Thursday, 23 April 2015

Breweries and Bridges on the Forth: 18th April 2015

As well as beer, I have a bit of a fascination with bridges, and with the new Queensferry Crossing spanning the Forth well under way I thought it would be a good idea to walk across the 'old' Forth Road Bridge to see how construction was developing on the new crossing. Since I was therefore 'in the area' I then contacted Dave Robertson, who has been attempting to get the Forth Bridge Brewery off the ground for a good couple of years, to chat about what progress he's made, what his plans for the brewery involve and (more importantly) when the £50 that I'd invested for 'Beer for Life' was going to provide me with some actual beer.

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Edinburgh Haymarket (every 15 minutes)
  Train: Edinburgh Haymarket to Dalmeny (12, 23, 44, 53 on the hour)
  Train: North Queensferry to Dunfermline Town (08, 38 on the hour)

There's a decent, sign-posted path from Dalmeny station (which is really just part of South Queensferry) down to the shoreline of the Forth, although this does involve quite a lot of steep steps (and the frequent rumbling of trains on the railway bridge approach, high above).

It was a lovely sunny morning today, so the Maid of the Forth and other smaller ships were doing a good trade from the pier opposite the Hawes Inn in the shadow of the magnificent Forth Railway Bridge.

As well as the Hawes Inn there are a number of eating & drinking establishments on the shore facing the panoramic vista of the bridges, and since I was last here it was good to see that The 2 Bridges had re-opened, been refurbished, and renamed The 3 Bridges in anticipation of the completion of the Queensferry Crossing in 2016.

After taking a few photos, I headed along to the small shops of South Queensferry High Street, where I was due to meet Dave at 12noon in the convivial surroundings of The Ferry Tap, a place I'd frequented many, many times when I had friends who lived just up the road.

Normally they have 4 or 5 hand-pulled beers available at the bar, but it seems these 'got trashed' (the barman's words) the evening before, with only Hadrian & Border Fly Half Bitter and Deuchars IPA available at that time, sigh... Dave then walked in, I recognised him straight away from his video pitches on the web-site, and we sat down for a chat over pints of the malty, earthy Fly Half Bitter (actually not too bad). We first of all started off going over a bit of the history of the Forth Bridge Brewery - initial plans for an ~10BBL biomass-powered brewery in Inverkeithing which were unveiled in early 2013, a crowdfunding campaign with 'Beer for Life' rewards and a partial equity campaign which have run for most of 2013 and 2014 (I took out my £50 'Beer for Life' in August 2013, which provides me with a bottle of every 'standard' Forth Bridge Brewery beer for as long as they are in production), a switch to a South Queensferry location in late 2013, and then scaled-up plans for a larger brewery/distillery/visitor centre funded by some corporate/environmental/equity investment, further crowdfunding and a mini-bond, which then appeared in 2014. There's no doubt the new plans are very ambitious (see their Facebook page and the Edinburgh News item) - situated at Port Edgar in the shadow of the Queensferry Crossing, it's now a scalable 30BBL brewery, has space for up to 44 fermenting vessels or conditioning tanks, is still biomass powered, provides function suites & a visitor centre, has the possibility of its own spring-based water supply, and now also includes diversification into on-site gin, vodka & whisky distilling (the spirits diversification allows for a possible better profit margin than the brewing operation, and could also provide a toe-hold into tied-pubs and bars).
(mock-up pic from Forth Bridge Brewery Facebook page)

Dave's great company, passionate about the whole project and speaks eloquently about it, and after a bit of discussion about all this we then took a walk down to the proposed site of the Forth Bridge Brewery just to be able to look at something a bit more tangible. It's located just past the expanding Port Edgar Marina between the Forth Road Bridge and the Queensferry Crossing but the access road isn't great in places, with the possibility of boats from the marina blocking the route, so Dave wants to use the continuation of the old railway line which tracks above Shore Road as a separate access road to the site. This is pretty overgrown at the moment and, even with a grant from local/national government, is going to take a fair amount of time, money and lots of co-ordination to put in place.

The site itself used to be a navy barracks, with 5 large 2-storey barrack buildings, an infirmary, air raid shelter and boilerhouse (for more information see here), before latterly becoming a naval mine-sweeping centre and a museum storage facility. It's completely fenced off at the moment, but walking around the outside did give an idea of how large the site is (this is just a section of one of the barracks), and how close it is to the construction of the Queensferry Crossing.

The boilerhouse is on the marina side of the site and will also stay in place, providing an impressive brewhouse-like chimney feature.

There will also be planned access to the River Forth, although a lot of the shoreline is protected mudflats (and did I mention that view of the Queensferry Crossing!?).

