Tag Archives: Williams Bros

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?

What will Williams Brothers’ £1m bottling expansion mean?


Over the weekend, news broke in the Herald that Williams Brothers brewery are expanding, and increasing the scope of their Alloa bottling plant to the tune of £1 million. This seven-figure investment sum increases their capacity by 60%, and will see Williams Bros produce over 8 million bottles a year, or 41,600HL (all figures from the Herald article).

It’s great news for Bruce, Scott and the team – Williams are a real Scottish success story, having started from the whimsical aspirations of two brothers operating a home-brewing store, and working upwards from there. The story of how a benevolent crone entered the shop at midnight and – as lightning played across her face – revealed the recipe for Fraoch, has gone into Scots’ brewing legend. Now, they export to twenty-five different countries and contract bottle for several other Scottish breweries (figures, again from the Herald)*.

*As you can see, I did plenty of research for this article

So, with the news broken, what might it mean for the future of Williams Bros? Here are six ‘bold’ predictions. Feel free to make a note, for posterity…

Fraoch to become a global brand
There’s really no reason why Fraoch Heather Ale can’t become THE Scottish ‘craft’ beer for drinkers around the world. It has fantastic branding, contains typically Scots ingredients, has provenance that you just can’t buy (Bruce and Scott picking heather shoots themselves, on a wind-lashed Scottish moor, as per instructions of mystery crone) – it even has an unpronounceable name.* There’s a turbo’d whisky-aged version that comes out every now and again, which is already lapped up in the States, as is their want over there. If WB go all-in for Fraoch, then look out.

*As far as I’m aware, it’s Froh-IKKH, if that makes sense

Joker IPA in cans to go through the roof
Interesting revelation part one – the WB expansion includes a small foray into canning. Now, canning lines are thin on the ground in Scotland, with BrewDog leading the line in putting a few of their biggest sellers in tin. Now, I’ve been a huge proponent of beer in cans for a long time – in the UK, if done well, there’s a huge gap in the market. If everything comes together for the Alloa facility, and costs aren’t prohibitive, Williams could lead the line with canned Joker IPA. At the moment, I hide a few metal-clad Sierra Nevada’s or Maui’s in the fridge, for instant drinking fixes. Replace those with Joker IPA, or the knee-trembling Double Joker, and I’d have to throw out the three-month old bacon to make more room.

PET bombers in bottle shops
Interesting revelation part two – the plans also include a bottling line for trialling beer in PET plastic. Now, from my immediate memory, I’ve only ever had beer in that format as bright takeaway from Stewart Brewing, and in growler fills from the Beer Hive here in Edinburgh. PET isn’t perfect, environmentally, but it does have benefits over glass bottles; production yields fewer greenhouse gases, and as they are lighter, less fuel is needed to transport them. Currently, think plastic bottles, and images of four litres of cheap cider and teenagers’ names on Coca-Cola spring to mind. This is an association that has to be challenged. Make them big, make them different, give them a shelf-life, try them in Scotland’s best bottle shops. Take-home a carbonated Ceilidh from the fridge, sir/madam?

More Scottish breweries to leave Cumbrian Contract Bottling
Currently, Williams handle bottling duties for a handful of Scottish breweries, but others end up trucking their tanked beer down to Workington to be contract bottled there. How many bottle-forward Scottish breweries sit within a comparable distance of Alloa? All of them? Looking to help make the bottling line pay for itself, in the near future watch for a slow reduction in the number of beer runs heading down the M74. If the plastic and metal-based markets start to create an interest, then Williams Brothers’ filling station becomes a triple-threat.

Midnight Sun to take on Cairngorm Black Gold as best dark beer in country
Black Gold is aptly-named, bagging awards seemingly every year for the Cairngorm Brewery. Yet although commonly seen in cask and bottle, it still feels slightly under-rated. Such is the nature of 4.4% stouts, maybe. Anyway, it’s a cracking beer. So too, though, is Williams Midnight Sun – also cruelly under-rated. But, it has a bit more oomph than the Black Gold at 5.6%, an added wee twist in a (complementary) nudge of root ginger, and crucially is now backed by the new care-free Williams Bros attitude. As such, Midnight Sun could be the third and final prong propelling WB into the craftosphere. Fraoch in bottle, Joker in cans, Midnight Sun in casks. Backbone.

