A happy place

Unless you’re from the North-East of Scotland, you might not have heard of this brilliant, quietly ground-breaking brewery. And they’re just fine with that.


Craig Middleton, head brewer and co-founder of Cromarty Brewing Co, is a happy man. I accidentally call him mid-brew, having already missed him twice (my fault), yet he spends at least 30% of our conversation laughing cheerfully. It’s the kind of energy that’s contagious.

And, to be fair, he has plenty to be cheerful about. Cromarty, based in the Scottish Highlands town from which it takes its name, opened its doors in 2011, when Scotland had just set foot on the craft brewing train. A family business to this day, it was founded by Craig and his parents (it’s still based on the family farm) and his wife has since joined the team too. It was once described to me as “a brewer’s brewery”, which I think reflects its reputation for rock-solid technical brewing, and preference for timeless, drinkable styles over fad-chasing.

“I think in the UK you’ve got a wave of small breweries that come from a very traditional place, the ones that were going in the early 2000s or earlier, and some of them have moved with the times, while others stuck with the very traditional stuff,” says Craig. “And then there’s the other end of the scale, where there's an expectation that new breweries will put out a new beer every week… personally, I just couldn’t come up with that many beer names!”

Craig places Cromarty in a middle wave of breweries that emerged around 2010. A graduate of Heriot Watt’s legendary Brewing and Distilling course, he was inspired by the US craft movement, both from what his American classmates told him about the scene there, and later from seeing it for himself. This is definitely reflected in his brewing, which I’d characterise as ‘modern classic’; traditional roots, but with bold New World hops and techniques tipping toward the west coast pioneers.

“We do keep up with what’s happening in North America, because they always seem to be years ahead,” Craig continues, “but we’re not trying to mirror it exactly. We’ve done a few hazy style beers, and there’s some really nice ones out there, but most of them aren’t really my thing to be honest. But we take inspiration from other places too; I’ve really taken a liking to German brewing, and had great fun making hefeweizens and bocks, stuff like that. As a brewer, it’s really nice when you're relying just purely on a few ingredients and the process to get the best out of it.”

If you’re not from North-East Scotland, and are wondering why you’ve never heard of such a well-established (and, frankly, brilliant) brewery, please don’t worry. Despite its success in building a highly committed local fanbase, Cromarty decided long ago to put a cap on its growth ambitions, fearing that any over-reach might mean compromising on quality, not to mention sucking some of the fun out of the whole thing. 

Craig says: “As things are, it’s my mother and my father, me, my wife, and five staff who are all local and like family as well. And that size just keeps it nice, you know? We’re not being dictated to by these huge supermarket contracts. Most of our production goes to the on-trade, and then small pack goes to independent bottle shops and restaurants, all fairly local.

“Where we come from is at the heart of what we do, of course – I’ve lived here all my life, and the brewery is right next to the house I grew up in. The locals have been great supporters of the brewery, and it’s become part of the dynamic of the area. It’s the place where all our hearts are I guess, so if people here enjoy what we brew then… yeah, I’m very happy with that.”

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