Published on March 3rd, 2016 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Walking with a swagger
The brewers of Deuchars IPA have a renewed confidence in the future. Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh has gone back to basics, writes Alastair Gilmour
Eighteen tonnes of malted barley are delivered to the Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh every week. Consider that each tonne will help produce 20,000 pints of beer and it’s a safe guess that 360,000 pints will pass through its pipes, valves and heat exchangers every seven days.
Along with that, however, there has been an incalculable amount of positivity and confidence flowing through those same production lines over the past couple of years. If breweries could walk, The Caley, as it’s affectionately known, would do it with a kilt-swaying swagger.
The Caley hasn’t always stepped out like that. It has had more ups and downs over its near 150-year history than most, but the current team, under managing director Andy Maddock, appears to have brought a new self-assurance to the business of making beer.
“We’ve gone through enormous changes over the last two years and not left one stone unturned to drive quality from grain to glass,” says Maddock. “We’ve done a lot of work on our traditional range and our modern range. Even having our offices refurbished helps with a change of culture which is really important to go along with the beer.”
Caledonian Brewery is owned by Heineken and in a progressive and somewhat refreshing fashion, is being allowed to operate in an arms-length relationship as a stand-alone business.
“We don’t shy away from our relationship with Heineken either in a brewing or a financial sense,” says Maddock. “Brewing for me operates as a separate entity within the Heineken structure. We continue to be independent with guidance and help from one of the biggest brewers in the world.”
A renewed focus on exporting that takes full advantage of the Heineken route to market is a huge advantage, as are the development of new beers, different styles and that word confidence again. There is no restriction on thinking, so ideas come in cask-loads.
Andy Maddock says: “We’ve invested heavily in our core range over the last year, so now that we’re confident our premium traditional ales are at their very best, it’s time to get a little bit creative with our beer innovation. We have always brewed by hand in Edinburgh with ‘relentless inventiveness’.”
A state-of-the-art pilot brewery to drive beer innovation has been installed within the brewery. The highly-efficient kit, commissioned from Scotia Welding in Lauder in The Borders, has a 400-litre capacity and the ability to produce up to three brews a week. It’s known as Wee George in a nod towards The Caley’s founding father George Lorimer in 1869.
The smaller brew runs will enable the pilot brewers to test and develop both new and existing recipes without the usual constraints of minimum brew length, and will ultimately lead to the most successful results being scaled up for wider production in the main brewery.
“Things are happening really fast in the beer market,” says brewing assistant Ross O’Hara – originally from Rowlands Gill, Tyne & Wear – who was put in charge of the Wee George project when it was still flat sheets of stainless steel.
“There’s no point in doing anything here if it can’t be scaled up in the main brewhouse. You can’t just multiply 20 of everything. We have to understand where the flavours and aromas are from and how it works. We tend to brew two or three batches in the main brewhouse before it goes out to market. It’s 800 pints versus 20,000 pints. Testing new recipes is part of the innovation process.”
The installation follows a 12-month reappraisal of the Caledonian core range, led by flagship beers Deuchars IPA, Flying Scotsman and Edinburgh Castle, which ensured consistency across the brands and strengthened Caledonian’s position as a brewer of quality beers.
The renovation also delivered on Caledonian’s quality pledge through its raw ingredients (moving from dried hops to fresh pack full-leaf, for example), improved yeast propagation and consistency in brew runs.
“It’s also important to understand that Deuchars IPA is brewed by Caledonian,” says Andy Maddock. “We want to bring everything back into the Caledonian fold. At one time Deuchars was seen as a separate part of the portfolio.
“We’re planning two or three new beers conditioned in wood for 2016 and constantly looking at new beers styles and how they will work in the market.”
Caledonian is also extending its range of bottled beers to include the two newest modern craft beers; American-inspired Pale Ale, Coast To Coast and Three Hop Craft Lager. Coast To Coast was the first beer to be developed in the pilot plant. Launched in 2014, Three Hop is Caledonian’s first craft lager. It carries spicy herbal aromas, a hint of honey, and a slight minty note.
Caledonian Brewery still sits on its original triangular-shaped site, bounded by Slateford Road on one side, a railway track (formerly The Caledonian Line) on the other, and North Merchiston Cemetary on the final stretch. It still employs the finest Victorian brewing equipment – as good as the day it was first used – and is the only remaining British brewery to use open-fired coppers, which ensure an impressive and highly-efficient rolling boil.
Confidence is in the air as much as steaming malt aromas, so it’s little wonder that Andy Maddock says: “If you’ve got the right people and the right ingredients you’ll get the right beer. The Caley is a very exciting place to be right now.”