Six Degrees of Class

Richard Croasdale heads to Stonehaven, for a little taste of Belgium on Scotland's east coast


I’m still not entirely sure how I’ve never made it along to Six Degrees North’s brewery until now, after so many years of enjoying their beers, hanging out in their bars, even spending a week traveling around Belgium with founder Robert Lindsay. But I’m glad to have finally made the drive up Scotland’s beautiful east coast to Stonehaven, just south of Aberdeen.

While Robert did a great job of introducing me to the full wonder of Belgian beer in 2017, his own journey was rather more of a wonderful accident. Seconded to Brussels to help launch mobile platforms for Scottish Telecom in the late 90s, he entertained himself by roaming the city’s weird and wonderful bars. It was here that he discovered the huge depth of beer and beer culture the country offered; a million miles away from the cheap lagers and bland ales of his native Britain.

Determined to discover the secret alchemy behind these amazing beers, he travelled the country for home brew clubs. The only problem was, with such quality available in every bar and local grocery store, why on Earth would anyone bother brewing their own?

Eventually though, he heard about a brewer near Ghent, who was planning a course of lessons for the people of his village, and Robert signed up right away. The resulting beer was a revelation for Robert, that with the right knowledge and some basic kit, it was possible to brew to a professional standard. Cogs began to turn.

He returned to the UK in 2002 committed to creating the UK’s first explicitly Belgian-style brewery, using Belgian yeast strains and brewing techniques to create authentically Belgian-tasting beers. His intention was always to have a bar from which to sell his beer, and the Creel Inn in Stonehaven was an obvious choice, followed by another bar, the Marine Hotel.

By 2012 though, he finally had the funds to set up a dedicated brewery and, as luck would have it, a unit on the Cowgate, immediately behind the Marine Hotel became available. This was quickly followed by the first Six Degrees North bar in Aberdeen, which was at the time going through an oil boom. It was the perfect spot, allowing Robert to recreate his favourite Brussels bars in the centre of Aberdeen. Fortunately, others agreed, and rapidly increasing demand meant a move out of Cowgate and into its current brewery.

Walking around today’s brewery floor, Robert’s original passion is clearly still alive and well; from the Zwanze Day posters on the walls to the traditional jacketed mash tun (a must for true Belgian-style stepped mashing) Six Degrees North is still steeped in a profound respect for Belgian beer and beer culture.

But things have definitely evolved to include hop-forward styles that one would associate more with the modern craft beer movement. The brewery’s IPAs are excellent, and have allowed it to make great inroads in more mainstream bars and retailers; there is now a ‘volume’ side of the business, embodied by a handful of much larger fermentation vessels, meeting this demand.

But, marketing manager Matt Carrington assures me, this is an addition which gives Robert and his team the commercial space to pursue more of what really interests them. “We’ve stayed true to Robert’s vision of being experimental, authentic and collaborative,” he says. “The volume stuff allows us to do the more leftfield projects, and introduces our beers to a greater range of people, including exports to Russia, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, even Belgium.

“It’s also opened a lot of doors for some really interesting collaborations. We’ve always enjoyed collaborating with other breweries across the UK and in Europe, but that’s really taken off. It’s great because it gives everyone a wealth of experience of different styles and techniques; they often end up being a real knowledge exchange.”

It’s true that some of Six Degrees recent collaborations have been among the best beers I’ve tasted in 2019, and Matt is excited to show me three barrels that are almost ready for bottling.

“These are part of a collaboration with Salt Beer Factory down in Shipley,” he says. “It’s a gose, half of which we’ve bottled, and the other half is being aged in these. Before they were filled, we got a fisherman to drop them in the North Sea for three weeks and then retrieve them. It’s something Robert's wanted to do for ages, but was waiting for the right beer. Should be ready in about six weeks, so we’re all very excited to try that!”

Like every single Six Degrees North beer, the Salt collaboration will be naturally conditioned through secondary fermentation; no forced carbonation is ever used here.

As well as a recent rebrand – the new packaging is a big step up – there are more exciting developments on the horizon. Robert has secured a new site for the brewery, where it will be able to increase its capacity and build a taproom; another long-held ambition. While it’s great to see Six Degrees North receiving the commercial success it deserves for its impeccable brewing, it’s also reassuring that the Brussels love affair that stared the whole adventure is still burning bright. And I’m not just saying that because I work above its Edinburgh bar and am hoping for a free pint or two.

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