BEER FOR THE FREE – Bellfield Brewery

Bellfield brewery beer for the free

We chat to the team at Bellfield Brewery on brewing gluten-free, vegan-friendly craft beer without compromise.

Ok, an easy one first – how, when, and why was Bellfield Brewery founded?

It actually all started with a conversation in an Edinburgh pub back in 2014, between myself and a pal of mine who was also a big beer enthusiast. We had both not long been diagnosed with Coeliac disease and couldn’t find a gluten-free beer that matched up to the real thing.

As you can imagine, for a couple of passionate beer drinkers, the prospect of never being able to drink a proper pint again filled us with grief so from that point on, we set out to start our own microbrewery, with the express purpose of making exceptional tasting beers that just so happen to be gluten-free.

Craft Beer For All became the mission and we launched our first two beers in Spring 2016 with plenty of enthusiasm but little knowledge of how the industry worked, at that point. Lawless Village IPA and Bohemian Pilsner, the first two beers, are both contemporary interpretations of classic beers.

Things have moved fast since then! We now have six beers packaged in cans, bottles as well as keg and cask; we installed a 2,000L brewhouse; opened a popular Taproom right next door to the brewery serving our beers alongside those from some of our brewery friends in and around Edinburgh (like Barney’s, Campervan, Newbarns, Pilot, Stewart Brewing, Top Out, Wintons, Jumpship) and then, mid-pandemic, rebranded and built and opened a series of outdoor booths in our sun trap beer garden next to the railway line in Abbeyhill. We could do with a seat and a pint in the beer garden after all that. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer.

All of your beers are gluten-free – what challenges has it presented for you?

First and foremost, we’re all about brewing fantastic tasting craft beer. No compromise!

Whilst producing gluten free beer was our motivation for starting the brewery, we just see it as an added bonus now – an attribute of our beer rather than the defining character. We’ve come a long way and our primary focus is absolutely about flavour and character so that everyone – whether avoiding gluten or animal products – can enjoy and take real pleasure in drinking Bellfield beers.

A big challenge but key to our success is the fact that we still use malted barley in our recipes. We spent around 12 months working with industry experts as well as the Institute of Brewing and Distilling at Heriot Watt University to develop our brewing process; we brew beer in small batches, using natural ingredients and natural processes to make the best and tastiest beers we can. No compromises or short cuts.

What would you say is Bellfield’s brewing philosophy? What do you want to achieve when brewing a new beer?

Our mission can be summed up in a few words: to brew exceptional beers, that everyone can enjoy drinking. We also love good food, so we aim to brew beers that complement it whether that’s a classic IPA or a delicious, inky black porter. We also want people to come back for more and we are certainly achieving that.

Developing new beers at Bellfield Brewery is a pretty democratic process. It tends to start with a general discussion often off the back of a team beer tasting with a focus (unsurprisingly) on what we want to be drinking. Then our brewers – Keith Robertson and Sally MacGarry – put their heads together to draw up a long list of beer styles based on these ideas.

Then follows recipe research; looking at all the possible variations and determining what they think will work best, in terms of being brewed efficiently on our kit and also what’s going to appeal to our customers.

Long and enthusiastic discussions about which hops to select for flavour and aroma take place (in normal times) over food from our favourite neighbourhood pub – Safari Lounge – and early evening pints.

Next comes a series of test brews – at small scale – on a 100 litre R&D brew kit. Then the team gets involved in tasting variations and giving feedback until a final version is settled on. The chosen recipe then has to be ‘scaled up’ from the R&D kit to a full brew.

bellfield brewery cans

Bellfield has gone through a rebrand quite recently and the cans, bottles, and brand are looking better than ever. Why did you decide it was time for a new look, and how did the concept for the new branding come together?

We wanted the brewery to have a stronger personality to achieve ‘stand out’ alongside other beer brands, where impactful design is everywhere. While we loved our original ‘bell logo’ branding, it had become increasingly inflexible and suffered from a high degree of inconsistency in how the brand was portrayed.

We had to consider that we needed to deliver our products in a variety of formats, in a number of countries each with different labelling and packaging requirements. We also wanted more flexibility to extend the range, to do shorter runs of ‘specials’ and seasonal beers.

The new branding and packaging was developed through 2019 by the drinks specialist branding consultancy, Thirst Craft in Glasgow. The concept they developed is called ‘Resonance’ which doesn’t feature a literal ‘bell’; instead the focus is on the ‘clapper’ which forms a strong shape on our labels, from which bold colourful patterns, inspired by sound waves, resonate out.

Each of our beers’ flavour profiles is reflected through shifting patterns and complementary – or contrasting – colours, while always remaining recognisably ‘Bellfield’. This pattern philosophy allows us to easily extend the range with patterns that reflect the character of the beer.

Thirst also came up with new positioning for Bellfield – For the Free – which obliquely references our gluten-free and vegan credentials without focusing overly on this, given our increasing appeal to mainstream craft beer drinkers.

We launched the new brand last summer, mid-pandemic.

We had already delayed for six months but we decided to go ahead at full pelt, sending the message that we intended to come through and emerge strongly from the crisis with new products and an impactful new look. It has built real awareness and momentum and energised our team at a very difficult time.

The rebrand and lockdown also provided an opportunity to connect with local digital creatives in Edinburgh. We had first met them way back during the first lockdown while running a can-for-a-tin swap in our brewery yard, to collect food for a local Foodbank.

We’ve also managed to create some pretty powerful video advertising working with local animator Ross Hogg, with a sound track from Jacuzzi General (Paradise Palm Records) – all done remotely and on shoestring budgets.

