It may be small, but its take on traditional Scottish styles is a big hit
Thursday 28 November 2019
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Living in Edinburgh, Crossborders was for a long time one of those breweries I was aware of, but hadn’t really engaged with. Then one day last summer, I spotted the brewery’s Heavy was on cask at my local, decided to give it a go, and was mightily impressed by how perfectly it nailed this traditional Scottish style; not ‘with a twist’ as many breweries would have done, but straight-up, bang-on-style beer.
This, of course, makes sense. Although part of the inspiration for Crossborders was co-founder Garry’s time in the US (his wife is American) its mission has always been to produce traditional British ales for a modern audience.
“Our co-founders Jonny and Gary have been friends since primary school,” says sales manager Craig Hannigan. “Gary had always been into brewing, which he got from his dad, who was an avid home brewer in the 80s. While Gary was in the US, becoming obsessed with the craft scene over there, Jonny was back here doing his Heriot Watt Masters, then working for Stewart Brewing.
“So they were both really fired up, and decided to launch with a focus on traditional styles with great drinkability, but done in an interesting way. Our first beer was a British-style IPA, with balanced bitterness and no crazy juicy aromas, then a porter and our Heavy.”
The latter has been a real critical hit for the brewery – being one of the highest rated ordinary/best bitters on Ratebeer – and for me sums up its appeal perfectly. Particularly on cask, it’s super-soft, with rich, bready malt and just a whiff of dark fruit, balanced out by lingering bitterness and gently floral hops. It’s a style most wouldn’t bother to brew at all, or at least not put this much care into.
Of course, IPAs and pale ales are always going to be the big sellers, so Crossborders also quickly found ways to give customers what they want while remaining true to their values. Its Braw IPA and Wee Braw session are also highly rated online, while remaining eminently crushable (which are not easy things to reconcile).
“We’ve done three variations of IPA now; the latest one used Citra, Centennial and Amarillo. We don’t contract any hops, because it often works out more expensive than buying them on the open market. So we’ll regularly end up changing our hop bills to include what’s available and what’s good. That happens at a lot of breweries, but we make a point of telling our customers about it!
“So, for example, we found it was getting very difficult to buy Galaxy in the quantities we needed. So we started using Ekuanot instead, which has an amazing aroma and has proven very popular. Then we’ll alternate between a New Zealand hop called Summer and Slovenian Styrian Dragon. Bill’s Beer – which is a charity beer we brew with the Bill McLaren Foundation – used be US Cascade, but we then switched to Falconer’s Flight, which is an aromatic blend of the ‘Seven Cs’ and makes the brew very moreish.”
It’s clear that Crossborders’ respect for traditional styles doesn’t preclude experimentation though (“we’d all get bored to death just doing the same thing all the time”) and this is definitely apparent in the Sorachi saison included in this month’s Beer52 box.
“The saison we’re brewing for you will be a really interesting one, “ says Craig. “Belgian beers are usually so much about the yeast and we just felt using a hop like Sorachi would really play well with how that beer works. I’ve wanted to use Sorachi for ages, but it would really be too much for our pale ales because it’s so distinctive, but we’ve done a number of trial brews for the saison and it really, really marries together very well.”
Crossborders’ home in the small village of Eskbank, just outside of Edinburgh, is a big part of its identity. It’s very DIY-feeling taproom was originally only open once a fortnight, with a seating area separated from the brewery floor with palettes and safety tape. But word spread, and by last November these regular nights had become so popular that they had to go weekly. Next year, Craig hopes to organise a mini festival, with food trucks and other local breweries.
“I’ve been working in the taproom since we started it, and I love it,” he says. “We started off with a single bottle of gin Edinburgh Gin and we’ve built up from there. Now we’ve got spirits, wines, soft drinks, cakes, all from producers that we know locally. It’s exactly what we personally would want from a taproom.”
There’s definitely no shortage of ambition here. The small team of four, including production manager Gordon, is sometimes brewing three times a week to keep up with demand, and there’s plenty of space in the current unit to add more fermentation vessels and conditioning tanks. There’s even talk of a dedicated canning line.
“We’re a really tight, collaborative team,” concludes Craig. “I talk to people in other breweries who complain they have to go out and sell beers that they’ve not really been involved with, and don’t know all that much about. It’s absolutely not like that here; we all have a real sense of ownership and pride in everything we brew and sell.”
As I’m packing up my camera, a group of my Beer52 colleagues arrive unexpectedly and are cheerfully greeted by Craig. It’s Friday night, and what could be better than a little post-work beer and ping-pong? Doesn’t look like I’ll be making it home just yet after all…
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