once brewed they sit, maturing silently, in Stuart’s garage before being driven to their destination.

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Chatting to Stuart, his favourite style to brew is undoubtedly the Old Ale, but he turns his hands to anything historic that appeals. As such, his beers are often tagged with the year they were created, or archived – Ushers 68/- (1885), Imperial Stout (Barclay Perkins, 1832), East India Pale Ale (Amsinck, 1868). Produced in a 300litre copper, these big beers are made as faithfully as possible – “It has to be authentic,” Stuart says “I’m a bit of an old sod, really. Well, no, a purist,” he corrects, quickly. His latest beer is Resurrection 56/-, a rendition of a Maclays beer produced in 1909, and on our visit two of the three plastic FV’s were filled with another 68/- and one of his core range, Midnycht Myld.

Stuart clearly revels in the freedom that small-scale production confers, and seems content to remain at his current level – although another, neighbouring, unit would give him a bit more space to even things out a bit. Recently, he’s begun to tentatively reach out on social media, writing tweets and setting up a Facebook page. I get the feeling he sees this as a necessary modern evil, something that has to be done even though, as it stands, more interest can’t mean more beer.

Some secrets are guarded jealously, kept out of the hands and away from the eyes of others. For me, Luckie Ales are a different kind of secret. The amount of beer that comes out of the Markinch lockup won’t be increasing vastly anytime soon, other than maybe an additional cask here or the odd cornie keg there. The fact that more people will hear about his beer doesn’t leave me perspiring, frightened I’ll miss out in future. His beers are worth talking about, because others deserve the chance to find out for themselves how good they can be. Luckie Ales are just that – rather than best-kept, they are Scotland’s best secret.

Breweries to watch out for in 2012…

As we head into the New Year, the UK brewing scene seems to be in great shape. The economic climate might be as bad as a Scottish hurricane, and the Government seems intent on sticking it to everybody in the industry (with a few, notable, exceptions) – but this is a fantastic time to be a beer drinker. Whether you like traditional foamy pints of cask ale, or tonsil-stripping keg beer in funny glassware – 2012 could be very good for British brewing. Why? Well, we think several breweries are going to have breakout years.* Here’s our list of the players who are about to step up – from both sides of the border…



SCOTLAND

Tempest Brewing Co
Considering what they did in 2011, this year could be when Kelso’s Tempest Brewing becomes a major name in UK brewing. Brewer Gavin Meiklejohn has already produced some astonishing beer from his plant in an abandoned dairy in the Scottish Borders. RyePA was one of our beers of the year – but any of half a dozen could have featured. Tempest are our tip to look for in 2012 when it comes to Scottish brewing.



Black Isle Brewery
If there’s one producer north of the border that seem rejuvenated, it’s Black Isle. A new sales and marketing team in 2011, coupled with a new head brewer (Colin Stronge, ex-Marble of Manchester) – and all of a sudden the 4% pale ales have been shunted aside by barrel-aged this and Imperial that. The session beers are still there (some having been gently tweaked) – but Black Isle aren’t so much on a roll as a Highland charge. Don’t believe us? Here’s what they have planned…



Luckie Ales
I’ve never been to Stuart McLuckie’s tiny brewery, located somewhere in the midst of the Fife countryside. I imagine there’s a small barn where you have to turn the second flowerpot on a certain shelf to gain access. The beers Stuart produces taste like they come from the chamber of an underground genius – delivered by hand to only a couple of Scottish outlets, they are as rare as beer gets. Look for great things from Luckie in 2012.



Stewart Brewing
The most anxiously-awaited signature in Edinburgh since that to cancel the trams has finally taken place (although the trams are still with us). Loanhead’s Stewart Brewing have finally received permission to relocate their facility to…Loanhead. Moving round the corner means more room for Steve, Jo and the team – already pushed to the limit. It also means a chance to experiment more, and to add to their lineup this year.



Loch Ness Brewery
The Benleva Hotel in Drumnadrochit gained a small two-barrel plant last year, and after a sensible amount of time getting ideas together – look out for the Loch Ness Brewery in 2012. Both their cask and bottling operations begin in earnest very soon, so for what is pretty much an entirely unknown quantity, hopefully good beer will be the result. There are a few recent start-ups in Scotland now, June’s Scottish Real Ale Festival could see plenty of new faces.



ENGLAND

Summer Wine
Being based in Edinburgh, we often find out about English brewing news second-hand – from some of our peers over the border. Holmfirth’s Summer Wine Brewery blazed a trail through the Yorkshire blogosphere last year – and they have the potential to go even bigger in 2012. Keen to experiment, and at that stage where anything seems possible, a new beer every other week could be the order of the day for many months.



