Cameron Willis introduces you to Keith Brewing and chats with their COO Andrew Chapman.*
*Yes, we wish his name was Keith too.
Keith isn’t just the name of your surly secondary school bus driver, or even the uncle who wins the award for dodgiest dancing at not only your cousin’s wedding but everyone else’s too. It’s also a ‘wee Scottish toon’ humbly resting somewhere between the cities of Aberdeen and Inverness, close to the historic town of Elgin.
The region it sits in, Speyside, is one of five Scottish whisky regions and although Speyside is no doubt most famous for the water of life, and some notoriously windy weather, there’s a wee brewery in ‘the friendly town’ vying for a share of the area’s sterling reputation for fine beverages.
It’s called Keith by name, and as far as the ingredients go, it’s Keith by nature.
“It’s called Keith by name, and as far as the ingredients go, it’s Keith by nature.”
“As Speyside whisky is regarded as the best spirit in the world, we try to use as many of the same ingredients in our beer,” proudly proclaims Chief Operating Officer Andrew Chapman. “This has included installing our own custom built well in the grounds of the brewery so that we can take Speyside water straight from source.”
The Keith Brewery story begins just as those of so many craft brewers have in recent years – discontentment and dissatisfaction with the standard, quality and taste of the lagers widely available on the market. Originally launched by two campers in 2012, the venture was bought out in 2014, rebranded as Keith Brewery Ltd in 2015 and, following around £500k investment, a portfolio of ten beers has been developed, refined and dispatched to parched punters across the country.
In a short period of time, Keith has gone from small-time smalltown brewery to producing up to 16,000 litres at any one time, receiving award nominations from every corner of the country and shipping their tasty brews to almost 70 independent stockists across Scotland and England.
Everything’s produced, kegged, bottled and labelled on site, and the growth of the business has taken even those in charge by surprise.
As Andrew (I still wish his name was Keith) explains, “We hoped that we would be a success but we certainly didn’t imagine it happening so soon. The speed that the company has grown over the past two to three years has exceeded that rate with which we originally planned.”
“The speed that the company has grown over the past two to three years has exceeded that rate with which we originally planned.”
The brewery’s location in Speyside is at the heart of the beer. Not only does one of its quaint Scottish towns home the brewery and give it its name, but it’s one of the primary motivations and inspirations behind the product. The rural location and the proud history of the alcohol industry is something that the brewery doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s fantastic. It’s hard to think of a more fitting and encouraging setting than Speyside,” explains Andrew. “This area of Scotland has been producing, selling and exporting fantastic liquid for hundreds of years and we are extremely keen to follow suit and live up to the area’s global reputation.”
“This area of Scotland has been producing, selling and exporting fantastic liquid for hundreds of years and we are extremely keen to follow suit”
As well as heritage, there’s a big focus on variety and innovation at Keith. They want to offer something different and try their hand at making beers across the entire spectrum, priding themselves on having a “beer for any occasion”. It’s about introducing a different style of Keith every time, both in variety and name, as their quirky marketing seeks to keep it about beer, and beer alone.
Their IPA, the 5% Pale Keith, which has a fruity nose and citrus taste, is one of the prime examples – hops are added at three different times during the brewing process, something that gives it a unique flavour and led to it being nominated for IPA of the Year at The Scottish Beer Awards only six months ago.
There’s also Stout Keith, which draws its rich coffee flavours from cold espresso being added during the aging process and it makes up 10% of what’s in the bottle. They’ve tried their hand at Weissbier, with Herr Keith, produced Larger Keith, a crisp pilsner lager, and a refreshingly malty rye beer, called Wry Keith.
They also do seasonal beers, such as the brilliantly named autumnal ale Pump’d Keith and two summer seasonal efforts, one which uses strawberries and one which uses raspberries. Guess what they’re called? Yup, that’s right – Trevor and Frank. Wait, what? These beers use 100% fruit, breaking from the status quo, so the names may as well too, right?
The final brew in this unique and likeable little brewery’s repertoire is a strong barley wine called Sir Keith, which at 10% is a subtle, malty and unique alternative to a glass of your favourite red. How very country of them.
The unique marketing behind the products is important too. With such a vocal and competitive craft beer market, so many brands are foghorning down the craft beerwaves, like an eccentric geography teacher who cares way too much about glaciers, in order to get attention. Keith are aiming to be the quiet ones that stand out, with a quietly confident and gently ironic personality. See the names of the bottles above, or even their simple yet unerringly effective website.
“Keith are aiming to be the quiet ones that stand out, with a quietly confident and gently ironic personality”
Andrew said of the marketing, “It’s as unassuming as the town itself – craft beer for people who care about liquid not labels. The label design, or rather lack of it, uses plain typography and a limited colour palette to reflect the brand’s approach to brewing.
“The straightforward tone of voice has also been rolled out across press and POS, letting consumers know that Keith is a straight-talking brewery from straight-talking brewers.”
With an ever-expanding portfolio of Speyside ales and beers and following the launch of their beers in kegs and casks at the beginning of the year, Keith’s plan to position themselves as the straightforward, straight-talking brewers of the Scottish craft industry seems to be working.
Much like the town of Keith itself, Keith brewery and its beer is small and proud, but it’s also beautiful, creative and steeped in history. It might be a newish venture in craft beer terms, but it’s bringing hundreds of years of Speyside tradition with it.
So, Keith isn’t just the name of that surly bus driver or dancing uncle, it’s also one of Scotland’s brightest beer making sparks and craft beer underdogs.
Originally published in Issue 3 of our Flavourly magazine. Written by Cameron Wills.