Blog by Michael McGrorty

Bo’ness. You probably haven’t heard of it, and I can’t really blame you. Until recently I had no idea where it is. And I live half an hour away!

I now realise how wrong my ignorance was.

Beer lovers in Bo’ness have it very good indeed, in the form of the Corbie Inn and the Kinneil Brew Hoose.

With six hand pumps serving all the time, the choice of beer at the Inn is fantastic. When I was there they had beers on from Loch Lomond Brewery and Oakham Ales to name but a few, and of course they always have a beer on from Kinneil Brew Hoose, the main feature of this post and the reason for my trip to Bo’ness.

After home brewing for many years, Stuart Simpson and two friends decided to start up a brewery. The friends soon dropped out of the venture but Stuart worked on, currently having to work seven days a week to keep the brewery ticking over.

The brewery is located just behind the Corbie Inn, a 2.5 barrel plant in a room not much bigger than an ordinary garage that Stuart has cobbled together himself. Stuart came from an engineering background which has served him well in the brewery, allowing him to do such things as build a cask washer, rig up temperature control for fermentation and build a temperature controlled cupboard for storage.

It’s not a state of the art set-up, but it’s clear that a lot of love has gone into putting it together, and of course it still makes great beer! Stuart very kindly gave me a bottle each of his three staple beers: Kincardine Sunset, Caer Edin Dark and Penvael Amber. I’ve since sampled all three and they are all very nice indeed. They’re not going to push the buttons of the most hardcore of craft beer fans, but they’re sessionable, easy to drink and very flavourful. Caer Edin a lovely rich, dark chocolatey porter was easily my personal favourite.

I had the chance to interview Stuart, and here’s what he had to say:

How did you get interested in beer? Have you always been a beer person or did you gradually slide into it from other drinks?

In the early 70s Skol lager was the drink of choice, and I thought then it was ok. There was a brewers strike or something and then Ind Coope at Alloa were the only people who could supply beer. They must have been supplying it to every pub in Scotland. The problem being it was rubbish! They must have changed their process to get more out. Probably stopped “lagering” it. Anyway it stayed the same rubbish ever after. So I started looking around for something better, and holidays in the Lake District and Austria showed me that beer could actually have a taste. Just not in Scotland!! I found a shop in Linlithgow which sold bottled Belhaven Export which was great, but you couldn’t get it just anywhere. Hand pulls were a rarity in pubs. On that note on to the next answer…..

How did you get into brewing?

Given the difficulty finding a decent pint of beer, I thought I might be able to brew a beer with some flavour to it. I think it’s one of my character traits (or flaws?) I always think I can do better myself. So I started out with a kit, and before long moved on (as you do!) to mashing and making a mess in the kitchen. I was lucky that at this time I lived in Crosshill Drive Bo’ness, a street famed for its home brewers. We all tasted each others brews, and oh, The Street Parties!

What’s your current favourite beer? Aside from your own of course!

I don’t think there’s one I’d single out. I’m like lots of real ale drinkers in that I want to try them all. I think that’s the difference from Keg drinkers. They tend to stick to one so-called beer, and that’s it. If it doesn’t have a big red T or if a bit of flavour creeps in, they don’t want to know.  I do like a beer around the 4% ABV mark, with a good hop level, but not overly hoppy. I like my beer to taste of beer, not oranges, grapefruit, ginger etc.etc. A hint is ok, but in-yer-face? Nawww!

How did the Brew Hoose get started? What was the driving force behind deciding to start your own brewery?

Kinneil Brew Hoose came about after a conversation in a pub. Two friends, Gail and Giles Fairholm were considering creating a brew pub, which eventually became the Corbie Inn. I had two more friends who came in with me as business partners. They’re long gone. Still friends of course but like Elvis they have left the building. The brewery is still going after two years and Gail and Giles are still my landlords and good friends as well!  It’s been suggested I get the same buzz as I did when I was playing live as a musician. I guess there’s some truth in that. It’s great to see people asking for and enjoying one of your own beers..

