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Known locally as “The Caley”, the Caledonian Brewery is a distinctive red brick building from the Victorian era. It is famed for using traditional brewing methods and equipment such as traditional open square fermenters and original direct fired heated copper kettles. However, Caledonian is also a progressive brewery with a state-of-the-art pilot brewery and modern conical fermenters, allowing it to brew progressive new world styles and lagers.
The Caledonian Brewery owns its establishment to George Lorimer, a London tea merchant. His family came from Edinburgh and in 1865, when was just 18, his father (George Lorimer Snr.) was tragically killed in a fire at Edinburgh's Theatre Royal, so forcing him to return to Edinburgh from London to attend to his father’s estate. George was a keen golfer and member of the Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society, as were many of Edinburgh's leading brewers. One day, after a round, George was drinking with Robert Clark, brewer at the Alexander Melvin Brewery in Edinburgh and after a couple of beers, the discussion turned to what George was going to do with his inheritance. The conversation concluded with his announcing that he’d start a brewery. It’s the kind of exchange many of us have after a few beers, but George and Robert did indeed go on to start a brewery.
In 1868, when George was 21 and so of age, he inherited his father's estate and purchased the 2.3-acre site, which still houses the Caledonian Brewery from the Earl of Shandon. George provided the money and Robert the brewing expertise. Completed in 1869, they named their brewery Lorimer and Clark’s Caledonian Brewery, after the Caledonian railway line which still forms the northern boundary of the site.
Designed by architect Robert Hamilton Paterson, in 1892 a new brewery and maltings replaced the original buildings with gravity utilised throughout the brewing process. This is the cleverly laid out brewery displaying Victorian ingenuity that survives to this day.
Such was the quality of Caledonian’s beer that it quickly became renowned, particularly Lorimer's Best Scotch ale which sold predominantly in the north-east of England. So much so, that after George Lorimer’s death in 1919, The Caledonian Brewery was purchased by Sunderland-based Vaux Breweries.
Vaux developed Lorimer’s Best into one of the bestselling beers in the northeast of England with very little of the beer brewed at Caledonian remaining in Scotland. This led to Vaux’s decision to stop brewing the beer at Caledonian in 1986 and transfer production to their main brewery in Sunderland.
Vaux had never really invested in Caledonian and following the shift of brewing Lorimer’s Best a threat of closure hung over the brewery. Eventually, in 1987, Caledonian was saved by a management buy-out led by Head Brewer, Russell Sharp and the Caledonian Brewing Company was formed.
Proud of their newfound independence, the new owners set about restoring Caledonian’s reputation as a local Edinburgh brewer and in 1991 they launched their flagship beer, Deuchars IPA, still one of the most popular beers in the city.
Deuchars IPA is named after and was inspired by another Edinburgh brewer, Robert Deuchar from Duddingston on the far side of the city. Deuchar was a very inventive an entrepreneurial guy and brewing was just one of the numerous industries he was involved in. He was a man who liked to do things differently and embodied Victorian entrepreneurialism. The beer Russell Sharp brewed in respect to Robert Deuchar was pale in colour with powerful citrusy hops. This was some 20 years before the modern day trend for light pale golden pale with a pronounced hop character. Deuchars IPA was a quarter of a century ahead of the times and is a fitting tribute to the man it was named after. Today, Deuchars represents some 75% of Caledonian’s output.
In 2008, Scottish & Newcastle bought the Caledonian Brewery. The background to Scottish & Newcastle’s purchase stemmed from the company outsourcing the keg filling of its McEwan’s beers brewed at its large Fountain Brewery at Fountainbridge, less than a mile from away, to Caledonian. In 2008, when the Fountain Brewery was closed completely, S&N sought to acquire Caledonian to maintain their foothold in Edinburgh and continue the company’s long history of brewing in the city. About eight weeks after the purchase was completed, Heineken brought Scottish & Newcastle, so by default Caledonian Brewery became part of the Heineken family.
Caledonian is a brewery where everything is still done by hand. Because its previous owners never invested in brewing technology or brewing machinery it remains largely a Victorian brewery. Malt is still weighed out by hand and hops carried to the copper kettles in sacks. There are no automated delivery systems. Michael Jackson, the late beer writer, referred to Caledonian as a working museum.
It would be more efficient to move brewing to a modern facility but thankfully Heineken appreciate what a gem of a brewery Caledonian is and they have continued to support its future, most recently installing a pilot brewery for the development of new beers which might in years to come be as successful as Deuchars IPA.
To view our interview with Caledonian Brewery's Managing Director, Andy Maddock, please visit our People & Personalities section.