Students put tun of work into creating home brew

Shane O'Beirne and Denis Johnstone. Picture: Neil Hanna

Shane O'Beirne and Denis Johnstone. Picture: Neil Hanna

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PUTTING students in charge of a brewery sounds like a recipe for disaster rather than academic excellence.

But four postgraduates at Heriot-Watt University are hoping their home brew will help them pass their exams rather than miss them.

The group are to contribute to the Capital’s thriving independent beer scene by producing, marketing and selling their own brew in pubs and off-licences across the Capital next month.

In what is thought to be a world first, Denis Johnstone, Kristen Ewer, Shane O’Beirne and John Woodford have already lined up sales deals for Anorak, a wheat beer they have made at home as part of the assessment for their university’s MSc course in brewing and distilling.

Following next month’s launch at the Stockbridge Tap, Anorak will be produced in industrial quantities by Edinburgh’s Stewart Brewing and distributed to watering holes such as the Bow Bar, Cloisters and Holyrood 9A, as well as independent off-licence chains.

For Denis, 25, making a beer for market has been far from just an extension of the average student bender.

He said: “It’s been really hard work. We’ve been walking around ten kilometres and up to 12 hours a day on some days speaking to people, bar managers, off-licence managers – bringing our prototypes to them and letting them give us feedback.

“We’ve also had to learn the science of brewing. It’s not just about taking the raw materials, sticking them into a tub and producing a beer. It’s much more complicated than that.

“People without the training we’ve had would not be able to run a large-scale brewing operation. They’ll have problems with infections and they will also tend to waste a lot of the ingredients.”

Denis said he was confident of the quality of the product his group will offer to Edinburgh’s drinkers.

He said: “We’ll be producing a wheat beer and, normally, when people think of that they think of the banana flavour you often get in Germany or Belgium.

“We wanted to get the flavour from the hops so we have chosen some North American hops which give a really citrussy, tropical fruit flavour.

“Even though it is home brew, ours is much better quality. Home brew will often have off-flavours or isn’t refined. We’re confident this beer will get really good reviews.”

For fellow student Shane, 29, the diversity of the Capital’s drinking scene has been key to the project’s success.

He said: “Everyone has been really positive. It’s because you have so many independent off-licences in Edinburgh and people like the unusual and something that has a bit of a story to it. There’s always something new and fresh going on.”

Professor David Quain, of Heriot-Watt University’s International Centre for Brewing and Distilling, said: “These guys are a million miles away from the Young Ones- influenced student cliches.

“They’re going out there and trying to sell their beer as a concept. The home brewing they do is of a very high standard and they’ll also have to write a dissertation at the end of this, which will have a laboratory element. They’re working very hard.”