I was brought up and lived in Monifieth, a genteel suburb of Dundee, for close on 30 years and still go back to visit family pretty often. In that time there's not been a local brewery closer than probably Inveralmond in Perth. However in late 2009 I'd noted that a new microbrewery called Angus Ales had been setup and started to sell real ale to both stalwart real ale pubs and completely new local outlets - great news. I'd therefore been annoying the owner & brewer, Alan Lawson, to let me visit for a while now, but he's now basically a one man band and he'd never had the spare time available on the occasions when I'd been in the area. I'd pinged Alan again this week when I was going to be up for a beer festival in a local pub, The Milton Inn, and this time Alan had some time to spare on Friday afternoon - hooray!
The brewery's located in the middle of a small industrial estate in Carnoustie, probably only a short iron shot away from the famous Carnoustie Championship golf course.
When I arrived Alan was getting a couple of hand-pulls ready for a wedding on Saturday. So from his point-of-view it's not just a matter of delivering the beer, but sometimes also supplying the hand-pulls, lines, drip-trays etc... and then picking them up afterwards and (more annoyingly) cleaning everything. He's good company, keeping up a commentary as he gets everything ready, finding the requisite parts from various parts of the unit.
Afterwards I get the tour of the brewing equipment which is located in one half of the unit - mash tun, copper (both spotless) and fermenting vessel - and in another corner - Alan's temporary office!
At the moment Mashie Niblick is on day 4 (of 7) of the fermenting process and it smells great, seriously nutty and quite sweet. Alan puts in some additional finings at this point to further clarify the beer - everything is seriously clean and fully documented.
After the beer is racked into casks Alan puts them into a chill-room out the back, which is temperature controlled to 11C, approx. the same temperature as a decent pub cellar. So casks which are delivered to customers can (depending on how quickly they settle) be put on very quickly, especially if they are local deliveries. In a nice piece of re-cycling, spent malt & grain is picked up by the local garden allotment association.
Alan estimates he spends ~60% of his time away from the brewery and it's the selling that is the time consuming part. Unless it's a special occasion he's not going to be able to sell into the pub chains, so it's the smaller, independent pubs and special functions (weddings, fund raisings) that Alan's tried to target, with a fair amount of success. It's uncertain if he's going to try to expand further, with regular deliveries to Edinburgh or further afield, but here's hoping that he continues for the foreseeable future.
Alan's currently brewing 4 core beers - Birdie 3 is a fairly standard bitter, Mashie Niblick a more malty Scottish 70/-, Gowfer's Gold a pale, citrusy summer ale to which Alan has recently started to add some Citra hops, and Driver Dark which Alan defines as a stout, but I think is a fair bit lighter, has some Amarillo hops added for a definite bite at the end - probably my favourite Angus Ale. He's also done a special brew for the 200th Anniversary of the Bell Rock lighthouse (located on a reef just offshore of Arbroath) called Bell Rock Light and this has managed to get him valuable column inches in the local papers. He currently hand bottles the beers (it's not his favourite part of the job) and the local Spar shops sell them all at a decent price.
I had a great time chatting with Alan and I went away with definite admiration for what he's achieved, a far better understanding of how a small microbrewey operates and how much sheer hard work is involved.
*Update January 2013*
I'm sad to say that following a personal accident in late Dec. 2012, Alan has had to take the decision to cease trading as Angus Ales. A definite shame - I'll certainly remember enjoying the beers he crafted for quite some time.