The Refreshing Success of Scotland’s Craft Beer Industry

Today is National Beer Day and pubs and punters around the country are celebrating by raising a glass to our cold, frothy friend. National Beer Day was founded in 2015, and gives beer-lovers an opportunity (or excuse) to enjoy one of their favourite drinks. Although whisky is the national drink of Scotland, we also have a long and rich history when it comes to brewing beer. With a tradition dating back over 5,000 years, Scotland has long prided itself on producing top quality beers and ales. Did you know that in 325 BC, the ancient Greek explorer, Pytheas, began his voyage around the British Isles and remarked that Scotland was ‘skilled in the art of brewing’!

Fast forward a few thousand years and, much like the rest of the world, attention in Scotland has turned towards smaller craft breweries. Today, a new generation of ambitious, small-scale breweries are taking on the industry’s global giants. Their aim is to take beer back to its roots, updating and improving crafts and traditions which date so many years.

It’s not easy to accurately define exactly what makes beer or ale ‘craft’; however, it’s commonly associated with uniquely brewed and flavoured products, made by small independent breweries. Inspired by the craft ale revolution in America, the Scottish craft brewing industry has flourished, spawning a host of new breweries and brands for us all to enjoy.

The majority of these small breweries are family run businesses, which resonates well with modern day consumers looking for products with a compelling story. The rise of Fraserburgh-based Brewdog, for example, reads like a beer-lover’s dream. From very small beginnings, they have gone on to launch a global chain of branded bars, each stocked with their own Scottish-brewed beers.

Quality over quantity

Scotland has always been at the leading edge of brewing and today there are nearly 100 craft breweries across Scotland. This has gone up massively from 1970 when there were only 11. Amazingly, across the whole of the UK there are now more breweries per head of population than anywhere else in the world.

The vast majority of these, particularly in Scotland, are incredibly small-scale, manufacturing less than 50,000 litres a year. This might sound like a lot, but it ‘pales’ (pun intended) in comparison to some of the industry’s giants. Anheuser-Busch InBev, who owns Budweiser and several other beers, produced an incredible 44.5 billion litres of beer in 2014! SAB Miller, owners of Miller Genuine Draft and many others, weren’t far behind with 31.8 billion litres of beer produced.

Scotland’s craft breweries however, are punching well above their weight. Despite the massive gulf in quantities produced, the quality of the beer being made in Scotland has meant a solid increase in industry figures across the last few years, showing that the brewing sector is positively overflowing:

  • The UK premium bottled ale market in 2015 was worth £490 million, up 10.5% year on year - by 2020, that figure is expected to top £1 billion
  • 109.4 million barrels of beer were sold in the UK in 2014, making the total UK beer market worth £2.2 billion, up 1.7% year on year
  • Overall beer sales in the UK were estimated at £16.5 billion in 2012
  • US beer imports accounted for only 14.9% of the market in 2014

This snapshot really emphasises the ever-increasing popularity of Scottish beers and ales. As this craft brewing revolution continues, it’s also bringing unexpected spin-off benefits to Scotland’s hospitality sector, with a new type of tourist - ‘beer hunters’ - visiting Scotland. As a result, more and more pubs are now offering beer tasting menus, and matching specific ales to their food. As well as this, many of the breweries are opening their doors to beer lovers. Brewery tours around their often unique spaces are becoming hugely popular with many places also opening beer halls on the premises for everyone to sample the local fare.

Spotlight on Stewart Brewing

One of these Scottish craft breweries, who have been making waves since they started in 2004, is Stewart Brewing. Situated in Loanhead, just outside Edinburgh, Stewart Brewing was founded by husband and wife team Steve and Jo Stewart. It is one of Scotland’s leading craft brewers, specialising in making craft beers of the very highest quality. The company started with just Steve and Jo, but due to popularity and demand has since grown and now boasts a staff of 25.

To keep up with this growing demand, Stewart Brewing also recently relocated to a custom built 50 hectare litre brewplant, complete with shop, bar and beer garden. In addition to their original line up of cask ales, which still remain at the core of their business, they have also produced a range of bottled beers, cask and keg brews. Stewart Brewing also boasts the UK’s first brew-it-yourself Craft Beer Kitchen. This innovative set-up allows people to go along and create their own concoctions under the watchful eye of one of the brewers.

Stewart Brewing has established itself as one of Scotland's most successful and reputable breweries. In recent months the team have cemented this reputation by winning top industry awards. One of their pale ales, Jack Back, won out ahead of hundreds of different beers to secure a gold medal at the Independent Beer Awards. Competition was incredibly stiff, as The UK-wide competition is open to all craft brewers around the country. The sheer number of entrants proves that it is clear that fantastic tasting beer is being produced across the length of Britain. The fact that Stewart Brewing came out on top also shows that Scottish brewers are proving to be a particular hit!

Another of their firm favourites, Radical Road, fought off tough competition to win the Brewing Award at the Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Awards. The awards ceremony recognises businesses and individuals in Scotland who are leading the way with innovation, enterprise and quality.

Despite winning these UK-based awards, Stewart Brewing are not taking their foot off the gas. They already ship their products to several international audiences, with plans to further expand. They currently ship to Canada, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Dubai and Russia and are aiming to expand into USA, Nordics, Spain, Italy, France, Benelux and Germany.

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Last updated 15 Jun 2017