Brewing in Ayrshire, then and now
A look at Ayrshire’s brewing history and the award-winning micro-breweries in operation today
At its peak, Ayrshire boasted six private breweries but almost all fell into decline by the mid twentieth century in the face of increased competition from larger operators. Renewed interest was sparked by the Lugton Brewery in the 1980s, located near Beith, which, although now long-closed, put Ayrshire brewing on the map once more. This history is being kept well and truly alive by the Ayr Brewing Company and The Arran Brewery. In Rabbie’s Porter and the Guid Ale both have signature brews that reference Ayrshire’s most famous son and a regional tradition dating back hundreds of years.
The Ayr Brewing Company is a micro-brewery based in the town itself and is perhaps less well-known to UK drinkers than its island counterpart. Its prowess is evidenced by a number of SIPA awards and the CAMRA Scotland Champion Porter title won by Rabbie’s Porter, which also came runner-up nationally. Hops arrive from far and wide at the Ayr site to be mashed and brewed under the watchful gaze of master brewer Anthony Valenti. It’s a family business where the hard work happens in a small space adjacent to the Glen Park hotel owned by brother-in-law and business partner Paul Rossi. ‘It just seemed like the right time to do it, though obviously you never know for sure,’ admits Valenti.
Since opening in 2009, the operation quickly picked up enough interest to become a full-time concern, and is now producing around forty casks a week. The range is based around flagship traditional porters and IPAs, while including the more contemporary American-style golden blonde HipHopopotamus. Seasonal beers include the quirky Mint-Chocolate Porter in which mint essence is added to the base brew, which, according to Valenti, proves especially popular at Christmas. He likes to blend the artisan craft of the process with modern community: some of the one-off brews result from conversations with customers and fans.
Justifiably proud of his achievements, Valenti points out: ‘To have brought a working brewery back to the town after an 80-year absence is a wonderful thing for the town and the region.’