Vaulting ambition

Edinburgh's wild ones

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Edinburgh’s Hanging Bat beer bar has become something of an institution in the city, and is the birthplace of one of the country’s most exciting young breweries: Raise The Bar winner Vault City.

Johnny Horn was working at the bar’s micro-brewery when he met regulars Adele Wilkie and her partner Steven Smith-Hay, and the three struck up an instant (if somewhat beer-centric) friendship. At around the same time, Johnny was finishing a degree in archeology, wondering what his next move should be and slowly mulling the idea of starting a brewery of his own.

Adele picks up the story: “Steven was homebrewing too, and we’d often speak about how it was something he’d like to take further, so it felt like an obvious move to team up with Johnny. Around that time, I broke my leg skiing and was pretty much immobilised, so these guys ended up doing most of their planning at our house. Of course, I started getting more and more involved pitching in ideas, and eventually became part of the team.”

From day one, it was clear that Vault City brew beer that interested the gang, rather than beers they knew would sell. Johnny’s love of Lambics and other Belgian sour styles had infected Adele and Steven, and they all believed there was a gap in the market for heavily fruited, mixed fermentation beers. These difficult, time-consuming, expensive brews might seem an odd choice for a brand new brewery, but Adele recalls being convinced that it would be a good niche.

“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 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.

“All of us are still full-time in our jobs, and we don’t really have and start-up capital, so we decided the best way to do it – and Christ knows how this happened – was to set up the brewery in our kitchen.”

So that’s what they did. With a brewkit little larger than a homebrew setup, Vault City began weekly brews in July 2018, investing in fermenters to hold their beer during the long, slow fermentation required for mixed-ferm brews.

“We were invited to the Beavertown birthday bash in September, so that was busier. But we've never brewed more than once a week because we don't have the fermenter space. I wish we could brew more, but we just don't have the capacity.”

Fortunately for beer lovers though, the next few months should see a big change for Vault City, as it hopefully partners with another Scottish brewery in a “cuckoo-plus” arrangement. Uneasy about the idea of exposing another brewery’s kit to potential infection from its mixed culture of yeast and bacteria, Vault City will instead install its own upgraded kit under another brewer’s roof, sharing some of the same facilities but ultimately running a separate process. It’s a clever solution.

 In the meantime though, Vault City has had a taste of large scale brewing through Raise The Bar and it’s collaboration with Beer52, as Johnny joined the brewers at De Proef to see his recipes brewed for our members to enjoy (see page 26).

“I definitely think the guys at De Proef are on board with what we’re doing, and we’re really excited to taste the beers. There’s so much interest in mixed fermentation at the moment that I think more people have heard about us than is maybe normal for such a young brewery. We were at an event in Birmingham recently and the guy from Fantôme came up to say he’d heard of us and was interested in what we're doing. I think Jonny had to go next door and hyperventilate for a while! When you're brewing out your kitchen it's hard to imagine people out there actually drinking your beer, let alone talking about it!”


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