If you are to travel to Edinburgh from the West by train, your eyes will no doubt be drawn to a beautiful and impressive sight just as you approach the city. Those who know the route could be forgiven for thinking that I’m talking about the monumental Murrayfield Stadium – the largest stadium in Scotland and home of the Scottish Rugby Union – which the train does indeed pass within spitting distance of; but I’m not. I am, in fact, talking about the Edinburgh Beer Factory.
A site I see regularly on my commute, today I approach Edinburgh Beer Factory by the much newer (and more controversial) tram system as opposed to simply passing it by via train. As I alight at Bankhead and approach the building on foot, it is even more impressive up close than it is in the blur of a speeding train’s window.
It shines beside the other lots in the industrial estate in which it stands, so much so that you begin not to notice the others’ existence. While it may be just another factory building, it is embellished with pink and blue neon lights that blink and flash in rhythmic fashion – it’s a little bit of the sublime in the everyday. Just like the beers that are made inside.
“We were thinking about this in 2014 properly and then got up-and running the following year,” explains Head of Marketing Kirsty Dunsmore as we sit down in the brewery’s modest-but-attractive taproom. “Obviously, craft beer was not a new thing by that point so we thought quite long and hard about “why are we doing this?” and “how can we do things differently, what’s really motivating us?”
“At a very top level, we wanted to challenge a couple of things, particularly relating to lager; it just being wet stuff with no inherent quality. And craft beer has done such a lot to change perceptions of beer – which is great. That said, there’s still probably ways that craft beer can be inaccessible in a sort of beer geeky way. So, we’re looking to be more democratic than that really. To bring everyone in.”
True to plan, Edinburgh Beer Factory launched with a lager – Paolozzi – that looked to subvert perceptions of what a lager could be. It’s odd for a craft brewery in the current scene to hang their hat on a lager, a style so often seen as the runt of the litter by fledgling craft beer aficionados. But that’s exactly how Edinburgh Beer Factory has made their mark on the Edinburgh beer scene and, as Kirsty explains, “at its best, it shows brewing at its best because it’s so subtly balanced and it can be enjoyed by so many people.”
“Sublime in the everyday was the brief for the beer. We wanted to make a lager as we thought it was a bit neglected. Though it’s really, really common, it’s a bit neglected because it’s sort of mass-produced at speed on the one hand and craft beer’s come to it a bit later because it’s kind of seen as being on the rubbishy side.”
Anyone who has tried Edinburgh Beer Factory’s signature (and up until very recently, only) beer will tell you that it is anything but ‘rubbishy.’ This is due to a real passion for creating something that could both exceed and alter expectations, as well as a passion for authenticity in the drink itself.
“We’re big fans of the Munich helles style, which is slightly more malty than hoppy but nicely balanced,” explains Kirsty. “Actually, we ‘Munich-ise’ the water, we replicate the water characteristics so it’s the mineral profile of Munich water. We do it absolutely properly.”
Though the beer may be inspired by Germany, the brand itself is inherently (and proudly) Scottish. Kirsty says: “The other thing that we couldn’t avoid talking about and thinking about was Scotland, and Scottishness. Let’s be the best representation of Scotland, what we think it is at its best and for us it’s not this rolling mist, and the hills, and the Highland cows. It’s actually urban Scotland, and it’s Scotland’s creativity and inventiveness.
“And we’re biased and Edinburgh is our home, which is why we’re here, but we think Edinburgh at its best can represent that. So, it was those characteristics of Edinburgh that led us to Eduardo Paolozzi.”
Eduardo Paolozzi was an artist, born in Edinburgh to Italian parents, and is regarded as the founding father of Pop Art. From working in his parents’ sweet shop in Leith to teaching throughout the world, Eduardo’s life was as varied and colourful as his work. His art took on a life of its own as he re-envisioned the everyday in his work or, in his own words, he revealed the ‘sublime in the everyday.
“He believed in the beauty of everyday things that are often regarded as trash, and he would transform that trash into art so we liked that idea,” says Kirsty. I can see why, it’s a great jumping off point for a lager.
Paolozzi has done more than give Edinburgh Beer Factory’s signature beer its name and concept, a little piece of his portfolio adorns each and every bottle of beer. And as Edinburgh Beer Factory looks to expand their own portfolio, Paolozzi’s influence isn’t going anywhere.
Inspired by Paolozzi’s 1952 ‘BUNK!’ lecture at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, Edinburgh Beer Factory is now looking to diversify and uncover even more hidden gems.
“Lots of people have been asking “would your next beer be an IPA?” but there’s really no point because there’s so many good ones out there,” Kirsty tells me. “It’s saturated.
“We thought for our next brand to do a series of beers and to do styles that aren’t really commonly done or that we can bring something to. So, the brief for it really is underappreciated styles; it might be that they’re obscure or that they used to be popular and they’ve got some kind of baggage but we think they’ve got potential to appeal to more people.”
The BUNK! series – which plans to be a rotating selection of three beers at any one time – has begun with an American-style brown ale that has already been named the Best American Brown Ale in the World at the World Beer Awards 2017; a decent start to the series. Edition 2 will be a smoky wheat beer while the style for Edition 3 is being kept under wraps for now (though Kirsty may have let me in on the secret).
While the beers may speak for themselves, from chatting with Kirsty it’s clear to see she’s passionate about building Edinburgh Beer Factory as a unique entity in the craft beer space. And as I move into the brewery to meet head brewer Martin Borland, it’s clear to see that this passion carries through into the brewing team.
Martin takes me round Edinburgh Beer Factory’s state of the art facility, showing me everything from the pilot kit where the world’s best American brown ale was conceived to the huge vessels in which Paolozzi is made with consistency en masse. I ask about the upcoming smoky wheat bear and he utters the words I’ve been longing to hear: “Let’s try it.”
As he pours me a glass of the prototype beer straight from the fermentation vessel, Martin explains: “The way we did it was – we knew we were going to do a wheat beer – so all the brewers did the style of wheat beer that they wanted to do. I’m a big fan of American witbiers, so I did one of them. People did Bavarian-style hefeweizens. One of the guys, Charles, came out with this Cherrywood-smoked beer which was really nice.
“We then put it to a panel and what we settled on was to use peat-smoked malt in it. We thought for the whole Scottish bit, we’d use the same peated malt that’s used in whiskies.
“This is the goldilocks one. We had one that was not enough smoke and we had one with too much smoke, and we’ve kind of nailed it.”
and we’ve kind of nailed it.” I can’t help but agree. While I appreciate a good wheat, smoked beers have never been my thing but I’m blown away by the beer I hold in my hand. The smoke is there – reminiscent of Highland and Islay whiskies – but not overpowering, while the banana and clove characteristics of the wheat add balance and a smooth finish.
I depart Edinburgh Beer Factory with an appreciation for the brand and for the unique way in which they approach brewing. It’s not about jumping on trends, releasing as many beers as possible or even trying their hand at every beer style imaginable. They’re all about shining a light on beers that are often overlooked and underappreciated. As well as providing refreshment, they’re providing an education to beer drinkers on what lies beyond the IPA. They’re also taking things at their own pace; in two years, they’ve released just two beers. But when the beers are as good as they are, they can take things as slowly as they like.
Originally published in Issue 8 of Flavourly’s magazine. Written by Kevin O’Donnell.