The Edinburgh sour-slingers defying expectations
Saturday 15 January 2022
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When Edinburgh’s Vault City launched a few years ago, I think the prevailing feeling was that it was cute; homebrewing pals meet in a favourite beer bar, brew fruit-forward, mixed-ferm sours, but probably won’t scale into anything serious. Any doubts of this nature are quickly dispelled by walking into its site on the outskirts of Edinburgh though, where the floor is a hive of pre-Christmas activity, with box-laden forklift trucks whizzing past two huge, newly-delivered fermentation vessels, still in their bubble wrap.
Not wishing to brag, but Ferment named Vault City among its three breweries to watch, way back in the halcyon days of 2019. We loved what they were doing, from the beers themselves – with their borderline Stannish love of Belgian brewing – to the whole philosophy of the business. As co-founder Adele eloquently told us at the time: “There’s a lot of breweries making beers that are excellent and full of flavour, but they’ve maybe got constraints of time or money to put in. So, we decided to make something we weren’t looking to make money off of initially, in order to put all our money, time and effort into making a beer that was different to most of what you find out there.”
It’s a premium approach that seems to be paying dividends as the brewery has evolved into something more commercially serious. While they wouldn’t claim to be in the same league as somewhere like California’s Bruery Terreaux, the Vault City team have clearly drawn some inspiration on how to turn an expensive niche into a mainstream success. From a garage setup, to a borrowed corner of 71 Brewing’s Dundee site, to a fully-fledged brewery supplying cans to Tesco, it’s already been quite a journey.
“We’re definitely evolving,” says the brewery’s head of marketing Richard Wardrop (another of the group of beer-loving friends). “One of the big things for us in 2022 will be the development of our core range, which will be going into cans. We’ll still also have the specials, of course, which is what we’re best known for, going into bottles. But we get so many requests to keep certain beers on, and having a really strong core is a great way to reach a wider audience, who will hopefully then trade up to the specials.”
Using its own house culture, Vault City generally starts with a Belgian-style base beer, sour, with strong esters peeping through. This base beer is then given a “second breakfast” with the addition of fresh fruit and other adjuncts, which is really where the magic happens. Where a lot of fruited sours can taste more like sweeties than real fruit, Vault City goes to often absurd lengths to capture to authentic flavours of whatever it’s working with. During my visit, I’m unable to chat with the head brewer, because he is busy blowtorching coconut flakes. Which seems fair.
Vault City goes to often absurd lengths to capture to authentic flavours of whatever it’s working with
It’s a level of commitment that’s clearly earning Vault City a lot of respect, judging from the breweries lining up to collaborate. A recent favourite of mine is a collaboration with Brewgooder and Bruichladdich distillery on Islay, which gave rise to a 11% barrel-aged beast. This being said, this top spot might soon be usurped by a forthcoming Imperial stout collaboration with Sweden’s Nerdbrewing. There is apparently a lot more on the schedule, but Richard is playing his cards frustratingly close to his chest.
“It’s a really exciting time for us, definitely,” says Richard. “Our co-founder Steve has got a lot of commercial savvy, and he’s very ambitious for the business. But at the same time, he’s also just an avid homebrewer, who’s like a kid in a candy shop with everything he can do now. So there are always ways we could do these things cheaper and, let’s face it, probably make our lives a lot easier in the process. But we love the challenge and the complexity – it’s how we’re able to get those flavours, and brew beers that make people log onto our website for Sour Sunday and fill up their baskets.”
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