What do you think of schemes like BrewDog’s Equity For Punks and sites like Kickstarter? Have you ever considered crowdfunding?

BrewDog does what BrewDog does. They’re not really in the same game as small self funded microbreweries. Kickstarter and crowdfunding don’t really appeal, although never say never! Kinneil Brew Hoose has been entirely self funded. No loans, grants, or sleeping partners etc. That’s how we’ve survived this far. There aren’t any shareholders looking for a return, and we can get by without any danger of losing the house! I’ve had offers from small investors, but I don’t want to end up working for them. If someone wanted to come alomg and work as hard in the brewery as I do, then that’s the kind of investment I’d like to talk about.

Do you have any tips for home brewers? What’s the most important aspect of brewing for you?

Tips for home brewers – JFDI!! Keep everything clean, and when you think it’s clean, clean it. Get your liquor analysed, and treat it. Don’t use water straight from the tap.

What do you feel will make your beers stand out in an (one could say) already crowded market?

So far, it’s been the fact that the brewery is relatively new. Real Ale drinkers, as I’ve said like to try something new. Also we’re a local brewer, and people are increasingly looking for local produce. Having said that, we’ve sent beer to festivals all over mainland Britain. Even a couple of bottles to Australia!

What’s your favourite beer and food pairing? Do you match beer and food at all or just mainly drink it?

I don’t normally drink beer with my meals, unless I’m in a pub or restaurant. Then you usually just have to take what they’ve got. I can’t stand half of the nonsense written about wine. They have this big thing going on about what they can taste in the wine and what wine with what food etc. Beer’s a much superior product in every way. Just doesn’t have the snob appeal required by the foodies. But I do like a really good fish supper dripping with Gold Star sauce oot the chippie then doon the pub for a pint of Caer Edin Dark Ale.

How do you come up with new ideas for recipes?

I really don’t know. I guess I just have light bulb moments. So many of the recipes I did years ago are just that – recipes. Waiting to be dusted off and used again. I’m interested in local history, so if I can add something that reflects that so much the better.

Are there any expansion plans?

Can’t really expand on the site, and there’s little enough room as it is. There aren’t enough hours in the day/days in the week, so unless we get more people involved, I’d say my plan is to do the same, but better!!

What are your favourite hops and hop combinations?

I use Target hops for bittering in a couple of my beers. They’re high alpha acid, so you use less of them in a brew, which is a commercial consideration I suppose, but they leave a wonderful lasting bitterness at the back of the mouth, which is the main reason I like to use them. I also like to use Goldings or Fuggles along with the Target to temper the effect. Goldings and Fuggles are still great hops. They’ve been the mainstay of British brewing for many years and not without good reason! I also like to put some hops in the fermenter. Something with a good aroma, in the hope it will survive into the finished product. Something like Styrian Goldings or Saaz.

Does your beer travel far? Will any of my English readers be able to find it?

Well, we started out styling ourselves as the local brewer. The first cask we sold outside of the pub next door went to London. Followed up soon after by a beer/music Festival on the South Coast. We’ve supplied the occasional pub in England, and regularly supply beer festivals. For example we’ll have some beer at the Bolton Festival, which is coming up soon.

Do you have any advice for aspiring professional brewers?

It’s harder than you think! It’ll cost more than you think! It’ll take a lot longer than you think!
Be sure you have all the skills needed between you and whoever you go into the business with. Brewing, Engineering, Electrical, Plumbing, Sales, Delivery, Book Keeping, etc. etc. etc. If you’ve got to pay someone to do some of these things you will really struggle. If there are 8 days in the week in your neck of the woods, that helps too! But you’ll be working for yourself, doing something that you love, making something that you love. What could be better?

Thanks to Stuart for the interview, find out more about Kinneil Brew Hoose at www.kinneilbrew.co.uk and The Corbie Inn at www.corbieinn.co.uk or on Twitter @CorbieInnBoness

Follow Michael on Twitter @h_doody #StillThinking