Brewers steer a course back to Leith

BREWING beer is part of the very fabric of Leith’s history. The port gave birth to one of Scotland’s most-famous brands, Younger’s, but no ale has been produced since the Argyle Brewing Company closed its doors in 1993.

Patrick Jones and Matt Johnson, former brewing students at Heriot-Watt, are launching Pilot Beer on the Jane Street Industrial Estate in Leith. Photograph: Ian Georgeson
Patrick Jones and Matt Johnson, former brewing students at Heriot-Watt, are launching Pilot Beer on the Jane Street Industrial Estate in Leith. Photograph: Ian Georgeson

Now, not one but two micro-breweries are preparing to throw open their doors, supplying beer to Leith’s pubs and drinkers further afield.

Both are poised to begin brewing just a few hundred yards apart on Jane Street and are aiming to capitalise on the thirst for real ale, which has seen Scotland’s total number of breweries top 50, its highest since the Second World War.

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“I don’t know why there are suddenly two breweries at once,” said Patrick Jones, who has joined forces with fellow Heriot-Watt University brewing graduate Matt Johnson to launch Pilot Beer. “But Leith has some great real ale pubs and so I think it’s a good place to be making beer.”

Jones left his job at insurance and pension giant Aegon to study for his master’s degree in brewing, while Johnson was working as a freelance graphic designer before meeting Jones on the course. Instead of opting for jobs with one of the big brewers, the pair decided to start their own business.

They looked at sites in Loanhead – already home to Stewart Brewing and Top Out Brewery – and Livingston, where Alechemy Brewing is based, before opting for the Jane Street industrial estate.

Choosing Leith has already paid dividends for the pair, who are working with neighbouring wholesaler Boot Liquor, which will help the new brewery to distribute its beers south of the Border.

Finding distribution is often one of the biggest challenges for micro-breweries.

Pilot Beer bought the brewing kit from McCowan’s – the former brewhouse pub at the Fountain Park leisure park in Edinburgh – but is already thinking about expanding its production.

“If we could eventually grow to a similar size to Steve Stewart’s Stewart Brewing then that would be great,” said Jones. “The key thing for both of us is that we want to be our own bosses and not working for other people again.”

Jones already has one eye on Leith’s brewing heritage with his first beer, which could be produced as early as this week. His Maple IPA will be a tip-of-the-hat to the India pale ales that were brewed in Edinburgh and then matured in the holds of ships as they sailed to Britain’s colonies.

Ivor Ryndycz, who is setting up Liquid Brewery, has popular blonde beers in mind for his first brews.

He agreed that the pub scene in Leith is one of the big attractions of setting up in the area and he plans to test out his first beers in the local watering holes.

Ryndycz and his wife, Alison, already run their Galway Gourmet catering business – which counts Amazon and Microsoft among its clients – from Leith, and have converted a garage to house his initial brewing kit.

Now he is planning to raise about £75,000 or £80,000 over the autumn through crowd-funding to build a full-scale brewery, which could be up-and-running early next year.

“I thought about starting a brewery when I returned to Scotland from Germany in 2007 after 22 years in the forces,” explained Ryndycz. “Now that we’ve built up Galway Gourmet and have opened four cafés, Alison said that this was the time to go for it.”

Former Chancellor Gordon Brown introduced tax relief for small breweries in 2002, which cut duty by 50 per cent for companies producing under 500,000 litres of beer a year and sparked a renaissance in the beer industry.

There are now more than 1,000 breweries in the UK and real ale is bucking the trend for declining beer sales.

The current occupant of 11 Downing Street, George ­Osborne, gave brewers a further shot in the arm in his Budget by abolishing the beer duty escalator, which the British Beer & Pub Association said had pushed taxes up by 42 per cent over the past five years.

The move could also provide a boost for Britain’s struggling pubs sector, which is seeing 26 sites closing each week.