End of an era for brewing guru Russell Sharp

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HE MASTERMINDED the rescue of the Caledonian Brewery and later founded one of Scotland's fastest-growing niche beer brands.

• Russell Sharp founded Innis & Gunn after rescuing Edinburgh's Caledonian Brewery

But after a career that spanned more than four decades, Russell Sharp, 68, will bow out of brewing this week when he steps down as a director of Edinburgh-based Innis & Gunn.

Sharp led the management buyout of "the Caley" in 1987 from Vaux of Sunderland and, as the brewery's president, revived its fortunes with the launch of the highly-acclaimed Deuchars IPA.

Alongside his sons, Dougal and Neil, he went on to found Innis & Gunn as a joint venture with whisky distiller William Grant & Sons.

The company's beer was originally designed to add flavour to oak casks that would then be used to age whisky.

But the beer was a hit with distillery workers and then went on sale to the public. Before rescuing the Caley, Sharp had spent 16 years at Chivas Brothers, where he was responsible for research and development, quality control and production.

He looked after malt whisky brands including the Glenlivet, Glen Grant and Strathisla, Sharp's favourite.

Tony Hunt, chairman at Innis & Gunn, said: "I first met Russell in 2003 when Innis & Gunn beer was simply a means of seasoning whisky casks for William Grant & Sons.

"His knowledge and interest in the maturation of spirits and beer, from his days working at Seagram's malt whisky distilleries and later as the president of the Caledonian Brewery, have played an enormous part in the development of our brand since that time. Today, we have more expertise in oak maturation than any other brewer and we owe a considerable debt to Russell for that competitive edge."

Reporting turnover of 4.4 million in 2009, Innis & Gunn is ranked number three in sales volume and value in the speciality beer category in the UK off-trade, behind imports Leffe and Hoegaarden. It is the best-selling British bottled beer in Canada and the second best selling imported beer in Sweden.

The company has posted average growth of 60 per cent year on year.

Dougal Sharp led a management buyout in January 2008 and the company is now owned by his family. He remains managing director of the firm while his brother, Neil, left the business last year to join Pernod Ricard, fulfilling his ambition to work for a major drinks company. Neil had most recently acted as Innis & Gunn's "brand ambassador" in Canada and the US.

Commenting on their father's retirement, Hunt added: "What is less well-known is that Russell was the inspiration behind the name 'Innis & Gunn'.

"When we were researching all sorts of options, most of which the consumer did not like, Russell suggested that we used the middle names of his sons, Neil Innis Sharp and Dougal Gunn Sharp, so 'Innis & Gunn' was born."