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The best small breweries in Scotland
Stewart Brewing was founded in 2004 by two people and quickly grew to become one of the favourite micro-breweries in Scotland.
From the starting line up of three cask ales they now produce a wide range of beers in bottles, cans, and kegs and are one of the few UK breweries that offer a brew-it-yourself craft beer kitchen.
They also feature two brewery tours where you’ll get to see the operation and learn about the brewing process, accompanied by a pint or two of Stewart Brewing’s best ales.
- Session IPA. Alc 3.7% vol. Pale in colour with strong citrus and fruity aromas. It’s a light and crisp beer that’s perfect for summer BBQs but also goes well with seafood and salads.
- Radical Road. Alc 6.4% vol. Golden with a long foam, this beer bursts with hops, pine and grapefruit. Medium-bodied with a long-lasting smooth bitterness.
- Edinburgh Gold. Alc 4.8% vol. A golden ale that has a strong hop aroma mixed with notes of caramel. The light-bodied taste has a moderate amount of bitterness that works really well with spicy curry.
Brewdog is the world’s first-ever crowd-funded brewery having been set up in Aberdeenshire by two friends in 2008.
Since then they’ve gone on to take the world of craft beers by storm and now have 50 bars in the UK and 24 international bars, with plans to introduce more in the US.
The company are well known for their aggressive marketing tactics which include a 32% alcohol beer (bizarrely named ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin’) that was claimed to be the world’s strongest, followed by a 55% beer packaged in small stuffed animals!
- Punk IPA. Alc 5.6% vol. This is the beer that started it all and was the first brew produced by the fledgeling company at their first premises on an Aberdeenshire industrial estate. It’s a light, golden ale full of strong hoppy flavours with notes of grapefruit, pineapple and lychee.
- Dead Pony Club. Alc 3.8%. Aromas of citrus, lemongrass and lime with tropical fruit and spicy undertones on the tastebuds, this beer is easy-drinking perfection.
- Indie. Alc 4.2% vol. A pale ale craft beer with notes of pear and banana, with sweet caramel finishing on the back of your tongue. It’s got a very mild bitterness to it that makes it great to drink at any time of the year, whether it’s a blazing-hot summer or freezing-cold winter. Some people have been saying it’s a bit bland in online beer reviews. Whatever. I really like it.
In 2016 they won the Scottish Brewery of the Year award and were featured in the Ratebeer Top 100 Breweries in the World in both 2017 and 2018. Not bad for a small outfit that only started their business in 2010.
Their attitude to the final product is what sets Tempest apart and many of their beers have been created around a single theme, like their fantastic Mexicake brew that’s designed around the idea of a Mexican chocolate cake!
- Mexicake. Alc 11% vol. This delicious ale won gold at the Aldi Scottish beer awards in 2016 and it’s not hard to see (or taste) why. It has bottom notes of thick, dark stouts infused with sweet cinnamon, vanilla, cocoa and chilli that work incredibly well together. Just watch out because that 11% alcohol content packs one hell of a kick.
- Long White Cloud. Alc 5.4% vol. The hops used in this beer are from New Zealand, hence the name. There’s a definite fruity aroma to this pale ale with lots of pineapple and citrus zest on the palate, which makes it a great accompaniment to a summer BBQ.
- Modern Helles. Alc 4.1% vol. Another award winner, this time at the Scottish Beer Awards 2017 where it came first in the title of best lager. It’s very easy to drink with a malty, citrusy flavour like the best Bavarian-style lagers and it works really well with seafood and pasta. This is a beer that’s definitely recommended by me.
Drygate Brewing Co. is the only micro-brewery in the historic heart of Glasgow and is also one of the newest operations in Scotland, having only opened for business in 2014.
In the years since they’ve gained a name not only for the quality of their ales but also for their in-house brewing studio that allows anyone to design their own beer – from the label to the style – in a single day.
Brew days are run in groups of up to six people and you even get to take the beer home with you at the end. Genius idea!
- Seven Peaks. Alc 5.0% vol. This aromatic IPA is the company’s flagship beer and is available in cans and on tap. Crisp in flavour with a sweet aftertaste, it works really well with fish and spicy sausage.
- Close Quarters. Alc 11.2% vol. Yes, you read that correctly. This beer has around the same alcohol content as a bottle of wine, but it tastes absolutely delicious. It’s barrel-aged in oak casks for five months before bottling which infuses flavours of fruitcake and chocolate into it, with hints of vanilla and coconut.
- Chimera. Alc 5.9% vol. A very high-quality India pale lager that’s light, crisp and easily drinkable – possibly too drinkable considering it weighs in at nearly 6% alcohol content. Available in cans but soon moving to draught only, this beer deserves a sample if you’re lucky enough to find it in a Scottish boozer.
The Isle of Arran Brewery is located on one of my favourite west coast islands, popular with hill walkers and holidaymakers alike.
