Change brewing for pubs as indie beer firms thrive

Paul Gibson set up Campervan Brewery in Edinburgh. Picture: 
Greg Macvean
Paul Gibson set up Campervan Brewery in Edinburgh. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A new generation of “garagista-style” brewers are muscling their way into Scotland’s pubs, as drinkers grow weary of the standard fare offered by big brands, new figures show.

The number of microbreweries in Scotland has more than doubled in recent years, with the country heading for a San-Francisco-style approach with distinctive beer rooms on “every corner”, according to leading figures in the new scene.

It is the increasingly sophisticated palate of Scots drinkers which is driving the demand for greater choice and quality in beers available.

The “indie” beer scene in Scotland was left reeling last week after it emerged that pioneering Hippo Beers had gone to the wall. It meant the loss of its Queen Margaret Drive store in Glasgow’s West End specialising in rare imports and craft beers, as well as its city centre Hippo Taproom.

But it hasn’t stopped a massive upsurge in the number of smaller firms involved in producing beer, according to figures released by the Scottish Government. These have been rising steadily from 2011, when there were just 30 firms, to 75 last year.

It follows the global success of Aberdeenshire-based Brewdog from its humble roots in Fraserburgh a decade ago. Among the new pretenders are Glasgow-based Out Of Town Brewing, which was established last year by Richard O’Brien, Owen Sheerins and The Great British Bake Off finalist James Morton.

Its Glasgow Porter and Keller Steam brands are among the lines which have proved a hit with drinkers, and O’Brien said there is a surprising sense of camaraderie among the city’s brewers.

“The Brewers Society here is excellent – we should be competitive, but actually we’re all friends,” he said.

“We borrow grain off each other and we borrow yeast. It’s a very tight-knit community.”

After the collapse of Hippo, that collective spirit has sprung into action to help rescue the Great Scottish Beer Celebration, an annual festival at Glasgow School of Art, scheduled for three weeks from now. It had been run by Hippo and was poised to disappear, but the indie brewing scene, including Drygate and Cafe Source Too, stepped in to salvage the event.

The brewing scene in Scotland is attracting all comers at the moment, said O’Brien. However, this includes a mixture of people “throwing money at it”, which can have gimmicky results, and others who are “grafting and doing the work and doing the research and making really good beer”.

Scots are realising they don’t need to “drink crappy beer any more”, added O’Brien, with a scene emerging where drinkers will go out and take maybe six samples of one-third pints in a night – and avoid the hangover in the morning.

“In the West End of Glasgow, the beer scene is exploding,” he said. “But we’re ten years behind where San Francisco is, and they’ve got a microbrewery on every corner.”

He said the increasingly refined palates of Scots drinkers could see the market for poorer-quality beers disappear.

“What will be left will be these amazing brewers with amazing beer and you will be able to find these really quirky little places on the corners making great beer. That’s where San Francisco is and that’s where I think this will inevitably end up.”

The scene is also thriving in Edinburgh, where Campervan Brewery has been an instant hit after founder Paul Gibson started out making small batches of beer in his garage two years ago. He went on to convert a 1973 VW camper van, known as “The Hoppy Camper”, enabling it to house a fully mobile brew kit.

Gibson opened a new brewery in the capital this year off Bonnington Road and this weekend opened the doors of an in-house tap room.

Rachel Athey, of the Brewers Association of Scotland, said: “Consumers are bored of generic tasteless lager and are looking for quality beer with a story they can believe in, and new Scottish breweries are delivering this.”