The emergence of the Craft Beer movement in Scotland sometimes overlooks the fact that Edinburgh is home to one of the UK’s original craft brewing companies, The Caledonian Brewery. Susan Young paid a visit to the brewery to find out what the secret of its longevity is.
When George Lorimer and Robert Clark founded the original Lorimer and Clark Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh 1869 they couldn’t possibly have foreseen the fact that 146 years later it would still be going strong, and not only that, but it is still innovating and creating new beers.
The Caley Brewery, as it is affectionately known, is the only original one, out of around 40 that used to be located in the city. Although there are new brewers that have entered the market locally, the Caley Brewery is without doubt the best known. What people perhaps don’t know is that it is still at the forefront of the creation original brews in its Edinburgh heartland, and in fact now has a pilot brewery on site too called ‘Wee George’.
Now before you shout out but it is owned by Heineken these days so how can it be called a craft brewer. Well I suppose that depends on your definition of craft. What is craft beer? Caledonian Managing Director Andy Maddock asked me that very question. Well the American definition… is a brewery with annual production of six million barrels of beer or less… and certainly that is a lot more than Caledonian brews.
Says Andy Maddock, “Craft beer isn’t mass produced and industrial, or it is perceived not to be. People want smaller and local and they care about the ingredients. Beer is at the heart of the marketing. Caledonian has loads of heritage and provenance but now we want to combine that with innovation and progression. And we want to tell not only the story of the beer, but the story of the brewery too.”
He continues, “We don’t want to shy away from the fact that we are owned by Heineken. What we have created here, with the support of Heineken, is a modern craft beer brewery.”
The latest additional to the brewery – Wee George, is a state-of-the-art pilot brewery which says Andy will help “drive innovation.” It went into production in June. Andy explains, “We’re thrilled that our new pilot brewery, affectionately
known as Wee George in a nod to our founding father George Lorimer, is up and running. We invested over £100,000 in the new pilot brewery and this innovation allows us to remain fleet-of-foot in the market and has helped Caledonian enter the world of modern craft on the back of our continued success of Three Hop Lager.”
As well as creating this new pilot brewery the business has also invested in its core range and since Andy has come on board he has introduced a more regular timetable for brewing, which ensures that the flavour and quality of the beer is more consistent. He explains, “When BrewDog arrived on the beer scene it was like someone driving a tank down the Royal Mile. They have done an amazing job when it comes to getting people talking about beer, and now that people are talking about it we aim to make the most of it. But it is important to get the quality cues right. So we looked at the entire brewing process from the grain we use, to the hops, to the process. We have now introduced consistent brew lengths. This allows us to understand the beer more and get the consistency right. When it comes to the freshness of the hops we have moved away from hessian sacks and now use vacuum packed hops. Now when you open the pack you get a hit from the freshness, it’s the same sort of impact that you get when you open vacuum packed coffee. We have locked in the freshness of our hops. We also propagate the fresh yeast every 8 weeks the industry average is 12/13 weeks although there are some exceptions. This freshness of the hops and the yeast gives our beer a real zing.”
He continues, “We haven’t stopped there. We now have a trade quality training manager, in the shape of Allan Stevenson. His responsibility is to help licensees when it comes to ensuring that the beer is as good when it reaches the customers glass as it is when it leaves the brewery. It is the last step in the beer journey. He will help with everything from cellar knowledge to ensuring the glass washers are used correctly.
“We are putting the right investment in to make it work and working with the BII and Cask Marque. Quality underpins everything we do basically we are aiming to bring the news about the importance of cellar management to a new generation of bar staff, some of whom, we have found, have never even been in a cellar! It’s important that bar staff are trained, but we realise that it is not easy for the retailer to teach about craft when the market is so dynamic. That’s why we are happy to do it. Our team are all about the beer, not necessarily about the brand. There is a subtle difference.”
Over the course of the last year improvements have been made to Caledonian Brewery’s current range and marketing. Andy Mitchell, Trade Marketing Manager comments, “On the traditional side we have re-appraised our beers particularly Deuchars IPA. We have looked at the recipe and tweaked the brewing process. We have moved the ABV of The Flying Scotsman down from 4% to 3.5% but retained the flavour profile using fresh pack hops and re-invigorated 80/- to Edinburgh Castle 80/- with our agreement with Historic Scotland, which is great. Because of the success of Deuchars IPA people forgot about the brewery, and about what else we could do. Now our portfolio is not only about traditional beer but about modern craft beer too.”
Says Andy Maddock, “I’ve worked in the beer industry for 20 years and ironically Deuchars IPA was my favourite pint. My father brought me up as a traditionalist. I enjoy the challenge of getting beer back to where it should be. We have a brand new commercial team here, with new ideas, there are now 50 folk on site at the brewery and it feels like a different place. We’ve also rejuvenated the office space, we have definitely changed the culture here.”
What has also changed at the brewery is the number of women who now come and take part in tutored tastings. Andy explains, “Ten years ago it was predominantly males that were drinking beer, but now we are focusing on the authenticity, heritage and provenance and brewing around a flavour profile, giving the beers a distinctive flavour, which is more appealing to women. We do tutored tastings here for about 200 people and we walk them through the brewing process and then get then to pick a beer to partner with a pie. Now around 35% of the people coming to these events are female.”
He continues, “There are three different types of beer – lager, ale and Lambic but there are 114 different styles. People whose journey with beer started 30 odd years ago started off with traditional and are now looking to modern craft, while younger people who started off with modern craft move on to traditional beers.”
Wee George is also a real asset to the brewery. The investment in the kit has been substantial and there are also two two innovation brewers – Ross O’Hara who came from Heriot Watt and Peter Sharp who was formerly at Borders Brewery, employed by the brewery. They alongside Craig Steven (Scotland’s first beer sommelier) broadly work around a rolling 13 week plan. Andy says, “The great thing about having Wee George is that it allows us to be fleet of foot. We can test and trial different recipes very quickly. We’ve already brought our Coast to Coast, the follow-on to Three Hop, out and we have two new brews planned for 2016. Now we can brew smaller quantities for example Wee George will do 400 litres which equates to 800 pints. Far below the normal minimum run of 20,000 pints. It’s much harder to innovate when your starting run is 20,000 pints. With Wee George we can also split the brew in half – we can brew 70% of the beer and then tinker with the other 30% making it drier, hoppier, more bitter and so on. For instance with Coast to Coast the brewers wanted to brew an American inspired style pale ale. The brewer along with Craig worked out the flavour and characteristics and we didn’t try and dictate what went into it. It was one of the 17 beer styles, out of the 114 different brewing styles, that we had prioritised. The brewers are now working on two others as well as a Wild Card – basically with the Wild Card the brewers can brew what they like, as long as they don’t blow the brewery up! We can now also fill bottles of all sizes as well as cask and kegs, which is another advantage.
“We lock the recipe down and then bring it to the market as quickly as we can. Now we are in a place where it feels exciting, but ensuring Deuchars IPA continues to be successful is just as satisfying. Now we are telling the brewing story, and linking the beer and the brewery together. It is not the Deuchars Beer Co. But all our branding now ensures that people know our beers are from the same family.
There’s never been a better time to be involved with beer, and certainly the team at Caledonian Brewery are relishing the new era of beer.