In a new series, we take a closer look at new and established independent breweries currently making waves in the Scottish beer-making scene.
Is the clue in the title with regards to where Lerwick Brewery is located?
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You got it. Originating in 2011, the brewery sits exactly on the latitude line of 60o north at the easterly side of Shetland. To celebrate its geographical location, Lerwick Brewery released a brew called exactly that - the 60o North is a golden, Pilsner-style lager beer.
I guess 55.86072° N, -4.22908° W is a bit too 'Angelina Jolie tattoo'.
Precisely. Not to mention that those are the co-ordinates of Tennent's Dennistoun premises. But I'll pass the suggestion on.
So who started these conceptually-named lagers?
The brewery was conceived by the Mercer brothers, John, Graham and Jimmy. Having worked together for the past 20 years in their family business, Rearo, providing gas services to the Shetland isles, they sought a new challenge and as a native family understood the unique benefits of what the island could offer.
And what could it offer?
Plenty of pure, fresh water for a start. Shetland has a unique climate which is much more consistent than the mainland, with cooler summers and mild winters that provide a good ambient temperature for brewing.
Warmer winters, perfect brewing weather... this is heaven you're talking about, surely?
It is a beautiful part of the country.
What happened next?
A UK-manufactured 12 barrel and a 500 items-per-hour bottling and labelling plant was built, allowing the team to brew 2000 litres (6000 bottles) at a time. Then, this year, the company signed a strategic deal with Cairngorm Brewery to increase bottling.
Hmm... but it's still independent. even with the deal?
Absolutely. Cairngorm Brewery simply acts as a sub-contractor on the bottling side of things. Lerwick Brewery is still solely owned by the Mercers. The company sends consignments of several 1000 litre iso-bulk containers of 60° North and Skipper's Ticket to Cairngorm Brewery, who bottle it into 330ml bottles, complete with product labels. The Cairngorm plant operates at high volume, with capacity for 2,500 bottles per hour bottling rate (compared to Lerwick Brewery's 350 per hour) and approximately 20,000 bottles a day (compared to Lerwick Brewery's in-house 2,000 bottles per day).
So an output of almost a beer a day for the 22,000 inhabitants of the island - I take it the people of Shetland are steaming most of the time?
Very funny. Demand has seen much of the Lerwick Brewery's beer shipped back to the mainland for a variety of differing purposes. Along with 60o North and the vegan-friendly Skipper's Ticket, the company also produces both a lager and a beer named Buddie as part of a deal with St. Mirren FC. These brews take on the branding of the club with the home and away stripes featuring on their labels.
Best kit in the SPL in my humble opinion - love a beetlejuice stripe, me.
And for the year ahead?
Big things - Lerwick Brewery has just been announced as a finalist for a prestigious Scotland Food & Drink Excellence award in the best alcoholic drink category for the 60o North. The team are currently experimenting with a heavier-hopped pale ale, similar to an IPA, with some new world 'c' hops.They're also testing out a lighter, more floral lager - but whether these beers are finally brought to the general market will be decided by the Brewery's local 'test market' results.
Thinking local, drinking local - this could be quite the success story...
Lerwick Brewery, Staneyhill, North Road, Lerwick, Shetland, ZE1 0QA. 01595 694552, @LerwickBrewery