Bellfield Brewery took a ‘deep dive’ into gluten-free beers, but is now moving them from a niche into the mainstream, writes Peter Ranscombe.
WHILE the rest of the nation sat transfixed by BBC One submarine drama Vigil last autumn, Bellfield Brewery in Edinburgh was preparing to take delivery of its very own stainless-steel tubes.
“They look just like the torpedo tubes on Vigil,” laughs head brewer Keith Roberton as he shows me four of the latest tanks to be installed at the brewery.
Viewers may have been gripped as Suranne Jones’s character was being locked inside a torpedo tube aboard the nuclear submarine, but Bellfield’s crew had its own real-life excitement going on.
The four tanks were part of the brewery’s expansion, which has allowed it to double production.
That means Bellfield can now brew all the beer it needs for its casks and kegs on-site alongside its cans, rather than contracting production out to any other breweries.
Not unlike a nuclear submarine, the tight confines of Bellfield’s site means four of the tanks had to be installed horizontally instead of vertically – and they do indeed look for all the world like torpedo tubes, especially when Robertson unwinds the wheel on the hatch at one end, so I can see inside.
Back outside the bowels of the brewery, there’s a very special mural on the wall next to the entrance to the tap room.
It’s a map that pinpoints the eight breweries – besides Bellfield – that used to occupy the areas around Abbeyhill, Holyrood, and Meadowbank, alongside two maltings and a cooperage.
What sets Bellfield apart from those beer makers of the past is that it specialises in gluten-free beers.
Two of the three directors who founded the business in 2015 have coeliac disease, and so must avoid the gluten found in grains such as barley, oats, rye, and wheat.
From niche to mainstream
Having last visited Bellfield back in 2019 for the launch of its tap room, it was a treat to pop back on Thursday to see how it’s taking gluten-free beers from a niche into the mainstream.
That’s because it’s not only the brewery that’s expanded – its range of beers has too.
Additions include its Marzen Festival Lager (5.7% alcohol by volume), which was named “best lager” at the 2021 Scottish Beer Awards – and it’s easy to see why.
Its nose is very rich for a lager, with red apple and toffee notes, as you’d expect from the Bavarian style.
Those toffee flavours are very gentle on the palate and are balanced by bitter lemon from the tangy hops.
Rational Creatures (4.3% ABV), an India pale ale (IPA), delivers tropical peach and pineapple aromas.
On the palate, it’s much fresher and hop-led, with high-acid green apple flavours and more bitter lemon.
In contrast, the Totally Wired Stout (7%) focuses on coffee flavours.
It’s made using cold coffee from nearby drinks firm Obadiah, under the railway arches at Abbeyhill.
There’s a real depth to the heavy and meaty coffee and dark chocolate flavours, yet it’s the freshness that’s most impressive – something that’s often missing from craft stout.
Read more of Peter’s beer, wine, and spirits reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain