Welder spots an opportunity in micro-breweries

Fabricator James Sampson is currently working on a micro-brewery plant in Gateshead. Photograph: Phil Wilkinson
Fabricator James Sampson is currently working on a micro-brewery plant in Gateshead. Photograph: Phil Wilkinson
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AN ENGINEERING firm that has carried out work for the Belhaven and Tempest breweries is building a plant in the north of England as drinkers continue to show a thirst for craft beer.

Scotia Welding & Fabrication, based near Lauder in the Borders, is ­carrying out the work for Pamela and Ray Swan, who are creating the Old Potting Shed Brewery in a former joiner’s workshop in Gateshead.

James Sampson, 49, launched Scotia in 1994 and switched into working with micro-brewers following a downturn in his traditional exhibitions market after 9/11.

His first assignment was installing brewing equipment for Tempest in Kelso, with subsequent work including tasks for the Belhaven brewery in Dunbar and Fyne Ales in Argyll.

Sampson also worked with Barney’s Beer in Edinburgh, which was set up last year at Summerhall, in the former Royal Dick Vet School, reviving a tradition that stretched back to the 1800s, when Summerhall hosted a large production centre.

Sampson, who started his career making distillation equipment in Prestonpans for the whisky industry, said: “We’re heading back to the stage when each village is going to have its own micro-brewery.

“People are far more interested in where their beer is coming from these days.”

Scotia has also carried out work for the Hearsall micro-brewery in Coventry and the Stonehouse Brewery at 
Oswestry, in Shropshire.

The welder has benefited from a beer revival, which was triggered by the introduction of small breweries’ relief (SBR) in 2003 by the-then Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown. Under the tax break, brewers producing less than 5,000 hecto-litres a year pay 50 per cent less excise duty.

Figures released in September by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) showed that there are now more than 1,000 breweries in the UK, the highest total for 70 years and up from fewer than 100 in 1972. Camra said that 158 breweries opened in the year leading up to the launch of its latest Good Beer Guide, an “astonishing” record.

Data published on Friday by the Society of Independent Brewers (Siba) revealed that beer production is up 6.8 per cent year-on-year, with its membership swelling by a further 100 breweries, to 651.

More than half of those members said their business would be forced to close without SBR, which would dent the economy as micro-breweries now employ nearly 5,000 people in the UK, up 25 per cent in the past year.

Two-thirds of Siba’s members have launched their own businesses since SBR was introduced.

But Scotland’s booming brewing industry was dealt a blow last week when the 
Arran Brewery “slammed the brakes” on its expansion plans after being turned down for a £1 million Scottish Government grant to expand its plant on the island.