Two of our barrels exploded with the intense heat we have had this summer,” says Paul Miller. I am standing in the barrel room of the Eden Brewery in Fife, a craft brewery on the Eden estuary, which has been making waves with its stylish, artisan, oaked ales.
Miller set up this brewery a year ago. His idea was to create traditional craft beers, focusing on maturing in different oak barrels. His initial plan was just a “seven barrel” plant to supply local shops and pubs, but Eden’s beers have proved so popular he plans to increase it to a 20-barrel plant, with £1 million backing from a Glasgow businessman.
“I always felt that beer got a raw deal, compared to whisky and wine. People think beer is manufactured and mass-produced, whereas whisky and wine are more handcrafted,” says Miller. “I wanted to change this perception, having seen the development of small batch craft beers first hand in Colorado in the States where I worked for Coors. I wanted to have my own brewery with a focus on the product itself.”
After a career in wine, whisky and beer at Oddbins, Diageo, Glenmorangie and Molson Coors, Miller has no shortage of experience and contacts to supply him with hops, barley and oak barrels – but what took him time was finding a good site. The disused paper mill at Guardbridge, near St Andrews, was sitting empty, waiting to be developed by its new owner, St Andrews University. Miller discovered that the 38 acre site had a long brewing and distilling history. In fact, St Andrews itself had 91 registered brewers 250 years ago. On the brewery walls this fascinating history is reflected in old sepia photographs which he has unearthed.
Miller started small with just six small fermenting tanks, a conditioning unit, bottling line and as many old barrels as he could source. Now his yard is full of casks from Appleton rum, Ardbeg whisky, Jack Daniels and Heaven Hills bourbon, barrels from top sauternes chateau d’Yquem and a Grand Cru Bordeaux chateau.
Two brewers work round the clock to meet demand with head brewer Fife-born Scott Gowans, who worked at Fuller’s, Adnams and Loch Fyne, now in charge.
“We try to work with local suppliers as much as we can,” says Gowans. “Eighty per cent of our barley is supplied by Daftmill in Cupar and the local Seggie farm takes away our spent grains.” However, Gowans’s preference is for hops from Australia, the US, Germany and Slovenia.
A visit is fascinating as you see the whole process from brewing, fermenting, maturing and conditioning all in one place. Many craft ales are made on contract by larger producers, but at Eden everything happens on one site, although Miller is discussing contracting out to help meet demand for the core range.
Interest in his beers has been so great from pubs and supermarkets (Aldi recently listed Eden Blonde), that Miller is now developing other ideas to use local ingredients, including small batch Scottish fruit ciders.
“I want to take people on a journey,” says Miller as we tasted his eclectic 14-strong range. “Each label has a story to tell about the site’s history, local area or provenance of the oak barrels.”
Miller’s offerings include the Wood range, Craft series, as well as special projects like the new Kilted Kittock brew for the nearby Fairmont hotel. He chose Aristeuein as the name of his premium Indulgence range as it is part of St Andrews University’s motto, Aien Aristeuein – which means Ever to Excel. “That’s what I am striving for with my beer,” he says.
Eden Brewery (01334 834038, www.edenbrewerystandrews.com) is open by appointment, 10am-5pm, £7.50.
ST ANDREWS BLONDE (3.8%) £1.79-£1.89 (all prices per 330ml bottle)
Australian Galaxy hops give this a sweet, honeyed, pineapple fruit note; it finishes bitter – but it’s a very refreshing summery brew.
THE 19TH BREW (3.9%) £1.79-£1.89
Lightly hopped golden beer made using Aussie Summer and American Cascade hops giving citric undertones; soft, but lacking depth.
CLOCK BREW (4.3%) £1.79-£1.89
A typical Scottish red beer made using Concerto barley, dark crystal malt with Cascade, Summit and Slovenian Celia hops; coffee notes, roasted, peppery, biscuit, balanced, creamy. Their biggest seller on draught. My favourite. STAR BUY
RUM CASK (6.7%) £2.50
A good summery ale with light rum notes, tropical fruit from Galaxy hops and melon from Summer hops. Refreshing, but good depth.
WHISKY WOOD (7.4%) £3.60
Sweet coffee marzipan notes, spicy with creamy honeyed, rounded palate, good finish. STAR BUY
BOURBON BARREL (7.4%) £2.50
Dark colour, toffee/coffee, roasted notes made using German Munich hops and chocolate malt. An ideal wintery ale.
ARISTEUEIN ISLAY WHISKY CASK (7.2%) £2.50
Wow – the use of Ardbeg’s casks and Slovenian Celia hops give this incredible smoky overtones. Full-on smokepot to suit Islay whisky fans. STAR BUY & GREAT VALUE
ARISTEUEIN SHIPWRECK IPA (6.2%) £2.50
Lighter smooth rounded from two months’ oak maturation, very good fruit notes, slight bitterness – an authentic pale ale named after a shipwreck rescue now commemorated by the annual May dip.
Stockists include: Balgove Larder, St Andrews; Luvians, Cupar and St Andrews; Ardross Farm Shop, NE Fife; Loch Leven Larder; McTaggarts, Fife; Cellar 675, Glasgow; Cork & Cask; Growler Beers; Beerhive; The Avenue, all Edinburgh.
Join Rose’s Taste of Scotland food and wine tasting in St Andrews on 4 October, £30, www.rosemurraybrown.com