A while back I went to a brewer’s funeral. Iain Turnbull was a man I hardly knew at all—in fact I only ever met him twice; but he made such an impression on me that I had to go.
Iain was the type who would, and did, do things like request a
Welsh-language census form while living in Stornoway, just for the fun of being wilfully
vexatious. He worked at Courage before moving to Brains in Wales, took a break from brewing for some years and returned to work in microbreweries when they started to appear in Scotland. He was involved in the re-establishment of brewing in the once-famous brewing town of Prestonpans, and was one of the group who set up Restalrig and then Fisherrow breweries in Edinburgh, but the sudden death of their managing director David Murray hit the latter business hard and it closed a year later.
Iain was a believer in the adage “If you want something doing properly, do it yourself,” and had elected to conduct his own funeral service from beyond the grave, via a pre-recorded CD. It was something of a surprise to suddenly once again hear his light, melodious voice that had never quite fitted his beardy exterior. Before the service I had been told a rather indiscreet anecdote about Iain by an old friend of his, but Iain himself managed to outdo this by some margin. It was certainly one of the more eccentric funerals I have attended: the coffin arrived in a brewery van carrying three empty casks on its roof in the departed’s honour, and once we left the chapel to the strains of “Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside” we were taken to the highly-regarded Staggs pub in nearby Musselburgh, where Iain’s funeral beer was on tap.
When I first met Iain he had already been diagnosed with terminal cancer
and had been featured in the press as the brewer who’s brewed his last
beer with the proceeds going towards a cancer charity. This extremely strong and sweet beer had been in cask for three years since it was brewed. Iain had actually brewed his “last” beer several times, having neglected to die when the doctors had predicted he would. The last time I saw him a few years ago he was still working, consulting on some brewery project or other down south.
For a terminally ill man, I had thought Iain showed remarkable devotion to the cause of beer when he made the not inconsequential journey from his home in Stornoway to central Scotland to work at CAMRA beer festivals. But at the funeral one of his daughters mentioned that he had later undertaken even more arduous trips to South Wales to visit them — by public transport, mind you.
I meant to get in touch with Iain and interview him for this blog, and now it’s too late. The breweries he worked at, Restalrig and Fisherrow, are in danger of being forgotten, because they didn’t survive, coming in a rather odd period when the likes of Tryst and Fyne Ales were being set up but the explosion of new breweries of recent years hadn’t started yet.
There’s a much better tribute to Iain than I could write here, and some history of Fisherrow, in the form of its archived website over here.