Tyne Bank
We do stretch our legs sometimes, however, and in November we Twissup’d around Newcastle with many other beer fans. One of the day’s many highlights was a trip to Tyne Bank (another being their Cherry Stout). Having only begun in May 2011, they are clearly run the right way – by people with a genuine passion for beer. As their distribution network increases throughout 2012, they are definitely ones to watch over the near future.



RedWillow
The world loves an underdog, and in brewing there’s no bigger hill to climb than opening a brewery by yourself. Toby McKenzie took the plunge in late-2010, opening the RedWillow Brewery in an industrial unit in Macclesfield. His oyster stout – Fathomless – was one of our best new beers of last year, and his blog really brings home how hard it is to brew for a living. But with Toby’s determination, RedWillow will make it.



Lovibonds
Henley’s Lovibonds Brewery aren’t new on the scene – they were founded in 2005, following in the footsteps of their namesakes who traded in the town for just over 50yrs. Jeff Rosenmeier and his team make all kinds of beer, in all kinds of different ways. Three weeks ago several of their products reached Scotland for the first time – at the opening of Glasgow’s Bruadar Bar. If more follows, the secret could be out.



Mallinsons Brewing Co
Is there a harder working brewer in Britain than Tara Mallinson? Fans of hoppy golden ales in Huddersfield have been spoiled for choice over the last five years or so. Currently working on their 250th(ish) creation, Mallinson’s know what they do well, and stick to it. Every one of their beers I’ve tried has been incredibly drinkable – if they keep going at the same pace, global session dominance awaits.



So that’s our list – undoubtedly there will be plenty of other new UK breweries that will capture the attention over the next twelve months, and many more existing producers who will raise their games in 2012. We couldn’t fit them all on this post – which are you looking towards for great things this year?



*And when have we ever been wrong?

Get Luckie…

Over the last few years Scotland has developed a thriving microbrewing scene, as more and more brave souls take the plunge into something greater than homebrew. Back in 2008 Stuart McLuckie first offered up his wares to the public, from a small plant in deepest Fife. Luckie Ales may be relatively new on the scene but already have an interesting range of beers on offer. Aside from an 80/-, a mild and an amber ale Stuart also puts out a range of historical ales, such as the 8.1% Edinburgh 68/-, last brewed in 1885 by Usher’s at the Park Brewery on St Leonard’s Street.

Stuart originally brewed on an industrial estate in Dunshalt, but when a more favourable unit with a one barrel plant opened up near Cupar he switched locations. Historical recipes are obviously something of a passion for him, as also in the Luckie Ales range is Amsinck East India Pale Ale (6.4%). Championed in the mid-19th Century by the Victorian brewer and writer George Stewart Amsinck, it clocks in at 180 IBU’s. Other rare occasionals include a 6.7% Export Stout based on a Younger’s recipe from 1897, and a Russian Imperial Stout from the old Barclay Perkins Brewery in Southwark.

It’s great to see a small-scale producer opening their account with some truly classic recipes. With the capacity available they can be very hard to get hold of, but having had a few of them the Edinburgh 68/- is outstanding – a fruity, woody, toffee-filled gem. The Amsinck EIPA was a different matter, furiously carbonated and astonishingly bitter – a real blow-the-cheeks-out bomb. These experiments work more often than not, however, so when a shipment of brand new Luckie beers arrived at Cornelius on Easter Road – including a brown stout that consisted of only twelve bottles – it was a foot-race to pick some up.

The first new offering is a 4.5% Best Bitter. Being of humble Lancashire stock the most Northern of styles usually brings a nostalgic tear to my eye. This one brought even more, as it exploded on opening, erupting pretty much in every direction. After stemming the flow, I was left with an opaque beige liquid with a thin head – but my goodness. A gentle malty palate, with a touch of caramel sweetness. Toffee and brown sugar on the finish – it was sweet but not overly so, had that balanced BB mouthfeel, with a yeasty note that carried the smoothness on into the finish. Really very, very nice indeed.

The other beer is the aforementioned twelve bottle run – Luckie Brown Stout (7.6%). The total opposite of the bitter, opened nervously at arms length it produced not even a whisp of pressure. Utterly black and viscous, almost totally flat it gave off huge roasty coffee aromas. Dark, roasted coffee beans came on the taste at first, before mellowing though a slightly creamy middle. The finish is more roast, with a slightly oaky/boozy end. As it goes on, more alcohol becomes evident – there’s a really great malt balance running through the stout.

I emailed Stuart not long after he started, having got hold of a pilsner he released (and which I’ve not seen since). One of the things I asked was why he had a midge on the label of his beers – which I think offended him as he replied that it was a hand-drawn dragonfly. Hopefully that’s water under the bridge, as if he carries on brewing beers like this we’ll be featuring Luckie Ales again and again on the BeerCast…



Luckie Ales website