By Scott Wright

INNIS & Gunn has defied the gloom enveloping the Scottish hospitality sector by signalling its commitment to expanding its Brewery Taproom concept, as chief executive Dougal Sharp outlined his “unshakeable” belief in the future of pubs in the UK.

The Edinburgh-based beer company has today unveiled details of its latest Taproom, which opens in Leith this week. It anticipates an initial 12 jobs will be created at the outlet, based at The Shore, with the prospect of further roles being added if social distancing measures are eventually eased and its capacity is increased.

The new venture builds on existing Innis & Gunn Brewery Taprooms in Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh city centre, and Mr Sharp said the company was “definitely” aiming to grow its retail estate further as part of its expansion ambitions. While thousands of redundancies have been made across the hospitality industry amid the fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic, Innis & Gunn said there have been no job losses at the business. Three-quarters of its 150 staff who were furloughed have now returned to work.

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Mr Sharp said the firm has the confidence to expand during such difficult times because of its faith in pubs and how strongly the business had performed during lockdown. Sales soared in the off-trade and online, following the introduction of “quick and cold” beer delivery service that has proven especially popular during spells of hot weather.

Mr Sharp said: “Fundamentally I believe in pubs – they are such a key cornerstone of our way of life in the UK and Scotland. At some stage, this is going to be over. The pandemic will have a cure, we will have a vaccine and pubs will return to some sort of normality.”

Although Mr Sharp concedes operating in the on-trade will be “different in the future” he said: “It is not going to change people’s love of the pub. In our pub industry, we have got something that is unique in the world. People come from all over the world to visit our pubs, to be part of the ambience. The vibe of a British pub is unique in the world… and I think we should be very proud of it. It is why, rather than pulling back and looking at ways to reduce, we are on the expansion trail, big time.”

Innis & Gunn reported that sales of its brands, led by its flagship lager, had rocketed in the off-trade amid the pandemic, with figures showing growth of £776,000 or 53 per cent in value terms from April to June, versus the same period last year. And sales through its online shop increased by more than £355,000 between January and the end of July, representing growth of 1,100% on the same period last year.

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Mr Sharp said: “Sales in our online shop went through the roof when lockdown came in, so we decided to try and get a better service on the go. We came up with this quick and cold delivery service, which is you order it and get it the next day ice-cold before 5pm, and people absolutely love it. We will keep doing it.

Mr Sharp said the firm has benefited from a mood among consumers to “pick something special, pick a beer that was better” during lockdown. It moved to capitalise on the re-opening of pubs in July with its first TV campaign, titled “Remember Pints?”, which it supported by delivering free kegs to outlets in time for trade resuming.

The new outlet in Leith will have a “soft” opening throughout this week, with Mr Sharp revealing the venue has been readied for trade just five weeks after he was alerted to its availability. It has been leased on a “turnover-based rental deal”, which he feels will be the template for future openings. Asked where he would like to open further Taprooms, he highlighted Glasgow, Edinburgh and, ultimately, south of the Border. He said: “We are certainly out in the marketplace looking for outlets.”

Meanwhile, Mr Sharp said a decision was “close” on its planning application to build a brewery at Heriot-Watt University’s Research Park to the west of Edinburgh.