Brewing in Limekilns dates back to the early 1800s. The Brucehaven Brewery, built by the Earl of Elgin, opened around 1810 and, as far as can be determined, closed around 1867, leaving behind tales of the maltster cheating the tax man, the tragic death of a child under a brewery cart, court cases and repossessions, bankruptcy and the theft of copper from the defunct brewery’s kettles.
The scandals live on in old newspaper archives but the beers themselves, apparently famous at the time as Elgin Ales, have been lost.
Fast forward 150 years and you find local home brewer, Steven Hope, nicely alight after an evening in The Ship Inn in Limekilns, chatting to the landlord, Ian Cruickshank, about beers and brewing. A few days later some bottles are delivered and the following week a similar conversation ends with, “if you brew it, I’ll sell it”.
This was the beginning of the transformation of the home brewing set up in the little lean-to at the back of the house (the brew shed really is a brew shed) into the first registered brewery in Limekilns since the closure of the Brucehaven Brewery. Out went the Christmas decorations and all the other ‘stuff’ in storage and in came bigger pots, new walls, more shelves and fermenting tanks. All to produce what by brewery standards is a tiny amount of beer - enough to fill one cask and some left over for bottling.
It took nearly three months to upgrade the brewing kit and get everything in place for official approval. Deliveries to the pub started in April. “It’s been great. Everyone has been hugely supportive about the village having its own brewery and the Ship now has a range of beers that can’t be found anywhere else. Pubs need something distinctive these days to compete.”
The beers are a combination of historic Scottish beers like a very pale hoppy ale, dating from 1851 and a more traditional Scottish ale. American-style IPAs have been at the heart of the craft brewing revival and there are some good examples of that style. But whereas the trend in craft beer is for strong beers, highly hopped, sometimes sour and oddly flavoured, the Brew Shed emphasis is on a whole evening of sociable drinking in the pub: moderate strength, flavoursome, session ales. As one of the locals said “I want a beer that I can have four or five pints and still walk home.”
The names. Naming a beer is the hardest part of brewing. Over the years I’ve been through most of the streets - I live in Sandilands, near Brucehaven and have a friend in Ramsay Lane. Some are geographical features - Capernaum Pier, Sentinel, Gellet Rock and The Cocket Hat. I want to reinforce the idea that this is local beer, brewed for the local pub.
Brew Shed Beers is Steven Hope. When not brewing he is the managing director of research company Ipsos MORI in Scotland.
The beers can only be found on tap and in bottles at the Ship Inn in Limekilns and in The Corner Shop in Crossgates.