Rolling with the raspberries

Stout, feral twins, and a tonne of raspberries


As settings for breweries go, Harviestoun in Alva, Clackmannanshire, has it made, with rolling hills ripe for adventure right on its doorstep. Founded in 1983, it led the charge of Scottish craft brewing in the 2000s, scoring national and international awards for its brews, most famously for its Old Engine Oil stout. We caught up with head brewer Amy Cockburn, to find out what the brewery has been up to for the past year.

“It’s been tough, as the largest part of our business was in the pub,” she admits. “So we had to quickly rethink and reshuffle, driving business to our website and focusing on what’s going into the supermarkets. Then when it became clear the pubs weren’t going to reopen any time soon, we really had to dig in, releasing new beers and moving more into cans and mini-kegs.”

In this sense at least, the shift in focus has delivered some benefits for the brewery, including the launch of its excellent Heaven Cent session IPA, which has become something of a staple on mini keg. Amy says Harviestoun has also experienced a bump in interest in its special release beers, particularly its age-statement Ola Dubh; a strong stout aged in Scotch Malt Whisky casks. That said, she is clearly excited about things getting back to normal.

“Really, at the minute, we’re just focusing on bringing production back up and getting back into the pubs with keg and cask. So the next six months will probably be spent working with the pubs and wholesalers to get everyone back on their feet, and then we’ll take it from there. Most importantly though, it’ll just be so good to see people in the pub drinking our beer again. That’s what really motivates us, and we’ve missed it so much.”

IN THE BOX: Raspy Engine

Amy Cockburn, head brewer

“Raspy Engine is a wee something that we’ve brewed over the last few years, with small scale runs into bottles. It came about when we started playing about with Old Engine Oil casks, infusing them with different whole fruits to see what works; raspberry just really stood out with the character of the base beer.  

“So it’s a 5.3% version of Old Engine Oil, and then for the last few weeks of maturation in tank we add frozen whole raspberries, sourced from our farm which is only about an hour away from us in Fife. I think it was something like 800 kilos for this batch!

“It’s really important to me that we used whole fruit, rather than mucking about with extracts or additives. Whole fruit just imparts something completely different; a really nice natural character that’s a little bit perfumed and lends the Old Engine Oil a kind of sweet tartness. It’s a lovely beer and I’m really proud of it.”

Pick a direction

Chris Kennedy is a Harviestoun veteran, who recently started an exciting new role as a junior brewer there. He’s also a father to eight-year-old twin boys, and uses his downtime to share his love of the outdoors with them.

“There’s just so many benefits to it,” he says. “I just want them to experience the sort of things that I did growing up with my dad, and hopefully they’ll get to my age and feel the same way.”

The option to go and explore in a safe, socially distant way has been a lifeline during lockdown, but has also prompted Chris to take more notice of his immediate surroundings.

“Making the best out of a bad situation has definitely given me a big appreciation for where I live, right here in Alva. It’s something I always took for granted, because before I’d always just go mountain biking up and down the country, head up to Glencoe and the Cairngorms. So I’m thankful that this has given me chance to find the hidden gems on my doorstep.

“We do quite a few different things; it really depends on the weather and what we find. It’s really nice to camp out if it’s a mountain day. We’ll wild camp at the bottom and, in the morning, we’ll just go tackle the mountain, then get to enjoy being out in the wild places. Or if it’s looking like a really calm, sunny day, then we just drive until we find a loch that we’ve never seen before. We’ll park up next to it and go paddleboarding and swimming. And then the next weekend, I’ll probably go mountain biking myself somewhere; the boys are a bit wee to go on the mountains just yet!”

It sounds like a pretty idyllic lifestyle, so I’m keen to get Chris’s tips on how to make the most of your wild time. Does he use a book recommending places to visit, for example?

“You can make plans, sure. But sometimes, you just pick a direction and you can stumble across wonderful things,” he continues. “Last summer, when lockdown was partially lifted for a couple of months, we just kind of ran. I’d never been farther north than Inverness. So my partner and I took the kids, loaded the car with everything we thought we might need and drove north. We ended up just under Cape Wrath and spent four or five days wild camping. We had barbecues on these white sandy beaches and paddleboarded right around a ruined castle. We’ve been doing these sorts

of things for years, but that trip was really eye-opening for us.” 

These are the kind of memories that will doubtless stay with Chris and his family their whole lives. But I also know how tricky eight-year-olds can be when they dig their heels in, so is there some special trick he has with the twins?

“It’s not all bliss,” Chris laughs. “It’s hard work, because their wee legs take a wee while longer. But yeah, once they’re out there, doing whatever we’re doing, they’re just so on board. They’ve got the biggest smiles on their faces. And that’s what makes the extra effort to get them involved really worth it. And I get to see them in these wild spaces, doing these really cool things. It kind of gets you in the feels a wee bit.”

It certainly does Chris.

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