How Black Isle Brewery is leading the way in Scottish craft beer
Black Isle Brewery is one of Scotland’s longest-running independent breweries
Of the many craft breweries to have sprung up in Scotland of late, Black Isle is one of the oldest, most successful and most versatile. Started in 1998 by brewer David Gladwin, it was formed for the most pure of motives. ‘He’d been living on the Black Isle for a while and he was struggling to get a decent pint,’ says David’s brother and partner in the business, Michael, ‘so he decided to start Black Isle Brewery so he could do just that.’
Gladwin explains that the pair had no history of brewing, just a love of good food and drink inherited from their parents and a bit of experience with their dad’s home brew kit when they were younger. In the early days of the company David hired a brewer from Yorkshire to come up and give him some on-the-job training, and also did a course in brewing, and from there he’s been entirely self-taught.
When they started out, says Gladwin, there were around 300 breweries in the UK and now there are roughly 1,100, yet Black Isle’s market now extends across the UK, Europe and Japan, with inroads expected into North America shortly. ‘Very long hours,’ is what he puts their success down to. ‘We’re a family business; we started out just selling locally, and then we used to get up at four o’clock in the morning every Saturday, load the van and drive down to Castle Terrace market in Edinburgh and stand there selling beer for four or five hours, then head back up the road. We had many years of long Saturdays.’
Gladwin attributes the company’s success quite simply to their stringent organic production process, as well as the famously good-quality malting barley grown on the Black Isle. Despite their growing prosperity, he doesn’t ever see a time when these ideals might be compromised. ‘We have a beautiful bit of ground that we’ve been very fortunate to secure and we’ve spent years nurturing it and turning it into an organic farm,’ he says. ‘We don’t really want to stick a great big industrial brewery in the middle of it. We want to enjoy what we do; we want to enjoy making great beer.’