In a new series, we take a closer look at new and established independent breweries currently making waves in the Scottish beer-making scene.
Ah, Skye. Home to some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland, the poet Sorley Maclean and... craft ale?
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Not just any craft ale, either. New and improved - and relaunched just this week - craft ale.
Skye Brewery is the brainchild of two teachers from Portree High School, and has been producing independent island brews since 1995. Funded in part by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, one of the founders - Angus MacRuary - was left to go it alone after year one and the business achieved only moderate sales success despite its unique output. Last year, businessman Kenny Webster's interest was piqued by the brewery, and thought it was the ideal opportunity to invest in the company as well as, more specifically, rebranding it.
Good old Kenny, eh? So a complete rehaul for Skye?
Not exactly. Having run businesses since his teenage years, Webster knows a thing or two about what should be changed and what should be left. Recognising that the taste of the output was spot-on, he worked on modernising the labelling and packaging to bring it in-line with how the other cool cats in the indie brewery scene are looking.
Cool cats and dogs though surely? Especially of the Brew variety...
BrewDog's packaging is certainly eye-catching. But what Skye Brewery is seeking to do is carve out its own identity, and has done so under Webster's watchful eye. The results are bold colourways, clean typefaces and some rather lovely silhouettes of Skye's... er... skyline. Also in line for a tweak were the names - Red Cuillin changed to Skye Red, Black Cuillin became Skye Black, Hebridean Gold is now Skye Gold and they're joined by newbie Skye Blaven.
So is it just Kenny living the island dream on his lonesome?
Oh no. Amongst others, there's also Pam. A professional chef who worked in numerous restaurants around the Bolton area, she relocated to Skye to run the catering at the island's Gaelic college Sabhal Mor Ostaig. A deft sideways jump from food to booze saw Pam join the brewery in 1996 as an operative-cum-driver, and then train under a consultant to learn the way of the beer. A week later, she was brewing commercially.
A woman brewer! That's something new round these parts. Can we make a portmanteau of it... woman brewer... wooer? Pam the wooer?
No. But women brewers do seem to be few and far between. Today Pam works with the company's second female brewer, Mags, as well as a third brewer, Norrie. Not only is Pam the head brewer at Skye, but she's also Scotland's original female brewer having worked in the trade for almost 20 years. Of the rebrand, Pam says: "It's the fresh injection that the brewery and the Skye brand needed. We've retained our original product - kept its taste and quality - but made it far more attractive to modern drinkers, which I'm really happy with. I'm fiercely proud of what we've achieved here so far, but I'm excited about what's coming next - a great deal of exciting opportunities lie ahead."
And proud she should be. How many awards has Skye Brewery won in total?
Over 60 from beer festivals worldwide, as well as from CAMRA - short for Campaign For Real Ale. The modernised ales will be rolled out at an increasing number of grocers throughout England and Scotland over the coming year, so that with a bit of luck, it's not just those lucky islanders who get to sample the magic that's brewing up there...
Skye Brewery, The Pier, Uig, Isle of Skye, Scotland, IV51 9XP @IsleofSkyeBrew