Ahead of its third annual beer festival, leading Scottish craft brewer co-founder Jo Stewart sat down with Holly Motion to talk about Edinburgh’s changing drinking scene and beer’s place within it
'Edinburgh has always had an incredible pub and bar scene,' Jo Stewart says. 'And while it does traditional pubs really well, there has definitely been a spike in recent years to more craft beer focused outlets.'
The reason for the spike is, in no small part, due to the rising profile of craft beer and a growing desire of drinkers to seek these bars out, Stewart says. 'If you look at the number of new breweries that have opened in recent years, as well as the recent surge of distilleries creating gin, it says a lot about the overall interest in local and quality products, which in turn reflect in the number of on-trade as well as off-trade venues offering these products.'
'Beer is fun, so doing a collaboration brew is about mashing in with new friends and old' Jo Stewart
Moving with the times
The co-founder says the industry has changed significantly in the years since Stewart Brewing was founded in 2004. 'Now high quality restaurants want great local beers to serve with their menus and cocktail bars want locally distilled spirts to serve,’ Stewart says bullishly. ‘Craft beer is so in demand now that it can be found everywhere, from local cinemas – the Dominion and The Filmhouse both serve Stewart’s – to fine dining, to your regular pub.'
On 13 May, the Edinburgh Beer Festival will return in its third iteration. Forty craft beers will be participating and a number of keenly-anticipated products will be launched on the day. In terms of getting people involved, Stewart says it’s important to get like-minded brewers. 'Beer is fun, so doing a collaboration brew is about mashing in with new friends and old.'
The decision to launch the festival was a no-brainer for Stewart. 'We have always held events at our brewery, as bringing people in to see what we do is really important to us. Four years ago, we moved to our new larger premises and we knew we would do a beer festival at some point because we had always wanted to, and a year later we did. It has grown every year and this year we will have circa 650 people along.'
Learning as you go
As the festival has grown, it has adapted and developed along the way. 'The first year we had 300 people in attendance and we did a theme of a beer and food festival. Two years ago, it was solely beer and the event was absolutely packed! Learnings from last year include an improved bar layout and ordering service to get better and quicker service – people don’t want to queue too long for a beer. We are always learning and we take a lot from other festivals the team visit too.'
Festivals are a great way to introduce consumers into the craft beer scene
With so many beer festivals around to entice the beer lovers and soon-to-be converts it’s important to have a USP. Stewart says the Edinburgh philosophy is a simple one. 'We try to put on the best and most interesting beer line-up we can as that is always our top priority.'
'We have some 40-plus awesome beers on offer this year, ranging from a Blood Orange Saison to a Barrel Aged Heavy and Kiwi Hopped Double IPA to a Pink Grapefruit Session IPA and even some gluten-free beers. At the end of the day we want people heading home chatting about all the great beers they had, along with the enjoyable environment that we created to enjoy those beers in.'
The festival will also feature wines and gins and soft drinks for the drivers and kids.
'Festivals are a great way to introduce consumers into the craft beer scene as the focus is on trying a wide range of beers,' Stewart adds. 'Certain craft bars may appear intimidating if you're not familiar with all the different beer styles and hop varieties, so a friendly festival is a great way to ease consumers into a field that's constantly growing and evolving. We always say there is a beer for everyone!'
The Edinburgh Beer Festival takes place at Stewart Brewing, Bilston Glen Industrial Estate, 26a Dryden Rd, Loanhead and is easily reached from Edinburgh city centre by bus, routes 37 and 47.
Tickets are on sale now from the Stewart Brewing website.