Scotland the brave

Ferment comes home, with an issue celebrating all things Caledonian

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Although its traditional styles are often lumped into a general ‘British’ category, Scotland has a long and rich history of brewing, and many of its classic styles are still brewed and enjoyed in towns and villages across the nation. Certain styles, such as Scotch ale and the wee heavy have found their way into the craft lexicon too, as new brewers around the world seek out long forgotten styles, in particular those with a strong malt profile suitable for barrel ageing.

While this is part of their heritage though, there’s no doubt that most of Scotland’s best-known craft breweries are motivated by a love of the American craft movement. We love hops on top of hops, sweet malt and big juicy flavours, and it’s on this formula that Scotland’s home-grown craft beer scene has gone from strength to strength in recent years.

This lust for lupulin can arguably be traced back to one particularly influential brewery and, try as we might, it’s impossible to discuss the evolution of Scottish craft without addressing the big dog in the room.

While it’s true that Brewdog has turned many craft purists off with its attention-grabbing stunts and open thirst for mainstream success, it has also achieved much good. It helped put not only Scotland but the entire UK on the craft beer map internationally, provided a gateway for macro-beer drinkers and – particularly for its smaller Scottish neighbours – given a great deal of practical and moral support. Whether you’re travelling around the highlands or eastern Europe, it’s common to hear brewers talking about the inspiration and experience they gained during a stint in Ellon.

In 2019 though, Scottish breweries are certainly not living in Brewdog’s shadow. Several, such as Harviestoun, Tempest, Drygate, Black Isle, and Williams Brothers, have become true household names. Then there’s the new wave, including names such as Pilot, Crossborders and Fierce, all of whom have carved their own distinctive path, gradually expanding from their local market to wow drinkers up and down the country. And of course there’s the likes of Edinburgh’s Vault City, which has recently been setting Ratebeer alight with its complex and delicious mixed fermentation creations.

Where breweries grow, the bar scene flourishes, and the past few years have seen an explosion of choice for Scottish drinkers. Visit the big lowland cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and you’re never far from a craft pub or bottleshop serving up fresh local brews, and supported by an ecosystem of bloggers, instagrammers and ordinary drinkers spreading the word. But the revolution has spread beyond the affluent and populous central belt; the fact that the industrial highland town of Peterhead has its own specialist sour beer bar is perhaps the most striking example of Scotland’s maturity as a craft beer nation, but the signs are everywhere.

Of course, this is not pure coincidence; Scotland is home to Heriot Watt University’s International Centre for Brewing and Distilling (see page 60), arguably the most respected hatchery for baby brewers anywhere in the world. Go to the most remote brewery on the other side of the world, and you’re likely to find an ICBD graduate mixing science and craft to create something new and exciting (and telling tales of their time in Edinburgh).

Scottish independent brewing suffered badly in the 80s and 90s, and many of our most beloved traditional brewers either closed or were bought out, so grabbing hold of the American craft beer boom 15 years ago felt like a way to get back on the map, or at least have something more interesting to drink. Today though, Scotland is able to stand on its own feet, producing a range of beers as diverse and high quality as you’ll find anywhere, without just leaning on the ‘more hops’ button.

In a nation known throughout the world for its whisky, it’s hard to imagine another drink taking root in quite the way beer has over the past few years. People are genuinely proud of their local brewery and are always keen to tell you about it; just like the country’s distilleries, Scotland’s breweries are once again becoming part of communities’ identities. And with such a diverse and exciting range of breweries, a proliferation of great bars and a drinking public who are as passionate as they are knowledgeable, Scotland seems to have a new national drink.


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