Name: Steven Smith-Hay.

Age: 31.

What is your business called?

Vault City Brewing.

Where is it based?

Portobello in Edinburgh.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

We make heavily fruited, modern sour beers in our brewery. The range includes Strawberry Fields Session Sour and Rhubarb and Custard. We also have a bottle shop and taproom near Haymarket station – The Wee Vault.

To whom does it sell?

We have a web store and our beer can be found in lots of specialist craft beer bottle shops, bars and in Tesco.

What is its turnover?

Around £2.5 million.

How many employees?

We have 15 full-time employees and are hiring new team members to help support growth

When was it formed?

In 2018, out of a love of home brewing. It started as an artisan passion project with small batch releases brewed from my home, which at the time must have been the smallest licensed brewery in the country.

HeraldScotland: Steven Smith-Hay in Vault City's brewery in EdinburghSteven Smith-Hay in Vault City's brewery in Edinburgh

Why did you take the plunge?

I had a corporate career before launching Vault City. I’d worked in IT for companies like BT and through my part-time hobby of home brewing it started to become clear that there was something I’d rather be doing with my time. I saved up money and began brewing Vault City beers as a commercial brewery a few months before officially launching.

I used every available bit of space in my house to try new homebrew recipes which would eventually become the basis of the beers we make at Vault City.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

I self-funded Vault City and today it’s still completely independently owned. While external funding could’ve helped us scale faster, we found a pace that grew naturally with demand and it meant we never had to compromise on anything we did, from recipes and ingredients to release schedules.

What was your biggest break?

Being picked up by UK craft beer festivals in 2019. These events helped us become a credible and widely recognised craft brewery among a crowded market. To help make an impact at some of these events, we would brew ridiculous releases like our 999g/l fruited sour beers which used the legal maximum amount of fruit per litre while still being able to be classed as a beer. This ethos of being an adventurous brewery, known for uncompromising, off the wall beers became a badge of honour for us.

What was your worst moment?

After I had left my job to go full-time with Vault City and we had a busy year planned for 2020, with no idea what lay ahead. We didn’t sell a keg of beer for six months and had to pivot our business to selling individual bottles direct to consumers. We threw a web shop together overnight to help Vault City survive. It’s hard not to see this as a low point because I was working 80-hour weeks, nervous to expand the team for fear that further restrictions could make the position redundant. However, this change sparked massive growth for us and shaped the way we do things today.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I’m still a homebrewer at heart so I love creating new recipes and working with a team of like-minded individuals. After all, how could you be miserable making big, fruity alcoholic smoothies day in day out?

What is your biggest bugbear?

The start/stop nature of growing a business during a pandemic. Business plans made with mentors and accountants in the morning have sometimes been scrapped by the afternoon. It’s difficult to predict what will happen next so we’ve had to be incredibly adaptable as a business and as individuals.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

We see sour beer as a much more approachable category than people think, and we hear time and time again from people who ‘don’t like beer’, telling us that they love Vault City. Our ambition is to reach more of these people, to drive forward the sour beer movement. We want to do this through creating more Vault City bars, and through export – which is also a great excuse to travel the world!

HeraldScotland: Steven Smith-Hay with Vault City Brewing operations director Andy WilkieSteven Smith-Hay with Vault City Brewing operations director Andy Wilkie

What are your five top priorities?

To continue prioritising staff wellbeing through initiatives like our 4-day working week.

We also want to use this year to help steady the ship. Explosive growth during a pandemic, and as a new parent can present its own challenges so we want to set processes in place to create more of a framework for us as we continue to grow.

Another priority is to bolster our entry level offering. We’ll continue to make over the top belters but we see the need for lower ABV, more sessionable sours for the craft-curious audience.

Exporting is a big priority for the business and we have already had some initial success in places like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Norway.

Last but not least, we want to stay inquisitive. We’ve made a name for ourselves as an ambitious brewery so that’s not something we want to lose. We’ve recently been granted licenses to produce alcohol that isn’t beer.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

At the moment, it’s easier for us to send beer to Taiwan than it is to France. A better process for EU export would make a massive difference for businesses like ours.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Don’t get complacent, trust your gut, and embrace difficult conversations. Things change quickly in the craft beer world, and we don’t often have the luxury of time when it comes to making decisions. You need to be agile, not rest on your laurels, and make decisions on the fly. Whether it’s right or wrong, be willing to take accountability.

How do you relax?

Before I became a dad, I would relax with motorbike rides around Scotland and trips away with my wife. Nowadays we just like to sleep when we can!

I’m an avid gamer, and throughout lockdown I enjoyed lots of online games with pals. As a huge fan of American BBQs I also love smoking meats in the summer months with a few cold ones.