Bilston Brewery

Bilston Industrial Estate is full of surprises. One of the pyramids featured in David Winpenny’s book greets you as you round the corner in search of another treasure – Stewart’s Brewery.

An odd place for a brewery you might think, but the owners, Jo and Steve Stewart, think it’s just perfect. They moved here 5 years ago and find it works very well as a distribution centre, being just minutes from the Edinburgh bypass and links to their target customers.

The StewartsSteve, from Edinburgh, went to Heriot Watt to learn about brewing and Jo has a marketing and events background. After a year making apple brandy in Jersey (well, why not?) Steve went to Glasgow University to do a Masters in Energy and Environmental Systems where he met Jo, from Leicestershire, who was also passionate about environmental issues and planning a career in that field.

She ended up following Steve to Belfast when he got a job as team leader brewing Caffreys, and worked for an environmental charity. It was while here that they first got the idea of starting up their own brewery. Steve had an opportunity, through Peace and Reconciliation project funding, to go to Harvard University and the Harpoon Brewery in Boston for 12 weeks. It was a lovely small community with the brewery at the heart of the community. It ran a beer club and held festivals and tastings which were very well attended. Steve loved it and thought, “We could do that!”

Back in Belfast the couple began to save. Then Steve moved to Cape Hill Brewery near Birmingham and they were fortunate to buy and sell their house at a good time, enabling them to buy a house to live in and a house to rent in Birmingham. When Steve’s brother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jo and Steve moved back to Scotland and, while spending precious time with his brother, Steve decided that they would follow their dreams while they could.

Jo was by now working with ACCA and fortunate to be able to transfer to Edinburgh, which was a place they had already identified as having good potential to set up a brewery. While spending time with Kevin, Steve was able to renovate two flats, one to live in and one to let and, with their savings, they were able to start the business using mainly second hand equipment, without having to borrow.

pulling a pintSteve had been continually experimenting with recipes which he would try out on friends (a good way to make friends, you might say). His personal favourite had been Younger’s Number 3 and so the company’s first offering was called Edinburgh Number 3. At this stage Jo’s marketing skills came to the fore and several pubs were persuaded to try it out. The feedback was promising and Number 3 was then followed by Pentland I.P.A. and Copper Cascade. When Scottish and Newcastle closed the McEwan’s brewery in 2005, the Diggers contacted Stewarts and asked them if they could develop a replacement 80 Shillings – this has become their second best seller.

interior breweryThe process:

A tour of Stewarts’ Brewery is fascinating – it all seems so simple – you heat up some water, add some crushed barley to produce a kind of porridge. The liquid, which is called the wort, is then transferred to the kettle. The wort is boiled in the kettle where hops are added to give the brew its characteristic flavour. From there it goes into fermentation vessels and, once cooled, into the conditioning tanks.

Of course, if it were just that easy we would all do it. The skill comes in the flavouring which is given by hop varieties and a few secret ingredients. The company is producing a new beer for Christmas called 3 Wise Men – Jo thought they would use frankincense and myrrh but it didn’t work out so the ‘secret ingredients’ are citrus fruits and cinnamon.

“The guys always want to make a strong beer,” Jo says, “but they are harder to sell. Most pubs want a mid abv strength beer.” (If you want a strong beer, try their Cauld Reekie at 6.2%!)

11 people work at the brewery and with 2 young children, Steve and Jo appreciate having a great team to work with. 85% of their output goes to the pump with the remainder going to off sales. It is also possible to call in to the brewery and purchase mini kegs which are ideal for parties. “You do have to let them settle once you get home,” Jo warns, “so for people who don’t want to wait, we also have bright beers. This uses a Russian system to dispense our chilled and carbonated beer.”

The Perfect PintThe latest addition is a bottling plant. Jo and Steve have lots of ideas to develop the business and next year, as well as seeing further ranges in more pubs and shops, you should be able to order over the internet. Running your own family business is not without its risks but the Stewarts’s careful approach, avoiding debt, seems safe and sensible and allows them, through careful planning, to have a good quality of family life as well.

Especially when you hear that their one night out a week is spent climbing at Ratho, then “visiting the trade” – what you and I would call a pub crawl!

Click here for tasting notes for Stewarts Beers

Published by

Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

One thought on “Bilston Brewery”

  1. Hi Suse,

    Enjoyed this article. Probably not a surprise that I have met Steve a few times and have a Stewarts loyalty card. There christmas brewery open night is populatr with thirsty trotters !

    All the best


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