Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival 2018 Preview

Ahead of Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival, we catch up with four of this year’s featured breweries to talk stylistic choices, collaboration, and the great ideas you get while walking your dog...

Feature by Peter Simpson | 10 May 2018
  • Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival

Our collective march towards Peak Festival has been an interesting one, but some of the fests it has thrown up along the way have been welcome additions to our food and drink plans. One such event is the Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival, a weekend celebrating the best in… well, clue’s in the title really. Still, the festival’s focus on music (Mogwai and Metronomy are among those DJing), some top-notch timing (Hidden Door festival kicks off round the corner on the same weekend) and a pleasingly upfront approach with little faffing around with tokens made it a hit last year.

This year’s festival features some very special projects, not least a limited edition kettle sour beer brewed by a team of 24 female brewers, brewery staff and students from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University. The project was headed up by Jenn Merrick, formerly of Skinny faves Beavertown Brewery and currently in the process of putting together the new Earth Station community brewery in London’s Royal Docks.

Talking us through the spark behind the idea over email, Merrick describes the kettle sour as “technical enough to be interesting,” using the brew as a chance to offer a learning opportunity to brewers from across the UK scene. “The group consists of every woman working in or studying beer production that we could rustle up on the day,” says Merrick. “Students from Heriot-Watt, brewers, packaging, cellar and staff from loads of UK breweries.”

And what was it like wrangling such a big team? “Really exciting! We had people trying out all the botanics in different combinations, designing the beer's flavour profile as well as helping out with the wort production, digging out the mash etc. There wasn't any shortage of spare hands!” The end result is described as a “sherbetty, aromatic, crisp and refreshing” drink, and it’ll be on the bar at ECBF as well as its sister festivals in Bristol and London later in the summer.

Speaking of Bristol, the south-west's own Wiper and True will bring their intriguing artisanal beers to Edinburgh this month. Those beers, by the way, came about as a sideline to W&T's initial plans, according to Martin Saunders. "We originally started making cider," Saunders tells us over email, "but inspired by fermentation we decided to turn our hands to something we could do all year round so started home brewing. After some of the obligatory failures we found quite a few people saying, 'I don’t normally like beer but I like that'. That’s when we decided we’d see if we could turn a hobby into something commercially viable." Saunders tells us that Wiper's branding – depicting everything from elephants to the space shuttle – has been a key to their success, but in terms of what's inside there's a focus on "brewing classic British beers in a modern way".

And speaking of big teams, Belfast’s Boundary packs the might of 1000 members of what is the city’s first cooperative, member-owned brewery, with an as-yet-undecided range of beers from the brewery lined up for Edinburgh. The coop was a big idea that came to co-founder Matthew Dick as all the best ones do; while he was out with his pooch. “I had just moved home from the States,” Dick tells us. “I was out walking my dog, and time stood still.

“Everything about Boundary came to me at once; the style of beers, package formats, tone of voice online, branding etc. We hope that our beer stands up with the best in the world. Many folks have never had the chance to try an exciting and well executed beer from Northern Ireland. Never mind one that is run and owned by its members!”

Even if they haven’t cast eyes on much great beer from across the Irish Sea, we’d guess most ECBF attendees will be familiar with at least one brewery from the opposite direction.  Mikkeller from Copenhagen have become ubiquitous in craft circles, and they're pitching up at this year's festival with a host of beers to try out. As Mikkeller’s Pernille Pang tells us, that ubiquity is largely by design: “We've always had a very international outlook, but still have a certain Danish or Nordic approach, a sense of quality and aesthetics that does not exist everywhere. Mikkeller is foremost about beer, but we also do a tonne of other stuff, that sets us apart from most other breweries.

“We have a running club (Mikkeller Running Club) with 200 chapters around the world, we run restaurants and bars, make chocolate and are in the process of designing our own running clothes brand.” Mikkeller are also partially responsible for the HAVEN festival in Copenhagen along with Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National, in a further evolution of a craft beer scene that seems to just keep expanding.

For Dick, the current beer scene is an exciting one: “There's a good balance right now of amazing breweries producing amazing beers while also leaving some space in the market for new bozos like us to have a crack too.” Asked to name the one thing he would change given the chance, Dick points out Northern Irish licensing laws that make events like beer festivals – and the crowds they can inculcate into the world of good beer – key for breweries in Boundary’s position: “[Northern Ireland] is the most tied market in Europe, we can't sell directly to the public, and there's a limit on the number of alcohol licenses in the country, making it impossible for us to buy one even if we could afford it.”

Beers from these and dozens of other breweries will all be available at this year’s festival, but as anyone who’s ever delved into the depths of a bottle list will tell you, craft beer can be a powerful proposition. How do we make the most of our time bulling around the proverbial china shop? ​”Don't go to extremes and make sure you share and debate with your friends,” Peng tells us. “Some of the more complex beers take time to really love, but then you really fall in love.” That, right there, is the kind of festival spirit we can get behind.

Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival, 25-27 May, tickets from £35