The early years consisted of brewing on a nano-micro brewery, fashioned from old kegs, and assembled at Jo’s dads workshop. Decision then taken to leave corporate life in 2003, we started Stewart Brewing in the early part of 2004, however it took until November 2004 by the time we had found the location, built our own brewery and brewed the first beers, the recipes having been developed at our good friends Bruce and Scott Williams’ gaff when they owned Strathaven Brewery. From the start, the mission at Stewart Brewing has been a simple one. That is, to produce the best beers we can, offer the best service, and have fun. In essence it’s about making a business out of a love of brewing and drinking good beer.
We had very little money! The brewery was built on a shoestring, but we made sure that the kit was designed well, our processes were second to none, and that we used the finest ingredients we could source. We started supplying to only a handful of pubs across Edinburgh, such as the Halfway House, Cask & Barrel, Guildford Arms and the Blue Blazer, but steadily, with a consistent dedication to making our beers as good as we could, we were able to gain a foothold, in what was a dominated, limited and restricted market. Our beer range was small, (Pentland IPA, Copper Cascade, Edinburgh No 3), but we kept it simple and good and we managed to make some progress gaining new accounts. After that came the awards, with beers like Edinburgh Gold and Hollyrood scooping some major titles, which showed that even on our budget, home made equipment, we were able to compete with some of the bigger and more established breweries and produce some of the finest Scottish beers. Overall we have won some 30 awards for our beers.
This led to an increase in sales. So much so, that our challenge right after we started, and every year since, has been about how to produce more beer out of the small brewery. We’ve installed more tanks, stretched existing ones, built mezzanines and constructed high level offices, commandeered our car park, worked nightshift and procured half a dozen shipping containers, hired new units, and filled every spare corner of the local industrial estate with our stock, all in the name of squeezing more out of the brewery. We have progressed from supplying 150 barrels in our first year, to now producing over 3000. But still essentially on the same brew plant that was built from old Irn Bru tanks and wrapped in loft insulation and B&Q wood cladding.
The handful of pubs that we started with has also now grown to over 500 and includes over 200 independent bottle stores and restaurants, while the business employs 16 full time staff and a host of Part-timers, (sourced from the nearby Heriot Watt Brewing School!). Every inch of our 2000 sq ft unit is crammed, while we work 7 day weeks and 24hrs a day. There is so little space we have 2 or 3 people to a desk!
Over the years we have carefully added to our range, with new beers like Doppelbock, 8, black IPA, Radical Road, Hefeweizen, each time, challenging ourselves as brewers to make the best type of beer that we can in a particular style. As well as progressing initiatives like Battle of the Brewers, Natural Selection Brewing, and the “Hopinator” (to be reborn this year!). And we have maintained our commitment to our original brands, which although being less “radical”, are still of highest quality and selling more and more each year.
All this and we have still only scratched the surface of what we would like to do and where we would like to go with beer. All along we have been working towards, and waiting for some more space, where we can stretch out and continue to expand our range of quality, locally produced beers in cask, keg, growler, bottle, can, mini-keg, bag in box or whatever!
We get the keys to our new brewery this week. It’s taken 3 years to source the land, sort the planning, finance the build and complete the construction, and there are too many people to thank here who have been helpful and supportive in getting to this stage, (over 100 at last count!). In addition we are grateful to, our customers and staff who have stuck with us, as we have endured all the constraints of the last few years, knowing that better things lie ahead. It’s a big project for us and over a £1.2M investment.
At the heart of our new building will be a brand new, state of the art 45 HL Bavarian Brew house. Energy use will be maximised by solar thermal heat collection from our south facing sloping courtyard roof, and spare heat from the kettle exhaust will be captured and re-used to heat the underfloor of the brewery shop and offices. We will collect our rainwater and re-use for washing casks and tanks, (not for brewing!), and our efficient building construction will result in some 60% less energy use per barrel brewed. We will install a Hop infusion “torpedo” enabling us to maximise the big, bold, late hop flavours that characterise our Radical Road and Black IPA, but we will not forget how important our core range of beers are. After a bit of TLC and maintenance, we will be keeping our 10Bl plant, using for special one offs, and smaller volume runs. A helpful piece of equipment for the brewing students from Heriot Watt to continue the progress of Natural Selection Brewing company building on the success of their Finch and Anorak beers from the previous 2 years.
That is not all! We are installing a new “Craft Beer Kitchen”. An array of brewing and mashing Kettles, where anyone can come to brew any beer they like. Fancy trying your hand at a Strawberry and Cream Porter, honey infused oak aged IPA, Chai spiced Saison? Or maybe just a great quality late hopped American Ale, Bohemian Pilsner or a powerfully malty Scottish 90/-, then you will be able to do that all in the new beer kitchen. I can see a few more local “battle of the brewers” coming up…
Attached to our kitchen is our brewery tap, furnished with 20 taps, where all our regulars, specials, one offs, and guest beers from some other great Scottish Brewers will be available for you to buy in refillable “growler” format, as well as kegs and casks for the “larger” party…
Its all going to take place over the next few months, and we look forward to hosting as many of our customers, old and new to the new place. In the meantime – just keep drinking great beer!
Steve Stewart, m.d.