Meet Bellfield's Alistair Brown, gluten-free pioneer


When it comes to beer that coeliacs can actually drink, the gluten-free options can be pretty lacklustre. Bellfield’s Alistair Brown got sick and tired of being given little to no choice in what he could drink and enjoy — two things that should at least be the bare minimum for any beer drinking experience, right?

So began the journey that was Bellfield. Starting out in Edinburgh, the brewery now makes a full range of pale ales, IPAs, lagers and pilsners, all registered with the Vegan Society and Coeliac UK accredited. Join us for a pint with one of the country’s most passionate brewers of gluten-free beer, and find out how he’s working on making it easier for coeliacs to drink the bevs they love.

Where did the idea for Bellfield Brewery come about?

Well, I was diagnosed celiac seven years ago and I immediately went online and bought loads of beer that was gluten free. And it was pretty grim.

I just thought you know what, I think we can do better than this. In the Scottish brewing tradition, from the start the aim was to basically make beer that was fantastic. To stand up and also have the attributes of being vegan and gluten free.

That was super unusual at the time! What was being a gluten-free, vegan brewery like when you started?

We were the first dedicated wholly gluten free brewery in the UK. We worked with Herriot Watt University and they were fantastic. James Bryce, who has 40 years of experience in cereal sciences, he was the main guy in terms of learning how to brew using different grains and so on.

Anyway, the whole ethos was that we wanted to make beers that nobody could tell were really tailored for those who were seeking them out. We were delighted that our Marzen Festival Lager won Best Lager at the Scottish Beer Awards this year; not ‘Best Gluten Free Lager’, but Best Lager.

How have you seen the beer world change in terms of GF beer?

I just love that there’s a mainstream need for it — you know like Magic Rock Fantasma, Mikkeller are doing some great GF beers, whole swathes of Siren are GF, Northern Monk… From a personal perspective I’m delighted. 

There was a definite sort-of stigma around gluten-free beer, an idea that it wasn’t that great. Making GF darker beers is definitely harder but our latest, Totally Wired, is going on keg and cask — it’s a cold-infused coffee stout and it’s fantastic. For Christmas we brought back Eighty Shilling for the taproom.

That’s a beer style you don’t see enough of! A Scottish 80/-!

Yeah, and it’s on cask right now and it’s absolutely cracking.

So, what’s next for Bellfield?

We’ve basically been doubling sales year over year since we started, of course 2020 was a weird one, so we want to get back on track. In the Summer we just couldn't produce enough beer, which is great - so to meet this demand we’re installing additional tanks in January 2022.  You’ll start to see it much more across bars in Edinburgh and further afield across the UK. We’re also selling a fair bit to Italy, of both keg and cask.

You seem to have managed to hold on heroically through the pandemic. Good on ya.

Yeah, we've now got over 20 people employed during COVID. We managed to keep the brewing team, the taproom team and staff, which was one of our main objectives from from the start of the crisis. And we’re now recognised as a Living Wage Employer which we’re really pleased about.

You’re a member of the Bread and Brewers Alliance, can you talk a bit about what exciting stuff you’re up to with the other members of the local brewing scene?

You’re a member of the Edinburgh Brewers Alliance, can you tell us about what exciting plans you have?

There’s certainly a lot of support there, and I’ve been looking at the Bermondsey Beer Mile, and the walking tours of Boston and I’ve been thinking, yeah, we need a brewery trail in Edinburgh.

We have also founded the Edinburgh Brewers Alliance a cooperative that will work together on our shared objectives. We want to engage with local stakeholders and find a venue during the Edinburgh Festivals. Someone mentioned to us that they walked through the Edinburgh Festival and weren't able to buy a pint of local Scottish beer. So we want to get a presence in the festival — that’s the plan.

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