Riding out the storm

A year of change for the Scottish powerhouse


Just a stone’s throw from Ferment HQ (and among some of the finest cycling routes in Scotland) Tempest is one of the team’s favourite breweries, and we’re always happy to see them in the Beer52 box. After celebrating its 10th anniversary and a successful rebrand at the start of 2020, it’s fair to say the year hasn’t been the celebration anyone was hoping for.

Neil Blackburn joined Tempest as marketing manager in the summer of 2019, just as the brewery was switching from bottles to cans; a change that prompted a fresh look at the brewery’s long-standing brand.

“I’d come to craft brewing from a different industry, so maybe was a fresh pair of eyes when the business was already looking at changing the brand a bit. From my perspective, it didn’t seem like the best idea for a Scottish craft brewery to have a giant red ‘T’ as its logo.”

So the T motif was consigned to history, replaced by a simple, elegant typographic logo. The artwork too has received a major update, with a more illustrative style to make the most of the extra space that cans offer, but more abstract and refined than eye-popping and lurid.

“It was an interesting process,” continues Neil. “Looking back over the 10 years, we took in the history of the brewery, the references to storms and the kind of volatile nature of brewing, as well as the rural location here. All of the original core range beers were rooted with a specific sense of place: Long White Cloud referenced the trip to New Zealand where it all began, Pale Armadillo conjures up the American desert and Elemental porter is a dark, mysterious Scottish landscape. If you just picked it up off the shelf, you wouldn’t necessarily notice that, so part of the new brand is to really bring that out and tell a story without making it too wacky and illustrative. There are brands that do that really well, and we don’t want to copy anyone.

“It’s also given us a chance to just tidy everything up. The old brand had kind of evolved over 10 years, so things weren’t exactly consistent in terms of logo placement, sizes and colours. So we’ve fixed a couple of elements for consistency, and then given ourselves a bit more license to play, particularly away from the core range, which we wanted to feel like a single entity.”

The new cans were in – to a universally positive reception – and the 10th anniversary bunting was up, when lockdown hit.

“Yeah, we were literally at the point of taking the champagne out of the fridge,” says Neil with a dry laugh. “But we reacted quickly and decided not to be downbeat about it. After all, we’d just switched to cans and brought in new designs that were created to be eye-catching. We’d also refreshed the website and web shop as part of that process. So really, we were perfectly positioned to get out there and sell, particularly as trade shifted very quickly to online.”

And it worked. During the three months of lockdown, Tempest did more business through its online shop than the previous three years combined, and the numbers have held up during the summer relaxation or the subsequent second wave.

“Obviously drinking at home was going to become much bigger, but it’s great that people didn’t just descend on the supermarkets,” says Neil. “Everyone started doing much more business online, and judging by my street’s recycling bins, subscription services like Beer52 really took off too. People actually seem to have taken the opportunity to support local breweries and discover new stuff, so maybe we’ll find the overall market for craft beer has grown as we come out of this, because people have picked it up as a hobby.”

In terms of brewing, Tempest has had a busy year taking its biggest beers from the past decade and revamping them with the new identity, pleasing long-term fans and introducing recent converts to some of its most popular brews. It’s also continued to push its growing barrel-ageing programme, making these special beers available in cans for the first time, even finding time for a collaboration with Estonian barrel-aging masters Põhjala.

“It feels like everything is going well, but it’s hard to know what this year would have been like if it hadn’t been for lockdown. I don’t want to downplay it either: the pubs being shut in Edinburgh has been really shit for us. Even when we have been able to go to the pub, it’s kind of been the opposite of the experience you want – there’s no music, it’s all table service, you can’t mix with other groups. Fortunately for us, being out of the city has meant we’ve been able to keep the taproom (for the most part) open since the summer. 

“But we’re looking to 2021, and hoping things will really start to pick up. We already have the release calendar mapped out for next year, with a lot of emphasis on big IPAs as well as stepping up our already well established barrel programme. We’re hoping to move in that direction more broadly, with bigger beers that people can throw into a mixed back to supplement the classics. With such an established core range it’s easy to lean heavily on these, but we like to just inject the range with newness every month, that feels like the right balance to strike so that hopefully people keep coming back like they have been throughout 2020.”

Like so many of the breweries I’ve spoken to over the past few months, it feels like Tempest has not only weathered the storms of 2020, but has emerged with exciting new ideas about its future direction. As cruel as they’ve been, perhaps the past 12 months will be the start of a new era of innovation.

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