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Issue 21 - Brewing up a storm

Whisky Magazine Issue 21
February 2002


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Brewing up a storm

Gavin Smith tells the complex story of Scottish brewing and its inextricable links with distilling

Whisky may be Scotland's national drink, yet brewing beer predates the documented origins of Scottish distilling by many centuries, and has arguably played a greater part in the economic and social life of the nation. In 1840 Scotland boasted some 280 breweries, with around 30 in Edinburgh alone, though the number gradually declined until in 1970 there was a nationwide total of just 11.

Today there are more than 30, and the encouraging growth in small-scale breweries producing innovative, characterful beers is a healthy sign that Scottish brewing may at last be heading down the road taken a couple of decades ago by single malts. Beer in Scotland is increasingly being seen as a ‘craft' product, with a wide range of styles and an emphasis on individuality and provenance. Alongside the ranks of McEwan's Export and Tennent's Lager in Scottish supermarkets the discerning drinker may also now find the likes of Fraoch Heather Ale and Harviestoun Old Engine Oil.

The processes of making beer and making whisky are remarkably similar until the point in whisky-making when distillation takes place. The man in charge of mashing and fermentation in a distillery is called the brewer, and what is known in Scotland as wash is often called ‘beer' in the USA and Ireland. In the USA the wash still is frequently known as the beer still, while the residue left in the wash still after distillation is known as burnt or pot ale.

Little wonder then, that many of the same factors that have influ...

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