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Magazine Meet the Makers

Getting to know… St. Andrews Brewing Co.

We speak to the team about St. Andrews’ rich brewing heritage.St Andrews Brewing Co Map

First things first – how, when, and why was St. Andrews Brewing Co. founded?     

The Brewing Company was founded in 2013 by a young guy from Yorkshire named Bob Phaff. As Bob tells it, when he arrived in St. Andrews he was surprised to see that it didn’t have a local brewery so he decided to set one up.

Bob’s surprise was warranted as brewing and malting had always been an important part of St. Andrew’s rich history. From its monastic heritage via the large numbers of small brewers that serviced both ‘town & gown’ from the Middle Ages right up to 1800, to the larger industrialised breweries of the 19th century, there has been a long association with beer in the town. Gradually, over time the number of brewers in the town reduced from a supposed high of brewers in the 1700s, to there being just two commercial or common brewers, as they were known, left by 1850. The remaining two were the West Port Brewery, which was sold to William Haig (of Haig whisky fame) in 1864 and moved out of the town, and the Argyle Brewery which ceased trading in 1902.

Argyle Brewery
Argyle Brewery

In its heyday, St. Andrews alongside Glasgow, Edinburgh and Alloa, was considered one of the major brewing centres in Scotland. And there remain are a number of examples of beer and brewing permeating life in the town in interesting and funny ways. For example, to this day if a student at the University turns up to an exam in their red gown and with their sword, they are entitled to a pint of beer.

We are really proud that after an absence of over a century we’ve been able to bring brewing back to the town.

How have things changed over the years, since that first beer was brewed?

When the brewery started it was very much a microbrewery in every sense of the word. We brewed in 500L batches with fermentation taking place in plastic FV’s and all the beers were hand-bottled and bottled conditioned. In 2019 that all changed and, supported by a successful crowdfunding campaign, we installed a 30BBL Willis European Brewhouse. Obviously, our capacity has increased significantly and we now have stainless steel temperature-controlled FVs which give us much more control, consistency and quality management of our beers. We’ve also been able to start brewing a lager which we could never have done on our old kit. The other major change is that we now package in can and keg.

It’s crazy to think that in a single brew we now produce what would have taken us a fortnight to produce when we began.

St Andrews Brewing Co Range

St. Andrews Brewing Co. has always championed local produce and community – why is this so important to you and how does St Andrews the place impact the way you approach beer?

There is such a sense of history, heritage and quality in St. Andrews that it would impossible for that not to impact how we run our brewery. We are very conscious that we want to live up to the international reputation of the town and names such as the University of St. Andrews or the Old Course. On a day-to-day basis, this is reflected in our efforts to try and do everything as well as we can. And sourcing the best local ingredients is an example of this. Our beers have featured locally grown soft fruit, coffee roasted in the town, herbs and pine needles from the Botanic Gardens and even Scottish Hops grown at the James Hutton Institute. The fact that the members of our brew team are all from East Fife means that they have a particular interest in supporting as many local partners as possible.

Clearly, St. Andrews is world-famous as being the Home of Golf and this has also had a major bearing on us as a brewery. We have worked with partners such as the St. Andrews Links Trust to produce beers under licence for them and we have just released the Chippie range of beers with Paul Lawrie who famously won the Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999.

We’re delighted to have a number of St. Andrews beers in our Beers of the Month this month but the one that stands out as something really unique is the Wild Ferm Sour Lager – what can you tell us about this beer, its recipe, and the idea behind it?

Wild Ferm Sour Lager Beer

So, to be upfront and honest we don’t know if we like Wild Ferm or not. It’s a real marmite beer and we have had people commenting on it in the absolute extreme with some folks absolutely loving it and buying it every week and others calling it an absolute abomination and that it’s the worst beer we’ve ever brewed. Our Brewery Manager Douglas is in the latter camp so it may turn out to be a limited edition!

Recipe wise the key elements are Lager Malt and Tettnang Hops which combine to give a really crisp and refreshing lager… which we soured. And to be clear when we say its soured, we mean its properly soured, so you get a really odd combination of the refreshing characteristics of a lager but with a really sour edge. It’s definitely not a subtle beer and we’d recommend that you enjoy it cold.

We’re also featuring your Notorious BIPA – what can you tell us about this beer, and is it safe to say that Black IPA is back?

Phil says that this is the beer that he forgot his son’s head-wetting to. Notorious is a lovely balanced Black IPA that definitely proves that Black IPA isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life. The heavily dry-hopped Sorachi Ace, Chinook and Simcoe notes combine with the bitter roasted, coffee flavours of the malt bill to produce a great beer with tension, style, power and class.

The beer is the brainchild of Colin our lead brewer and it has won a Gold Star in the Great Taste Awards and a bronze medal in the World Beer Awards. You can enjoy Notorious either warm or chilled and it’s a beer that works equally well in can, keg or in cask.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to tell the Flavourly community about St. Andrews Brewing Co. – especially if trying your beer for the first time?

With the notable exception of Wild Ferm, we try to brew beers that are as balanced as possible which should leave you wanting another one. We don’t use any adjuncts in our brews so all of the complexity and flavour that you get in a beer like Yippie IPA are drawn from the malt bill, the hop profile and our preferred yeast, and nothing else.

And keep an eye out for some interesting collaborations and partnerships that we will be announcing later in the year there are some exciting brews on the way.

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