In a previous post I said that Cloisters Bar was good. In fact I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s probably my favourite current Edinburgh hostelry. It was so good we went back to make sure. It was even better second time because we hit the Swannay brewery tap take over when all nine cask ales OTB were from Swannay brewery, along with two new Swannay brewery keg lines. The tap list looked quite impressive so I persuaded the friendly bar staff to let me go behind the bar again to get a better picture.
Now I’ll be honest and say that I’d never heard of Swannay brewery? I started to talk to some of the people wearing striking Swannay brewery t-shirts. It turns out that Swannay brewery is actually Highland Brewing Co. Now I’ve heard of them and I’ve drank their beers before, mainly in Scotland, to be fair.
Even though the bar was heaving, I managed to have a chat with Lewis Hill one of the brewers from Swannay brewery. The tap takeover was part of the launch for their new name and logo. The story is a bit of a lengthy one, but it’s really worth telling.
Lewis was born in Burnley but moved to Orkney when he was about three. His Dad Rob Hill, who worked at Moorhouses, had secured a job with The Orkney brewery and the family have lived there ever since. Rob branched out on his own in 2006, founding Highland Brewing Co. which from here on will be known as Swannay brewery.
Lewis learned the brewing trade from his Dad and has received no formal training or qualifications. He actually studied Economics at Edinburgh University. When he returned home his full time work in the brewery followed on from there.
I thought it was a pretty long way for this softly spoken lad and his team to come for the launch and tap take over. He told me it was only an hour on the plane and one of them had driven down with a pallet full of beer in the back of the van.
One of the areas they are trying to expand is what Lewis called the new wave of beers and they had Banyan and Oat Stout on the bar, both on keg. Rob Hill’s taste in beer is more traditional, yet Lewis is keen to push the boundaries. He pointed out the difference in the logos. The new wave keg beers had a very different branding, with the Swannay brewery logo at the bottom of the pump clip which is quite modern and the brewery name at the top of the pump clip. Rob’s more traditional standards had the logo at the top and the name at the bottom of the more traditional looking pump clip. I like this idea of a sort of split branding, giving a choice for everyone.
The beers? Swannay brewery do a real variety of ales, and actually I don’t think the traditionally branded ones were old fashioned in any way. I was impressed with the crystal clear fresh beer on offer. Everything I tasted was bang on the mark and the IPA’s would stand up with the best of them. The Duke, a proper IPA was outstanding, I’ve just put 5 stars at the side of it in my note book. Island Hopping seems to be a popular beer in many Edinburgh houses, for me it had the edge here, over previous times I’d drank it. Overall, my favourite was Yardsook a traditional cask ale, brewed with US hops and home grown (Orkney) barley malt. Interestingly Mrs C’s favourite was Banyan, one of their new keg, dare I say it, craft ‘style’ beers, a very tasty, modern and drinkable American style pale ale, with that hint of carbonation that many modern drinkers prefer. If you have a look on the web site there are quite a few craft beers, sorry Lewis’s beers, including a collaboration with Doug Odell.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that their flagship pale ale Scapa Special ranked second in its category of best bitters at GBBF The beer that placed above them in the best bitter category went on to win the CBOB overall (I still haven’t had chance to try it either). Like Lewis said, ‘We’ll take that to mean we can’t have been far off the mark. Maybe if it was judged on a different day…’
I asked him whether we were going to see Swannay brewery ales ‘down South’. I heard this terminology a few times, it really put things into perspective for me, on a lot of issues. I think I live in the North, which is two and a half hours South of Edinburgh, which is still down South for an Orcadian. Whatever your viewpoint, there’s always a different angle to something, no one is ever completely wrong or wholly right. Currently, the main outlets are, obviously Orkney, the major Scottish cities and down into Northumbria. Lewis said that they had sent ale down to North Bar in Leeds before, so I may well have had some in there? He’s really keen to develop their outlets, so if anyone has any requests then get in touch with them at the brewery.
So, if you see Swannay brewery ales in your local, just remember it was what was previously Highland Brewing Co.! Anyway, I thank the Swannay brewery team and everyone at Cloisters Bar for the privilege of being at the launch of the breweries new name and for a cracking night out.