Looking around at all of this on a sunny day in April 2015 it was pretty clear that this was not going to happen in 2015, and knowing a few friends in both the large-scale construction industry and in local government, even 2016 must be looking doubtful for the fully completed site at Port Edgar. Dave knows this and has made the decision to start-up both the distilling and brewing operations at a temporary site (an ex-Bonded Warehouse) just outside South Queensferry 'as-soon-as-possible' (this should translate to late summer 2015), with the aim to provide Forth Bridge & other branded gin and vodka first, with beer following-on just after (hooray!), so now there's a bit more of a definite marker down in the sand. And the beers themselves? Dave has trialled some beers at a friend's large-scale home-brewery (and also home-distilled a number of varieties of gin), but there’s no doubt that tastings and further tweaking would only be a good thing (hopefully he'll use Krafty Brew or Stewart's Craft Beer Kitchen for this), so I simply can't comment on how good they are likely to be. The portfolio of beers planned still includes a traditional range, some Scottish fruit beers, more contemporary/'craft' beers and a number of RNLI-associated beers.
(mock-up pic from Forth Bridge Brewery Facebook page)

I think that with the investment Dave has at the moment, and if he keeps the drinks-industry people that he currently has on-board, that this is still definitely going to happen, however it's certainly more ambitious and longer term than anyone could have imagined (especially Dave himself). I'm still happy enough that I invested my £50 for 'Beer for Life', but I'd probably struggle to justify any more than that at this particular point-in-time and due to my own personal circumstances. It certainly was a couple of interesting, informative hours in Dave's company, but I eventually bade him 'good luck' and headed back to the approach of the Forth Road Bridge. The pedestrian and cycle paths over the bridge are reached from the underpass at Bo'ness Road; I ignored the (I assume old) sign which pointed me over the east side of the bridge and instead headed onto the west side path where I could a decent view of the Queensferry Crossing (note that 50mph limit on the sign is to be reduced to 40mph in the next few months).

It's really quite fascinating to watch such a complex and large-scale construction project happen over the weeks, months and years (their twitter account gives the latest updates for this, @NewForthBridge). After starting in 2011 the 3 main bridge towers are now in place in the Forth; these are above the main bridge deck level but still have a bit to go before reaching their final heights for the suspension cables.

Looking at the southern (Port Edgar) side, a number of V-shaped column supports for the main bridge deck have been constructed out into the Forth, but (although it may seem like it) the actual road deck isn't there yet, only the side walls. The v-columns will continue out into the river almost until the first tower.

From my high-up vantage point I was able to see a bit more of the Port Edgar barracks where I'd just been with Dave (the boilerhouse chimney is quite prominent); they really are quite extensive.

The larger central tower was constructed on a small islet called Beamer Rock which had previous housed a lighthouse (now demolished), and even the islet itself is not visible over the cofferdam at the base of the tower.

I believe there are going to be only a couple of V-shaped column supports on the north side approach, these will be completed later in 2015 when all the southern ones have been finished off. Unsurprisingly a lot of material needs to get transferred to/from the towers and so there is a fairly constant flow of small ships between them and both shores.

As I reached the end of the Road bridge I could see that a lot of construction work had already taken place on the approach roads at the M90 Ferrytoll junction to accommodate the Queensferry Crossing, so it definitely looks as if it is all set to open in late 2016 (and possibly under budget). It probably took about 45 minutes to walk across the Road Bridge (with lots of stops for photo taking) and I then had to work out how to get along to North Queensferry train station. I headed down some steps at the end of the bridge, under the road deck and then down even more steps to Hope View road. This led me down to the shoreline at North Queensferry (with some great views of the Forth Rail Bridge), before I (reluctantly) gave the Albert Hotel a miss and climbed the steep incline of The Brae at Ferryhill Road, reaching North Queensferry station somewhat out-of-breath.

I didn't have long to wait for the north-bound train and this dropped me off at Dunfermline Town station after a journey of only 15 minutes or so. From here it was less than 10 minutes’ walk, past the elegant Alhambra Theatre to the Pink House, or more correctly, the Abbot House Heritage Centre, where they were throwing a party to celebrate the Abbot House's 20th Birthday.

They have a fantastic sun-trap of a garden at the rear (facing the imposing Dunfermline Abbey) and today this was full of people listening to the live music, eating from the BBQ, chatting & relaxing in the sun, and, of course, drinking beer brewed in the adjacent (and tiny) Abbot BrewHouse by brewer (& historian), John Reade. A selection of 6 beers had been setup in the centre of the garden (partially shaded from the sun by the sprawling latticework of bushes & shrubs as well as some painted tarpaulins), with both some newly brewed birthday beers and others which are brewed more frequently. A couple of these did head into, perhaps boring-brown-bitter territory (sorry, John), but the Heritage Mild in particular was lovely - a dark liquoricey, coffee treat of a beer.

I spent far less time than I could have done talking to John about beers & brewing in general, having one of the well-done (and well-priced) BBQ burgers (no food photo for the blog today) and chilling out in the sun, but I did manage to visit the small Abbot House gift-shop before I left. Here I noticed an intriguing range of special edition honey beers available to buy over and above their normal Scottish Heather Honey beer - Orange Blossom, Chestnut, Leatherwood and Lavender - perfect for someone with as sweet a tooth as mine!

Return travel:-
  Train: Dunfermline Town to Edinburgh Haymarket (04, 32 on the hour)
  Train: Edinburgh Haymarket to Glasgow Queen St (every 15 minutes)

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