Friday, 31 July 2020

Broughton appeals for cash to save Old Jock

Some hills
The lush, sometimes susceptible to flooding landscape which surrounds Broughton Brewery

Scotland’s second oldest microbrewery has launched a crowdfunder to help it recover from the economic shock of COVID-19.

Broughton Brewery, founded near Biggar in 1979 (only Traquair House is older), is trying to raise £75,000 to pay the bills during the crisis, which has seen pubs close their doors for over three months. Its best-known product is the strong Old Jock ale.

Anyone who’s ever run a business knows how quickly money just seems to disappear into a black hole during the times when there’s reduced revenue coming in.

It seems to me that relatively few small brewers have turned to crowdfunding as a means to survive the crisis, which I find a bit odd. The only other one I am aware of locally is Glasgow-based Ride, who raised money to kit out their tap room in June. People do care about their favourite breweries, perhaps more so than about their local hardware shops or double glazing companies. Mind you, with furlough money about to dry up, perhaps the real crisis for all businesses is still to come.

As is usual, there are some rewards on offer for would-be contributors. £50 will get you a bottle of an imperial stout which was made 20 years ago and has been aging at the brewery ever since. When I was there in January, we were told of the existence of this beer and it was hinted that it would be made available soon – though I don’t think anyone could have predicted the exact circumstances.

Another option is £100 to plant a tree, which will apparently help protect the brewery site against flooding in the future. The brewery has in fact experienced floods in the past so this is a concrete ecological investment as well as a financial contribution.

Some of the other rewards are less enticing, such as £500 for beer for a year, which works out substantially more expensive than just buying the beer in a shop. I don’t want to seem mercenary about this at such a time. Normally I would expect a significant discount for buying beer a year in advance, but this is an emergency and if you would like to help by paying over the odds for your beer, be my guest (it does include delivery so you’re saved schlepping bottles home).

If you do want a bargain, though, you can get 10% off for a year by contributing just £15. That seems win-win, as you’ll buy more beer than you would otherwise and there’s still a profit margin for the brewery in it at 10% off; at least there ought to be.

I know that if I were to go into a shop or a pub in the future and Broughton were no longer in business, I’d regret not having done what I could.

You can check out the crowdfunder at

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

The price of yeast in 1913 and the mystery of M.F.

One of the advantages of brewing beer is that you end up with more yeast than you started with. Great if you need yeast for the next brew. Even better if you find you have more yeast than you need, because you can sell it on. To bakers, or distillers.

After fermentation is complete and the beer has been pumped off, the residual gunk remaining in a tank can itself be collected. Brewery yeast is typically a slurry which still contains some valuable beer. So you can give the yeast a good squeeze and the resulting liquid gained can be mixed with ullage and sugar to make brown ale and sweet stout.

The dry matter remaining is what “pressed yeast” refers to in the document below, which is a page from a notebook displayed at a Glasgow University Archive Services event in 2018 (which might give you an idea how far behind I am with blog posts). The date is 1913, which is handy. As there is a beer mentioned called XXP, I’m assuming the notebook is from William Younger. For the purposes of this post it doesn’t really matter.

One press = 25 cwt. = 13 Hhds [hogsheads] Distillery Yeast
Average price for Country = 17/6 p Hhd
do for Town  = 7/6 "
Price of Pressed Yeast to B.S. Co Greenock = 45/- p Ton less 14/9 for Carriage
Therefore £1·16·4 = £4·17·6 = £11·7·6

Thirteen hogsheads is a shedload of yeast. I did say you got more back than you started with.

The buyer of the yeast looks like “B S Co”, but if what I think is an S is actually an ampersand, it might be Blair & Co’s distillery in Greenock, which changed its name to Greenock Distillery after the war.

Why was the selling price of yeast so much higher in the country?

I am not sure what the calculation in the last line is for, and since it is expressed mathematically incorrectly I wouldn’t like to speculate.

