Regulars to our Portobello shop may recall Jonny serving in the shop towards the end of last year whilst the brewery was being fitted out. Here he gives us a bit of background, talks us through the first beers - which are excellent, no surprise given the pedigree of the team behind them - and hints at the brewery's future and what it's like trying to open a brewery during these uncertain, Covid times.
Newbarns Brewery are: Gordon McKenzie and Emma McIntosh, previously of The Kernel Brewery in London, Fredrik Bjerkseth and myself Jonny Hamilton, both previously at Beavertown.
Gordon and Emma had always planned to open their own brewery one day, and they made the decision in 2018, partly encouraged by the discovery of a brew kit at industrial auction. The Briggs brew kit was an old pilot plant for the Molson Coors brewery in Burton-on-Trent so has a serious bit of brewing legacy, despite needing a bit of work and looking a bit like something from War of the Worlds!
Fred was one of the original salespeople at Beavertown Brewery (from 2013 until the summer of 2018) until he joined Lervig. I previously studied and lived in Edinburgh, including brewing at the Hanging Bat, before moving to London to work for Beavertown, where I managed their Tempus barrel ageing program.
In September 2019, after securing a site on Jane Street (opposite the old Pilot Brewery and down the road from Campervan) Gordon and Emma got in a van and drove to Edinburgh to open Newbarns Brewery. We’ve been working on it since late last year, laying flooring, installing tanks and building a taproom.
Before the pandemic hit the plan was to focus on draught beer only, serving the pubs of Edinburgh, Scotland and beyond. A big part of the reason behind starting the brewery was that we all love the pub, met at the pub and so the plan is to focus on sub-5% pale ales and lagers. I now realise the irony in typing this for promoting our bottled and canned products on a bottle-shop website, but with the lockdown and pubs closing, we were left in a pretty bad situation. Thankfully we hadn't started brewing yet so we were in a better situation than some. We had to put our thinking caps on and figure out how to a) get our beer to customers with the pubs closed, and b) how to raise money to buy a canning line.
So, we turned to our friends at The Kernel in London, and Burnt Mill in Suffolk to brew our first beers for us. These were recipes that we had been working on for over a year and we were very thankful to be able to brew with breweries we had either worked at, or had a good relationship with. The core range was always going to be a pale ale, a table beer, and two lagers: one traditional style Pilsner and one more rustic lager with oats.
These are the sort of beers we like to drink: Sessionable, generally not over 5% in alcohol, clean, crisp, and refined. The focus is more on the raw materials and processes to make high-quality beers, which reflect the ingredients used. The core recipes will be kept roughly the same but we will rotate hops in the pale ale and table beer on occasion to try out new hop varietals, new hop combinations, and to reflect the difference between harvests.
Pale Ale - Nelson Sauvin - 4.5% (Brewed at the Kernel Brewery) - This is the first batch of our core Pale Ale. Brewed with 100% Golden Promise malt from Simpsons Malt, a clean American Ale yeast strain, and dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand. A remarkably simple recipe, but one which allows the hops to come to the forefront. We’re not really ones for tasting notes, allowing the drinker to make up their own minds on the beers. How many times do you need to read the word "Juicy" or "Dank", right? It's an easy-drinking pale ale, with a balanced bitterness, great foam, and soft carbonation.
Table Beer - Mosaic - 3% (Brewed at the Kernel Brewery) – This is the first batch of our Table Beer. Brewed with over 50% oats in the mash, this table beer is designed to drink like a "normal strength" pale ale but at only 3% alcohol. This batch was hopped with Mosaic both in the kettle and in the dry-hop.
Oat Lager - 4.8% (Brewed at Burnt Mill) — This is one of the lager styles we intend to brew regularly as a core beer. A more rustic take on a pilsner, which reflects the agricultural roots of the brewery (Newbarns is the name of Emma's family farm in Angus. It grows barley, oats, and wheat which we one day hope to malt and use in our beers) and is inspired by our favourite German lagers as well as the likes of Taras Boulba from De La Senne in Brussels, which has a more defined bitterness compared to our regular Pils style beer. Despite its continental inspirations, this lager is brewed with low colour Golden Promise malt from Simpsons, along with around 40% oats, flaked barley, and wheat. Instead of noble hops from the likes of Germany we decided to use British hops in this batch: 2019 Goldings and Challenger hops from Brook House in Herefordshire were selected due to their fantastic quality.
As I type, there is currently a batch of Pils, our fourth and final core range beer in tank at the brewery which will be packaged as soon as our canning line arrives.
At the moment we are still at the whims of the gas company to upgrade the gas supply to the brewery so that we can power our steam generator and start producing beer at our own site.
We just placed an order for our own canning line, something that wasn't a part of the original business plan, but it will mean that we can keep Edinburgh and beyond supplied with cans while the pubs are closed. As well as this, we have been working on our taproom which is a dedicated space at the back of the brewery, with a decent-sized beer garden. We have built a bar and seating ourselves, and are just waiting on guidance from the council as to when and how we can open.
As far as expanding the range, we plan to focus on perfecting and improving our core range of beers, which will be subtly tweaked with each batch, rotating between hop varieties and different non-barley adjuncts. One of the long term plans is to find a small-scale maltster to help us find a way to utilise the grain from Newbarns farm so that we can produce beers using our own barley, wheat, and oats, as well as heritage barley varieties. We also want to find a way to offer other Newbarns farm products from the taproom such as veg boxes.
We plan to brew a special a month in the future, and occasionally a collaboration with some of friends in the industry. We might have a few things in the works already. Watch this space.