Williams to get Inn Deeper?
As the recipient of the first pint ever sold at Glasgow’s Inn Deep, I was privileged to witness Bruce Williams himself screwing a disco ball into the ceiling – craft beer, right there. They have invested in a few other bars, carefully and skilfully giving others the backing needed to go ahead and make things happen – such as the peerless Vintage in Leith, for example. As the annual profits increase, I fearlessly predict Bruce will have to forage in a few more car boot sales for dance-floor accessories. They aren’t going to become BrewDog in their bar portfolio, but another two or three branded Williams Brothers bars in Scotland? Why ever not?

Will these predictions last the test of time? What would you like to see in the future of Williams Bros?

The best IPA in Britain


This is, in truth, a post I’ve wanted to write for a long while. A list – my list – of the best IPA’s in Britain. The problem is, every time I sit down and riffle through the selection of names, there are more to consider. Another one arrives seemingly every week. The demand for India Pale Ale on this, rightful, side of the Atlantic is growing at a pace comparable to the other side. Well, almost; the US craft beer scene is the standard-bearer for hop-forward IPA’s, and probably always will be. But, we’re catching up here in the UK, fittingly churning out more of our beloved style.

That s-word is one that leads to a whole host of blind alleys, each one containing a different beer expert, slowly pounding a cudgel against an open palm. This post is by no means intended to be a definitive list of IPA’s – heck, some might not even be true India Pale Ales. I’m no style expert. Nor do I enjoy constraining beers into rigid pigeonholes. However, I have used a few simple rules. These are beers I (or RateBeer/Beer Advocate) consider IPA’s – so therefore I have excluded Double/Imperials as a result. No Moor JJJ, Fyne Ales Superior IPA or Magic Rock Human Cannonball here.*

*That’s pretty much the start of the next list, I think…

Also, I’m going with fairly golden, reasonably standard IPA’s – so, likewise, there’s no place on this list for India Pale Ales that are black (Hardknott Code Black), red (Brodies Hackney Red) or those that have other grains in (Tempest RyePA) or unusual adjuncts (Kernel Suke Quto Coffee IPA). Speaking of the Bermondsey powerhouse, to stop a brewery having too many hits in the list, I’ve also taken the hard, hard step of only considering each brewery once. This prevents over-Kernalisation (something to be welcomed, on any other day).

Originally, I was just going for ten – but came up with so many alternatives I broadened the scope to twenty. In truth, I could probably have piled in even more. You may notice that the list reflects a certain style of IPA – feel free to comment on that if you’re a fan of Deuchars IPA or Sam Smith’s India Ale. I go for strong, hoppy, fresh-tasting IPA’s that make my tastebuds tingle. This list reflects that. Please feel free to disagree in the comments, or (as is inevitable) mention any that I have forgotten or neglected to include. Cheers!


RajIPA20. Tryst Raj IPA (5.5%)
From one of Scotland’s most under-rated brewers; one of Scotland’s most under-rated beers. When it came out around five years ago, Raj IPA announced a step change for John McGarva – until that point, session ales were his thing, either dark or light. This was his first beefy number, and on cask it still has the power to surprise, even today. Alongside the lemon and orange flavours, there’s more than a hint of earthy backbone about it – on cask, there are few IPA’s from north of the border that can match it.




MarbleLagonda19. Marble Lagonda (5.0%)
Here we have the first application of ‘the Kernel rule’ – with Marble’s Lagonda IPA. The Manchester concern have long dispensed golden hop bombs to the lucky locals of the Marble Arch – and there are few better beers than Lagonda to enjoy as the glowing sun filters through the windows there. Utility IPA could also be on this list, quite frankly – and if I was allowing adjuncts, Earl Grey IPA would be too (very near the top). As it is, one brewer, one IPA, and we can more than make do with the brilliant Lagonda.




WilliamsJoker18. Williams Brothers Joker (5.0%)
Joker is in this list for one simple reason – I was reminded recently just how good it can be. Having drunk more than my fair share of Williams Brothers’ IPA in the past, it had been registered, logged and mentally filed away. A great beer – also under-rated in Scotland – one of the best ‘no-thinkum’ beers you can stack the fridge with. However, a visit to Leith’s Vintage the other week – a charbar* part-owned by the Alloa brewers, and a pint of Joker brought back all those memories – and more. In short, it was superb. You can fly through this, nuzzled by citrus as you go.