The second half of the page seems to be notes on an experiment.

The experiment consists of setting up two kilderkins (18-gallon casks), to which one had a mysterious substance “M.F.” added and the other didn’t. It appears to have had the effect of inhibiting fermentation.

Two kils XXP set up; one with & one without M.F. The kil without M.F. started working first (about 12 hrs before the other). Both kept brisk for fully a fortnight, being tried at spile every morning. After that the cask without M.F. began to cool down while kil with M.F. was still brisk at 3 weeks. Samples then drawn showed the kil with M.F. much brisker with good creamy head.

Two kils stout one with & one without. The kil with M.F. 24 hours later in starting working.

“Working” here means fermentation and “brisk” means well carbonated.

Any ideas as to what M.F. was are very welcome.

Monday, 20 July 2020

I went for a pint again

The day came when the pubs in Glasgow re-opened, and I was curiously unexcited.

Mostly it was because I had a limited number of options. Some of the best pubs such as the Pot Still and Blackfriars hadn’t re-opened yet; others like the Three Judges or the Thornwood are a bit further away than I wanted to cycle – seeing as we’re still supposed to be using public transport for essential journeys only.

Nonetheless I headed into town for a look around, expecting that if somewhere good was open, I wouldn’t be able to get in.

You could do worse than choosing the Horse Shoe for your first pint of proper cask in four months. But it was not for me.

“Any walk-ins, pal?” I enquire from behind my mask.

“Only upstairs,” says the genial doorman.

“Is there cask ale upstairs?”

“No, I only have one cask ale on anyway,” is the response.

I promise to return again soon.

Some of the pubs are positively bouncing – well, as close as you can get to bouncing given the restrictions. The Tolbooth at Glasgow Cross looks very nearly as busy as ever.

Some quite unexpected places have been trading as “beer gardens” since last week when those were allowed to open. I had thought that Britain had a low bar for what can be called a beer garden: usually a few picnic tables in the car park, next to the wheelie bins. But it turns out that these days even some white plastic garden furniture on the pavement will count.

Whatever you call them, these popped-up pavement arrangements are a nice addition to working-class locals’ bars in the East End.

I am about to head home when I glance in passing down Blackfriars Street. Unexpectedly, Babbity Bowster is open. I say unexpectedly because it had been closed for refurbishment before lockdown, but apparently they have taken advantage of enforced closure to finish the job.

Babbity Bowster dates from the mid-1980s when legendary publican Fraser Laurie took on the then-derelict eighteenth-century building and turned it into something quite new for Glasgow. Though decried at the time as a yuppie pub, it has developed into an institution with a formidable reputation. Laurie retired at the beginning of the year and sold the pub to pub company Caledonian Heritable.

It seems much the same on entering, less regimented than some pubco establishments and I just have to fill in a slip of paper and put it in a plastic tub, then sanitise my hands. I choose to sit outside and my pint is brought out to me. I pay in cash because the machine isn’t working yet; I think this is the first time I have used cash since March.

And the first pint of proper cask since March too.


Before lockdown they had regularly served Fyne Ales Jarl, but apparently couldn’t get any in time for re-opening. Judging by the amount of mini-casks that people have been ordering from Fyne, this is not entirely surprising.

With over 200 small breweries now operating in Scotland, I think pubs should feature local beer – especially in Glasgow where there seem to be a score of small brewers all fighting to get into the same dozen pubs. I am glad they will get Jarl back in when it is available. However, I am not complaining about having to drink Landlord.

Landlord is a beer that changes quite a lot as it ages. This pint seems particularly fresh, perhaps even a little green. There is bitterness first, then sweetness, and a notably floral hop bouquet – so floral, in fact, that I have to check I’m not sitting in front of some geraniums.

I actually had two pints. The first seemed to mysteriously disappear. There must be some thirsty blackbirds in the trees in this beer garden or something.