But now there’s another reason for people to fall in love with Arran, and it’s the amazing small-batch beers this brewery near the town of Brodick produces.
The founders have turned the business around since entering administration in 2008 and are now known for the high quality of their ales – many of which have won industry awards like the Great Taste of Britain Award in 2015.
- Isle of Arran Blonde Premium. Alc 5% vol. My first introduction to this brewery, the Blonde Premium is incredibly fresh with a zesty, citrusy taste that finishes with a surprising amount of sweetness.
- Isle of Arran Dark. Alc 4.3% vol. This dark, thick beer has rich caramel notes and fruity flavours mixed with sweet chocolate undertones. It’s not too strong either at 4.3% so it’s easy to sink a couple of bottles on a wintry Scottish afternoon, and it goes really well with dark meats if you’re looking for a drink to compliment your meal. Try it with game pie – it’s fantastic.
- Sleeping Warrior. Alc 8.3% vol. This beer is known as a barley wine which is a traditional alcoholic drink that used to be reserved for the aristocracy, but thankfully times have changed and now anyone can try this delicious ale. The brewery recommends letting the beer mature in the bottle for up to four years before drinking, at which time you’ll be rewarded with a rich, fruity drink that has hints of warm ginger.
The best Scottish beer festivals
There are loads of beer festivals happening throughout Scotland from January to December and it wouldn’t be feasible to include them all in this article, so I’ve included a few of my favourites below.
If you want to find others I recommend checking out The List website which has a constantly updated list of Scotland’s beer festivals along with dates, times and entry prices.
Fynefest is held at the end of May to the beginning of June at the Fyne Ales brewery estate in Argyll where it bills itself as the Scottish beer event of the year – and with good reason.
It’s one of the largest beer festivals in the country that also celebrates Scotland’s connections with great food, lively music and first-class beer, and it’s a genuine family-friendly experience.
2019 was the best festival yet where three stages were set up to showcase more than twenty music acts alongside food market stalls from eleven local and award-winning producers.
Let’s hope 2020 is even better.
The Alba Real Ale Festival runs in the last week of August near Dundee where it has been growing from strength to strength in the last 8 successive years.
This is one of the smaller festivals with expected visitor numbers in the 1000-2000 region, but that’s really part of its charm. It’s not too big and commercialised and it’s small enough to maintain a warm and friendly atmosphere.
The focus at the Alba Real Ale festival is on small breweries and they always ensure they have plentiful supplies of the cream of the (beer) crop, as well as quality selections of cider, wine and spirits.
Kids are welcome at the festival too (they even get free entry) so you won’t have to arrange child-minders while you’re enjoying the event, and there are plenty of food stalls so you won’t have to worry about cooking either.
Live music is catered for with 10 bands on the soundstage covering everything from reggae, blues, rock and indie, but if your children aren’t interested in live music you can always pop them in front of the magic acts instead.
Edinburgh’s Craft Beer Experience Festival has to be in this list for two reasons. First, it’s hosted in my home city in one of my favourite buildings (the Assembly Roxy) and second, it’s a real beer connoisseur’s event that cuts out most of the unnecessary festival fluff and just offers great craft beer instead.
The event is held from the end of October to the beginning of November over five sessions with more than 20 breweries showcasing their best products.
Don’t worry if all that ale makes you hungry because there are plenty of street food vendors on the site, plus a selection of Scottish cider and whisky producers if you fancy trying something a bit different to all that beer.
The festival is held across three floors of the beautiful former church in the heart of the Old Town with the main hall hosting Scottish breweries, the downstairs Snug Bar featuring ales from the rest of the UK, and the upstairs Upper Theatre Room featuring a selection of European breweries.
The festival also has a lineup of masterclasses if you want to hone your tasting knowledge as well as expert-led beer and food pairings if you want to learn which foods go best with which ale.
I hope you’ve found this wee article informative, especially if you’re fond of a drop or two of Scottish beer (which I presume you are seeing as you’ve made it this far).
But as much as I love beer, there’s another drink I love even more and I’m hoping you like it too, which is why I suggest you now take a look at my Complete Guide to the Single Malt Whisky Regions of Scotland.
In the article I cover the history of the spirit, how it’s made and the differences between the whisky made in each area.
I reckon it’s pretty good, so if you take a look I’d be over the moon if you’d click one of the Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest links on the page to share it on your favourite social media site.
Anyway, thank you so much for reading, and I hope to see you again soon on Out About Scotland.
Planning a trip to Scotland?
- Find hotels in Scotland and book your rental car.
- Explore the country with Rabbies small group coach tours and get cheap advance tickets for attractions.
- Learn about Scotland with a range of Amazon books and prepare for hikes with
Ordnance Survey maps.
- Before you explore the great outdoors get your rain gear in place and don’t forget to buy Smidge anti-midge repellent!