*charbar being the modern, charcuterie-forward version of a gastropub, of course.




RadicalRoad17. Stewart Radical Road (6.4%)
Loanhead’s Stewart Brewing have been quietly upping the ante over the last year or so – beers such as No3 and Copper Cascade making way for black IPA’s, Belgian-style tripels, and the beer that arguably started it all – Radical Road. Brewed as a one-off, it has swiftly moved into the ‘regular’ folder for Stewart – based largely on public opinion. As their new brewery is taking shape, complete with public brewkit and growler station, their honeysuckle-edged Radical Road definitely seems to have marked the crossover point.




Cannonball16. Magic Rock Cannonball (7.4%)
Huddersfield’s finest were one of the easiest to include on this list – as a series of beers, their ‘Cannonball run’ has blasted into the hearts of hop-loving drinkers all over the UK. The original may have been overtaken on the geekblogs by the walloping double IPA Human Cannonball (itself surpassed by the upcoming Un-human Cannonball), but the debut India Pale Ale is one of their very best beers (and talking about Magic Rock, that’s not an easy assumption to make). But an abundance of tropical fruit and resin – what’s not to like?




HoxtonSpecial15. Brodies Hoxton Special IPA (6.6%)
San Diego or Portland may consider themselves IPA towns, but London is the place for our favoured beer style. Brodies are one of the city’s most prolific brewers, churning our dozens of different cask beers from their base in Walthamstow. A full-on blast of California sunshine, Hoxton Special sings out of the glass with every mouthful. Passion fruit, grapefruit, papaya and mango – as good as any hop-forward C-bomb from the Pacific Coast.




MeantimeIPA14. Meantime India Pale Ale (7.5%)
Staying in London for our next pick, Meantime claim to be ‘Britain’s only producer of authentic India Pale Ale’. Whether that means they are the only ones to pack Goldings and Fuggles into a beer like this, or they send it to bottle shops via Kolkata, I don’t know. But it’s a great beer – and a fantastic IPA. Greenwich’s finest have put out a lot of different lines since their India Pale Ale came out, but few better.




LotusIPA13. Ilkley Lotus IPA (5.6%)
Another cracker from another seriously under-rated brewery. Ilkley hit the jackpot with Lotus IPA – a fantastic mix of Cascade and Summit hops – giving a sweet, pineapple and peach flavour to the beer. Lotus is a prime example of a cask-led, session-strength brewery turning everything up, just a little, and really coming good. Of all the IPA’s on this list, Lotus is the one that would catch up with you the quickest, being supremely quaffable at 5.6%.




HarbourIPA12. Harbour IPA (5.0%)
Cornwall – pounding surf, pasties and fishermen with impenetrable, fixed-distance stares. As they stand, rigid, on the decks of surging trawlers, maybe they are thinking about the one that got away. Or, they could be rapt with attention on the beers they’ll be knocking back once they beach the boat and stumble up the shingle. Harbour IPA – again, since enveloped by doubles of different hoppage, is a cracking beer in cask or bottle.




SummitIPA11. Acorn Summit IPA (5.0%)
Barnsley’s finest knocked one halfway to Leeds with their single-hop Summit IPA, brewed (as far as I can tell) just the once. I was trying to avoid hard to find, unusual beers such as this (otherwise Rooster’s Serlo de Burgh would have to be in this list), but had to make an exception for Acorn’s Summit. I only ever saw this once, in Edinburgh on cask, and it was fabulous. Like standing on a Caribbean beach at sunrise (only with rain battering on the windows).




SWBDiablo10. Summer Wine Diablo (6.0%)
There can’t be a harder working pair in British brewing than Andy and James from Holmfirth’s Summer Wine. They seem to be permanently at work, double brewdays throughout the week, travelling to all ends of the country (even Scotland) for their craft. Hard work only gets you so far, of course, but the SWB guys really back it up with their creative take on modern styles. As pretentious as that sentence sounds, it’s absolutely true of Diablo – the first Summer Wine beer I ever had. I can still remember reeling in Mr Foleys, Leeds, from the grapefruit-laced right hook it delivered.




