James Robertson: The importance of indy beer makers

James Robertson tries out the latest indy beers at the Biscuit Factory Beverage Festival and shares his favourites. 


At the weekend I visited the Biscuit Factory, Edinburgh. I had been there a few months back to have a very interesting meeting with Pete at Woven Whisky so it was a place I knew. It also houses the excellent Edinburgh tailor Kestin Hare. I was there on Saturday to sample beer from numerous breweries that had stands at the Biscuit Factory Beverage Festival.

I have attended many of these festivals both as an exhibitor and as a visitor. After the slightly chaotic start where rather than scan a ticket we had to provide our names and then this was checked against a master list. I am glad I did not bother to download the required app for the ticket after all – I have too many idle apps on my phone as it is. Once into the event there was a lovely vibe on both the ground floor and two floors up where stands basked in the spring sunlight. Those on the ground floor would be blinking like a mole if they ventured outside as it was eerily dark.

There were plenty of stands to choose from and although your ticket price came with tqo tokens and a half pint cup, you could purchase samples of varying sizes from the stands. I felt sorry for those exhibiting, the afternoon session was a sensible 1pm to 5pm time frame however at 6pm the doors opened again until 11pm; it was going to be a long night.

What struck me was the abundance of independent drinks companies at the festival. These companies are vitally important not just because they provide employment across the country but they offer us, the consumer, something different. They produce products that come from passion, pride and a sense of doing something different and not mainstream.

SIBA UK formed in 1980 and now called the Society of Independent Brewers numbers the breweries in operation at the present time at 1,815, with 142 in Scotland. This is lower than this time last year with 13 having closed in the UK over the past 12 months. The effect here is not only a reduction in choice for the consumer but SIBA concluded that it’s a loss of a valued local business. According to their research eight out of ten consumers said that a properly run independent brewery had a positive effect on the local community.

Back to the festival and the breweries that stood out to me were Two by Two, Campervan, Pilot, Tempest & Orbit, with these beers the ones to look out for – 

Nico, Köln Lager, Orbit Brewery, 4.8%

This is a cracking Lager, with delicious citrus notes, granny smith apples with a hint of hops which comes from the use of the distinctive Kölsch yeast. Fresh and full of flavour it has a lovely balance and is very easy to drink possibly too easy but is that a bad thing! Trying to work out why it’s called Nico? Easy, this is named after Christa Päffgen who used the name of Nico when singing with the Velvet Underground. She also happens to come from Cologne, the city of Kölsch. The Lager is also gluten free. Available from www.orbitbeers.com £31.50 per 12 bottles.

Tzatziki Sour, 4.3%

Paul the head brewer one summer visited both Brussels and Symi in Greece. Upon his return to the brewery the memories of Belgian sours and delicious Greek Mezze’s led to this beer. I will own up to the fact that I am not normally someone who would dive into a beer like this. But urged on by youngest daughter I gave it a go. There is a subtle fresh mint note, cucumber, lime peel and a touch of malt. It is light, with a touch of bitterness and amazingly thirst quenching, ideal for summer and no doubt Greek Mezze’s! Available from www.orbitbeers.com £36 per 12 bottles

Am I Amarillo? 5.2%

Fabulously fruity with a hoppy, creamy texture with a touch of grapefruit citrus notes. Some bitterness with a touch of orange tropical notes with apricot and a hoppy finish. Available from www.tempestbrewco.com £4.25 per can

My Mate Motueka 5.8%

The team at Tempest have used Motueka from New Zealand in their brews for some time now. It provides a full on hoppy citrus note which can be seen in all its glory in this beer. Wonderful lime and tropical notes with a subtle maltiness and rounded body. www.tempestbrewco.com £4.50 per can