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Indie brewery profile: St Andrews Brewing Company

Creating beer from a teeny plant in East Fife, St Andrews Brewing Company is just about as independent as it's possible to be without holding a referendum. But is it any good? Indie Breweries finds out...

St Andrews - home of golf, eye-wateringly expensive property and now brewing?

Well, not exactly. St Andrews Brewing Company, owned by ex-travel writer Bob Phaff, is for the moment based in Glenrothes.

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Not quite as salubrious a reputation, but as your scribe at Indie Breweries is herself from that very town, we're keen to hear more. It helps that Bob Phaff is just about the coolest name we've heard all year.  

We'll pass on the compliment. After living in Idaho for many years writing travel books about brewing, Phaff returned to the UK when wife Jen secured a job lecturing at St Andrews University. On his first night in St Andrews he asked at a pub for a pint of their local beer. There wasn't one, so he decided to make his own. St Andrews Brewing Company's name was registered that same night.

I like the cut of Phaff's jib. A true warrior in the battle to free our brews from the shackles of behemoth beer bods. What happened next?

Saving, and lots of it. SABC (we'll go with an acronym for now) is funded entirely by Phaff and was made possible thanks to a modest grant from Business Gateway and his own capital generated from managing a tea shop. It took two years but in January 2012, the brewery set up business in Glenrothes' Food Resource base - a site specifically built for established and up-and-coming food and drink ventures. SABC releases 700 bottlings per brew, with five brews a week. And at present, aside from a pal who helps out part-time, all brewing is carried out by Phaff himself.

No time for phaffing about then?

He isn't one to do things by halves. Having always home-brewed and been involved in the beer and wine trade as well as writing about alcohol, a brewery seems like a natural progression for this beer buff. On why brewing is so important to him, Phaff says simply: "for a drink that only contains four ingredients, no two beers ever taste the same."

 But things are about to change - a return to the motherland is on the cards...

As of next week, St Andrews Beer Company will move to its eponymous town, within a new brewery three times the size of the original. It will also be taking on more staff: three newbie brewers will start in equally weighted positions, meaning that each will have a turn at cleaning the casks, bottling and everything else that brewing entails as part of their training. They'll also be given the opportunity to study the Brewing and Distilling MSc at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt university, if that floats their boat.

So what happens to the brewery's by-product?

You'll like this. The brewery's used barley is given to - wait for it - the St Andrews Cheese Farm.

A farm made of cheese?!

Brie tractors and a farm collie dog made entirely from cheddar. Only kidding - the brewery's barley helps produce the fantastic cheese hand-made on site. Additionally, SABC's used hops go to a nearby farm shop to be used as mulch, and the leftover yeast is sent to Barnett's Bakery, in Cellardyke, to be made into a very special beer sourdough.

Phwoar. And I hear the beers themselves aren't half bad, either.

Some of the awards the beers have won are, *takes deep breath*, Champion Bottle Beer of Scotland 2014 for its India pale ale; Champion Beer of Fife 2013 for Crail ale, third place at Champion Beer of Fife for Rye.P.A (see what they did there?); and the Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt Regional winner, which saw the brewery's Crail ale go on to be stocked at 30 odd shops throughout Scotland. There are eight core beers and four guests, a total which will be upped upon the big move to St Andrews.

And the labels - 60s garage/psychedelia album cover meets kaleidoscopic pastoral scene?

Something like that. The labels were created by Fife-based ceramicist Susan McGill who counts tradition, bairns and dugs among her influences. Each of the bottles has the same design with a colour variation depending on the flavour. Eighty Bob, in red, is a big malty ale with caramel flavours, while Fife Gold, in yellow, has notes of lemon, lime and grapefruit thanks to a blend of North-West American hops.

Any other projects in the pipeline?

Well, there's the small matter of the Tap House - a joint venture in the form of a 16 tap pub serving a selection of the very best beers in the land. Naturally, SABC commands four of the taps, and there's a German-style beer hall and tasting room available to hire. The Tap House also offers food in the form of Spanish tapas, some of which have beer as a component ingredient. Which, in our opinion, is exactly how it should be.

St Andrews Brewing Company, currently Unit 4, Food Resource Base, Faraday Road, Glenrothes, Fife, KY6 2RU. The Tap House is located at 177 South Street, St Andrews, KY16 9EE.@standysbrewing

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