SouthvilleHop9. Bristol Beer Factory Southville Hop (6.5%)
Modern, hop-forward IPA’s are all about the fruit flavours, and how they interplay with the other components of the beer. The sweeter malt notes, or the punchy, bitter resin. Southville Hop (to my taste buds, at least) combines two of the most complementary of those fruit flavours – pineapple and grapefruit. Yes, it sounds like a Lilt advert – but if any brewer in the UK would be advised to release an Alco-Lilt, it would be BBF. Southville Hop is a stunner, and deservedly in the top 10 British IPA’s.




69IPA8. Lovibonds 69 IPA (6.9%)
Speaking of two complementary elements, the next IPA on the list features the easy marriage of Centennial and Columbus. Lovibonds 69 IPA blends the two C-hops almost perfectly, and gives a beer that would not be out of place in any Pacific hop-den – which was pretty much the intention. Lovibonds’ beers are as outspoken as their creator, Jeff Rosenmeier; 69 IPA walks the walk, and strides boldly into the resinous territory of the puckering tastebud. A revelation.




Halcyon7. Thornbridge Halcyon (7.7%)
So, back to the ‘Kernel rule’ and representing Thornbridge – who, had to be in this list somewhere – is the jaw-trembling Halcyon. Jaipur probably has more fans – or, it certainly used to – but Halcyon is simply stunning. It may verge into the double IPA category, but when a beer is this good, styles go out of the window (as do morning meetings the next day). Prepare that shaky-sounding phone call to the boss, and crack open another.




BraveNewWorld6. Tempest Brave New World (7.0%)
With India Pale Ales, I get the impression that some are made by breweries because they feel obliged – the kind of ‘oh, well, people like them so we should put one out’ mentality. Without exception, those kinds of beers become middling, and unbalanced. It’s almost as if that attitude becomes reflected in the final beer. Thankfully, there are IPA’s where you drink them and think ‘You know what? I bet this beer is the first thing this brewery wanted to make’ – Brave New World is just such a beer – I’ll wager any amount you care to mention that it’s the favourite beer of the guys in Kelso. It certainly shows in the final product.




GreenDevil5. Oakham Green Devil (6.0%)
Peterborough’s Oakham produce some spellbinding golden, hoppy cask beer – such as the (almost) peerless Oakham Citra. The cheerfully menacing scaly hop peers out from that pump clip, just as his horned counterpart does for Oakham Green Devil. This is one of those beers that if you ever see it on at a pub, it’s time to count the blessings and order it. Doesn’t matter what else is there – dance with that green devil and forget everything else. Without doubt, one of the best beers in the UK.




AKA4. Cromarty AKA IPA (6.7%)
From here on in, these beers are pretty much interchangeable depending on which I have sampled the most recently. Cromarty AKA is (in my opinion) the best IPA in Scotland, and getting on the way to taking over the whole country. Made by the most charmingly affable brewer you could ever hope to meet, in a brewery that looks out over the wind-churned whitecaps of the Cromarty Firth, AKA is the real deal. It shows exactly what the modern IPA should be about – that blend of citrus and resin on the flavour is pretty much as good as it gets. If you haven’t heard of this beer yet, you will – it’ll make Craig Middleton a household name in brewing circles.




GreatEastern3. Redchurch Great Eastern India Pale Ale (7.4%)
Drinking beer is (amongst other things) about discovery. Hearing about new breweries, stumbling across new pubs, and trying new beers. I remember trying Redchurch’s Great Eastern IPA for the first time, in the Holyrood 9A in Edinburgh. It reminded me of a distilled sweet shop – honeysuckle, pear drop, pithy orange zest. For such a new brewery, it’s a quite astonishing achievement. London is awash with new breweries – which is great, of course – but as the other capital’s legion of drinkers nose around, looking out these new drinking options, they need only head to Hackney for the very best.




KernelIPACitra2. Kernel India Pale Ale Citra (7.2%)
Well, Hackney and Bermondsey. The Kernel are unstoppable – since moving into larger premises they have continued almost unabated. The freedom they have from brewing whatever they want, with whatever hops or malt they can get hold of, is infectious. People in the food industry talk about seasonality. The Kernel do this with brewing – small batch, no fuss, get it out fresh, simple and effective. They’re the brewery BrewDog wish they could be, but never will. Evin’s original IPA Citra is still one of the beers that truly affirmed my love of modern, well-made British beer. Some bigger IPA’s have Citra piled in to such an extent, it gives a leading edge of astringency – but not this classic.




