Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Visiting Williams Bros. Brewing

One of the places I have most looked forward to on this trip is the William Bros. Brewery in Alloa. I really enjoy their heather ale, and I like the idea that they are recreating historical Scottish beers that are tied to their geographic location. Yesterday I was able to make the trek to Alloa and I met with Scott (one of the two owners) as well as Des who is contracted with them. We went over details of the Market Gallery Pub because Williams Bros will be contributing beer, and they are reproducing one of the beers on their system for a 600 bottle run. We also discussed a Meet the Brewery night, as part of the Pub School. The date is yet to be confirmed but will happen in late April. Look for more information within a week's timing.

So the brewery I thought was quite nice. Scott seemed to think that the facilities were old, industrial, and dull but I think that gives it magic. The brewery uses a lot of vintage equipment from breweries in the UK that shut down so that gives their system a nice eclectic feeling. Sure, it wasn't the cleanest and the most well-organized brewery I've ever seen but it added a lot of character and gave the brewery a much more DIY feel than I was expecting (and I am a fan of DIY). These guys also run the bottling for a few other breweries including Inveralmond, Fyne Ales, and I think I may have seen Bridge of Allan in there as well.

I was also surprised at how far away the brewery is from any large town. Apparently there used to be about seven breweries in Alloa because the water is good, but I imagine their distant location put them out of business. I have found that the vast majority of Scotland breweries are in these small towns, or even out in the country, and not in the town centers. A lot of the breweries are very, very small too. While browsing the brewery websites it seemed like many had systems that were maybe 2 or 3 barrels. I've been telling the people I meet with here that in Portland if there were these old buildings sitting around in the city, as there are in Glasgow, people would snatch those up immediately and convert them into a brewery. Locally made beer does a lot for a city's economy and social landscape, especially in a brewpub format. Anyway, I'm not here to tell anyone what to do, it's just an observation that I've made.

Okay, back to Williams Bros. They make a lot more beer than I realized, and I think a good portion of it doesn't actually hit the Pacific West Coast. I've only seen the Fraoch Heather and the Kelpie Seaweed, but there are three other historic ales and then a whole line of other beers. I tried a Golden Ale in a pub the other night, but Scott and Des let me sample the Summer Sun beer, which is a really good session beer. They release it in the US with the name Session on the bottle. It's a nice contrast to the IPA's and hoppy pale ales we see all summer, which in my opinion are too heavy for the summer. They also gave me a Lemon Ginger Beer, which tasted like a good lemon ginger tea. If I end up with a cold or a stuffy nose, I think I'll drink this.

The guys sent me home with a whole load of beers to try out, so I have a bit of work to do the next couple days. After drinking more of Williams Bros. beer I am increasingly surprised that it is not more readily available where I'm from. I think many people would enjoy these beers, especially fans of Full Sail's LTD and Session series beers. Check out their bottle storage space! It's huge, you could fit an airplane in this thing...plenty of room for expansion. Big thanks to Gordon, one of the brewers, for the tour.


  1. I think a lot of the micros who are based in boring 1980s industrial units would rather like to swap for an old red-brick building with a bit of character, but I guess the grass is always greener.

  2. BTW, it was the consolidation of the brewing industry in the 20th century that did for the Alloa breweries, not their location. Many if not most breweries ended up as part of larger groups, and when heavy industry and with it, the demand for beer, went into decline the big groups found themselves with overcapacity, which they rationalised away by closing some of their breweries. This didn't happen just in Alloa; there's a reason most of the Scottish breweries are small and recently established. It's because only a few of the older ones have survived.

  3. Ah, nice, thanks for the info. Looking forward to getting drinks tomorrow.