So while Covid has been a nightmare, there have been positives like this; meeting likeminded people and connecting us with our community even more strongly including fantastic pandemic business pop-ups like Keep Edinburgh Thriving and Edinburgh Beer Box and food pop-ups such as On the Roll, King Of Feasts and Double Supper Club.

Thanks in part to the rebrand, growing awareness of our beers and consecutive lockdowns, we’ve also seen a big rise in online sales with strong demand from people right across the UK. Covid has brought us lots of new customers and our beers seem to be hitting the spot, as a very high proportion are returning and buying again (40% in the last 30 days).

Looking ahead, we plan to extend the Resonance concept into a series of events in our popular brewery taproom and beer garden – when public health guidelines allow. The Bellfield Sessions will feature live events in partnership with people like Edinburgh-based Neu Reekie and others – music, spoken word, DJ sets, performances and comedy nights.

We’re delighted to have some of your brews in our Beers of the Month, what can you tell us about these beers, their recipes and what people can expect when giving them a try?

We launched Bellfield with two beers initially and they have been the platform from which we’ve built our brand. First up is our 4.5% Bohemian Pilsner, which is a classic Czech pilsner style, featuring Saaz, a noble hop. It’s pale in appearance, with a delicious background bitterness and gentle floral tones that lead to a delightfully soft finish.

Lawless Village IPA is the second of the two beers we started this journey with. The spiritual home of Bellfield is in the Portobello neighbourhood of Edinburgh (where four of us live) and we named the beer after discovering a reference to Porty as “The Lawless Village”. Like the Pilsner, it’s also 4.5% and is a copper coloured, aromatic beer brewed as a traditional American IPA. It features pale and crystal malts and Cascade and Centennial American hops for a modern, citrusy finish.

We expanded our range back in 2018 to include our 3.8% Session Ale, which has citrusy tones from hops, Centennial with Cascade and Citra delivering sumptuous hop flavours and aromas. The hop bitterness is balanced by fine malt character, making you want to come back for more.

For our 5.2% Craft Lager, Old and New World hops – Ekuanot and Mandarina Bavaria – combine to produce a light fruit and floral character. This modern interpretation of a classic lager is biscuity and quaffable!

Try Beers like this and more in our Craft Beer Club!

The core range of Bellfield beers has really taken shape, do you have any plans to expand the range further or introduce some limited specials?

Yes, we do. Already in the last few months, we’ve introduced (in cans) Daft Days Porter, (5.5% ABV) – an inky-black, full-bodied ale with mid level bitterness and a rich, malty finish. It’s packed full of flavours of chocolate, coffee and has a residual sweetness on the finish. It’s named after a poem by the great Edinburgh poet, Robert Fergusson (1750-74) who deeply influenced Robert Burns and who was born a short walk from Bellfield Brewery.

Jex-Blake Mosaic IPA, (5.6% ABV) isn’t exactly new but we’ve now put it into cans, as when we first brewed it during Lockdown for cask and mini-cask, it flew out the door. Jex-Blake Mosaic IPA is a luscious, single-hop, golden beer with juicy, tropical fruit aromas of pineapple and mango and pine and citrus flavours. Inspired by Sophia Jex-Blake, the first practising female doctor in Scotland.

And just before Christmas we brewed a traditional Scottish Eighty Shilling that went straight into mini casks and again flew out the door.

Looking ahead, we have just brewed our International Women’s Day beer for 2021, developed by the women of Bellfield, under the watchful eye of Sally McGarry, our R&D brewer. Rational Creatures (named after a famous Jane Austen quote) is a tropical, juicy IPA at 4.3% ABV that has been double dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin, Cashmere and El Dorado hops. A light, but racy bitterness is complemented by creamy oats with low malt intervention to showcase the punchy hop profile. This will be available in 330ml cans from mid-March.

We have challenged the team to produce a new beer each month through 2021 for packaging into 330ml cans (if we are still under lockdown) and also for keg and cask for our Taproom and the on-trade when things start to open up again.

Under development are various beers for the summer and autumn 2021, including a Belgian Pale Ale, at around 4.5% ABV, aromatic with spice and clove from the Belgian yeast and with a big citrus and spice hit from Taiheke and Saaz hops.

Keith and Sally are also working on a fruited IPA, at around 6.5% ABV. It will be a big hop-forward IPA with tropical fruit hit from hops and fruit puree.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to tell the Flavourly community about Bellfield?

We’re a small team of ten people; we’re independent, passionate, committed and proud of it. Every one of us has a stake in the business.

We’re part of a strong and vibrant brewing ecosystem in Edinburgh and it’s exciting to see more new breweries being established here! Vault City will be opening not far from us this year and just recently Moonwake announced they’d be opening in Leith, hot on the heels of Newbarns.

When restrictions are lifted and if you’re ever in Edinburgh – come and visit all of us and drop into Bellfield’s brewery Taproom and Beer Garden for a fresh pint, straight from the brewhouse next door. We’re the closest Brewery Taproom to the city centre – just a 10-15 mins walk from Scottish Parliament and Waverley Train Station.

Our Taproom is a light, bright, warm and welcoming space that also hosts music, comedy, special events and parties (in normal times). CAMRA accredited, it serves Bellfield as well as guest beers and hand-picked spirits and soft drinks from other independent Scottish producers.

Our beer garden has a series of (heated) booths complete with USB ports and free Wi-Fi alongside whisky-barrel tables. It was solidly booked out in between lockdowns last summer and we hope we’ll be open again in time for this summer. We’d love to see you there.

Details of events, pop-up street food, tours and tastings can be found at

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