axe_edge2709101. Buxton Axe Edge (6.8%)
So, here we are. The best India Pale Ale in Britain comes from the Peak District – Buxton’s Axe Edge. This, to me, could be the perfect beer. High strength, to give the alcohol body, but not monstrously high that you can’t have at least a few. The mix of Amarillo, Nelson Sauvin and Citra that point to every part of the hop compass – sweet orange, vinous lime, juicy pineapple. For me, it’s mango that always seems to come out first (the most moreish of all hop flavours), building to a rich, sweet pine and caramel finish. It’s sublime, and works on cask, keg or bottle. Soon to be brewed by the newly arriving Colin Stronge – no pressure, Col – it remains the IPA by which all others should be judged. Oh, and I know the label says Double IPA, but I couldn’t put this list together without Axe Edge, pride of place at the very top.

Denis at Buxton confirmed to me this morning that Axe Edge has not been referred to as a ‘Double IPA’ for a while – they class it as a regular India Pale Ale…

New Edinburgh bar – The Vintage, Leith


Re-invention has long been a staple of the Edinburgh drinking scene; new sets of owners take on boarded-up institutions, aiming to appeal to a different group of potential customers. Recently though, it seems that plenty of these second (or third, or fourth) chance saloons have been appearing – the furious interest in all things foodie dovetailing neatly with the unfortunate casualties of the recession. Nowhere in the city has seen more of this than Leith – as if in payback for the trams being curtailed at St Andrew’s Square, the docksiders have turned their backs on the city and invested in their own Northern Quarter.

The latest in this long line of mismatched-furnitured, gently-downlit urban escapes is the Vintage, which opened this weekend in a corner unit on Henderson Street. In its previous guise it was home to Café Fish, long-since departed for the more inland but well-heeled Stockbridge. In that sense, Vintage is one of the less-common Leith do-overs, in that it used to be a restaurant, rather than a locals’ bar. As a result, there aren’t any displaced drinkers having to be re-housed – in fact, the Vintage (in a previous guise, but of the same name) used to be something of a Leith institution, apparently.

These modern-day turnarounds often do well initially, trading on the novelty value alone – but as the market becomes ever-more crowded, having a USP (apologies for typing that) can make the difference in the long-term. The Vintage certainly has that, choosing to focus on the idea of British charcuterie. I don’t know what true Leithers might think of that, but the way that section of the Shore is going, it could be a brilliant strategy. There’s certainly demand for highly-sourced cold cuts – Leeds’ Friends of Ham has blazed a trail recently, in that regard.

However, in some respects, the Vintage got there first. Being the brainchild of ex-Caley Sample Room supremo Darren Blackburn, sharing planks had been on the (award-winning) menu at his previous bar. Now, at the Vintage, the wooden wonders can take centre stage. Darren’s a man that revels in/agonises over the detail, so presumably has taken great pains to assemble the components (such as air-dried, juniper infused wild boar salami). Similarly the beer, which has been compiled in association with the Williams Brothers Brewery.

As such, on the opening night we were welcomed through the revolving door by the ever-cheerful perma-scarfed Richard McLelland, there as the rep from WB, rather than moonlighting as a Leith doorman for the evening. Having the input from Williams has been all-important for Darren, and it was great to hear about the mutual trust involved in establishing the Vintage. Being beer-forward, there are plenty of other treats on the bar – including a bespoke house tap for the Elixir Brewing Company – and a predictably exacting list of wines and spirits.

So, even on the first night of operation, everything connected to the Vintage is already in place and seemingly paused for greatness. Certainly, anyone who ever ate or drank in the Caley Sample Room will know what to expect – perfectly-trained staff, a great range of beers (served ‘Bat-style’, in two-thirds), and the best smoked duck I’ve ever eaten. As the number of copy-cat re-inventions increase around the city, you have to wonder if they all have a future, trying to occupy the same niche. But the Vintage is absolutely the real deal.

The Vintage
60 Henderson Street, Leith
0131 5635293
Website / Twitter feed

New Glasgow bar – Inn Deep

Glasgow. Many a visitor from the eastern side of the country has come unstuck on its pakora-strewn, sandstone tenemented streets. We don’t visit the ‘black pearl of the Clyde’ that often, I’m ashamed to say, as for the beer drinker it has a huge amount of options. The start of Glasgow Beer Week was too good to pass up, however, and coaxed us out of our Edinburgh comfort zone and along to Queen Street for some proper drinking.* It also coincided with the launch of a new bar there – Inn Deep.

