Published on May 21st, 2013 | by Nottingham Drinker0
This year will see Harviestoun Brewery celebrating its 30th anniversary, so John Westlake travelled north of the border to find out how they are getting on.
It all began in October 1983 when Ken Brooker, a man who had spent over 20 years with the Ford Motor Company building wooden prototypes for new cars, invited some friends round to sample a new beer brewed in his garden shed. Feedback was positive and as Ken continued to produce beers in his shed and word got about, pretty soon he found he was hosting gatherings of up to 40 eager samplers, who he persuaded to complete tasting notes in return for the hospitality. Turning this experience into a business opportunity seemed the obvious choice and a year or so later, agreement had been reached to convert a 200 year-old stone barn on the Harviestoun Estate near Dollar in Clackmannanshire into a microbrewery. Money was tight and the original brewing kit was built from scratch using a mash tun once employed for jam making and a boiler salvaged from the wool dyeing trade, but when the first barrels of ‘Harviestoun Real Ale’ eventually rolled out, the beer was met with considerable acclaim.
Over the coming years it was difficult to keep up with demand and by 1989 it became apparent that a professionally designed brew-plant was the only answer if the business was to progress and develop new brands. One of these, named after a local mountain, Schiehallion, was launched in 1994, but no one could have foreseen the success this beer would achieve in winning multiple awards and the impact that would have on the brewery. To help cope with all this, in the following year Stuart Cail joined the team as Head Brewer, having previously plied his trade for many years with the Vaux Brewery in Sunderland. Stuart settled in quickly and in 1997 launched Bitter & Twisted, a pale and fragrantly hoppy brew that was groundbreaking at the time and still remains the Company’s flagship beer, having gone on to win Supreme Champion Beer of Britain in 2003.
In 2000 the core range was expanded with the addition of Old Engine Oil. Originally brewed for the Tesco Beer Challenge, which it won, it is a complex, jet black porter with a certain viscosity, which reminded Ken of his days working for Ford, hence the name, but all this success was once again putting pressure on the Brewery’s capacity. Three years later new premises had been found on an industrial estate in Alva, right at the foot of the scenic Ochil Hills, and much of the new, stainless steel, 60 barrel equipment was sourced from a pilot plant previously used by the St Austell Brewery in Cornwall.
2006 was a fairly momentous year for the Company, when Ken finally decided to hang up his malt shovel and sold the business to the Edinburgh based Caledonian Brewery, which itself was soon to be acquired by international brewing giant, Heineken. However, Harviestoun did not fit in with Heineken’s long-term strategy and two years later a management buy-out led by Caledonian shareholders saw the business returned to independent ownership once again. Meanwhile, innovation and product development continued apace and in 2007 they formed a joint venture with the Orkney based Highland Park Distillery, allowing them to age a higher gravity version of Old Engine Oil in casks that previously held Highland Park’s award-winning 12, 16 and 18 year old single malt whiskies. Slowly maturing in wood for almost six months ensures a quiet transformation as mysterious and complementary whisky notes mingle with the intricate, slightly smoky, roast malt, dried fruit, dark chocolate and resiny hop flavours inherent in the beer to produce three subtly different brews of great character. Sold under the Ola Dubh banner, Gaelic for Black Oil, and stylishly bottled in limited editions, these beers have proved to be extremely popular, especially in the American export market.
More recently some Harviestoun beers have been kegged, which won’t please many real ale purists but does allow the Brewery to sell craft beer to otherwise unsuitable outlets such as restaurants or even remote Scottish pubs, which might have the turnover to support cask ale during the summer months but would certainly struggle in winter. And in 2012 Zymatore was launched in New York, a limited edition batch of Bitter & Twisted matured in gin and Pinot Noir barrels, which beer writer and author Pete Brown declared as having “a flavour that is off the scale compared to anything I’ve ever tasted before!” Whilst continuing to major on their principal real ales, it is clear this is one brewery team determined to push boundaries and not to let the grass grow under their feet.
Harviestoun core beers:
Bitter & Twisted (4.2% ABV) – Brewed with a blend of lager, crystal and wheat malts, together with a dash of Pinhead oats in the mash and seasoned with Perle, Hallertau Hersbrucker and Challenger hops, followed by a late edition of Styrian Goldings (Bobek and Celeia), this is a golden, easy-drinking beer with a floral aroma, hints of citrus fruit and tart hops on the tongue and a long, lemony finish.
Schiehallion (4.8% ABV) – Pronounced ‘She-hal-yun’, this is a Scottish lager crafted from lager and wheat malts, together with the same hops as Bitter & Twisted minus the Perle. Pale gold in the glass with good lacework, it bursts with floral, grapefruit flavours around a strong backbone of biscuity malt and culminates in a crisp, dry finish.
Old Engine Oil (6.0% ABV) – Dark, viscous and smooth, with roasted malt and coffee notes on the nose, this is a richly satisfying beer created from lager malt, Pinhead oats and loads of roasted barley, then spiced with Fuggles, East Kent Goldings and Galena hops. Powerful hints of black cherries, burnt toast and dark chocolate soon develop on the palate, finally leading to a long, warming, caramel influenced, bittersweet finish.
Other portfolio beers:
Wild Hop IPA (5.2% ABV) – Influenced by the aggressive, American craft IPAs, this is a burnished gold brew with a grassy, floral aroma and a good balance of fruity sweetness and tart, resiny hops on the tongue.
Wild Hop Gold (4.4% ABV) – The IPA’s little brother with a slightly honeyed, mellower hop character and developing tropical fruit notes.
Natural Blonde (4.0% ABV) – A golden, bottle-conditioned ale specially brewed for St Valentine’s Day, with grapefruit on the nose and a fine balance of juicy malt and tangy hops.
Ola Dubh 12; 16; 18 (8.0% ABV) – Specially matured, whisky cask ales (see main text).