*Twenty-one pounds return? You’ve got to be f*cking kidding, ScotRail!!

Rumoured to be opening around 5pm, I arrived just before six to a frantic scene of last-minute organisation – like the end of one of those home makeover shows where the family are due to pull up in a BBC people carrier at any moment. Lengths of wood were being added – or removed – chairs carried outside, things drilled into place. The bar area was quickly hoovered. I even witnessed (and have the photo to prove it) Bruce Williams himself fitting a disco glitter ball to the ceiling. Craft.

Bruce wasn’t moonlighting in between heather ale brewings, Inn Deep is owned by the Williams Brothers empirfamily. It will be run on a day-to-day basis by Chris Williams and his sister (the Williams Juniors?), and has a healthy lineup of WB beers. Chris very kindly let me wait at the end of the bar whilst they got everything in place for the opening – so I got a great view of the final preparations – not to mention the first ever pint poured there, a WB Impale IPA.

Inn Deep looks like a club bar rather than a pub, with a curved brick ceiling (which required PVA glue to stop crumbling plaster raining down on the punters). The front room as you come down the stairs is lighter and a good place for food, while there’s a fantastic little beer garden out the back, right on the edge of the rushing River Kelvin. On a sunny afternoon, it will be absolutely packed out – the Kelvinbridge location seems perfect.

The beers on offer were great, too. Three cask and nine keg lines are roughly 50-50 Williams Brothers to guests – on the opening night the three casks were the aforementioned WB Impale, alongside two relatively new beers – Cromarty Hit the Lip and Tempest White Light. Being supplied by Williams and Craft Centric, there’ll be a fairly continuous exciting line-up, I’m sure. Certainly, any place with Kernel Imperial Brown Stout on tap gets my vote.

The word had clearly got out about Inn Deep – within half an hour of the first people arriving, it got pretty busy – and it then got absolutely rammed. The previous bar on that location was apparently there for a while – I’ve no doubt that Inn Deep should do fantastic business in that riverside location. Coupled with a beer list of that calibre, it has everything to become a firm fixture on the frenetic Glasgow beer scene.

Inn Deep, 445 Great Western Road, Kelvinbridge.
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IBD Scottish homebrew winners revealed

There was a time, once, when home-brewing was all about providing easy access to cheap beer. Back when I was growing up, we used to head round to a friend’s house specifically because his father had a cellar full of grimy, sweating bottles of varying levels of lethality. It was making alcohol for alcohol’s sake – real Lancashire moonshine.

Of course, not every kitchen brewer went through the motions solely to get loaded – many had a genuine interest in the science of producing beer, and in learning the processes involved. A significant number would eventually go on to open full-scale breweries, having taught themselves the principles of the art over the years.

Today, home-brewing is still advertised as the way to get the same beer for less (witness the hoardings outside equipment shops promising ‘brew your own at 20p a pint!!!’) – but, to me, it seems as if it has moved away from the days of exploding bottles and damp cellars, and gained respectability as a genuine stepping stone towards a career in brewing.

Last night, at the Holyrood 9A, it was demonstrated what spending the weekend staring at foaming buckets in your garage can lead to. The Institute of Brewing and Distilling’s Scottish Home Brew competition happens every year, and it results in the two winning entries being reproduced by commercial breweries, then sold to the thirsty public.

The beers on offer were Impale IPA, designed by Ed Young (brewed by Williams Brothers) and Zombier, created by Jake Griffin and Chris Lewis (brewed by Fyne Ales). How great must it be to think of a recipe at your kitchen table (or wherever) and then eventually get all your mates to turn up at a pub and buy you a pint of it?

Both beers were really well received – Impale was soft and sweet, with that classic Williams Brothers peachy floral element. Pineapple and pine, it was really drinkable. The Zombier too, a dark, roasty porter that started off slightly woody and ended with chocolate, damsons and plums. The Holyrood was absolutely packed, too, which was great to see.

Hopefully Ed, Jake and Chris will use the experience gained to go on with their brewing careers – I know the IBD competition was more than just a CV-buffering exercise, but it should really help them if they have a desire to brew professionally. And if they don’t, then they always have the promise of 20p pints to fall back on…