Brewing's golden years charted in new museum

A NEW visitor attraction charting hundreds of years of beer-making history in Scotland's capital would be built under plans being drawn up by historians and enthusiasts.

• Workmen rolling barrels at Drybrough's Brewery at Craigmillar in Edinburgh. The brewery closed in 1987 and was replaced by flats

Edinburgh's Old Town, which was once at the heart of the city's thriving brewing industry, has been earmarked for the venture, and the city council is already in talks over the plans.

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A retired businessman who spent 40 years working in the brewing industry is spearheading efforts to create the proposed brewing heritage centre.

The attraction would chart the capital's history of brewing, which dates back to the 12th century, and lift the lid on the rise and fall of an industry which once supported 40 different breweries, but now boasts just one.

It would look at the huge growth of the industry in 19th-century Edinburgh and the brewing giants whose famous brands were exported around the world, as well as the way famous products were promoted and advertised.

The history of Edinburgh's most famous public houses, fluctuations in the city's drinking laws and how the end of the Second World War triggered the beginning of the end for the brewing boom would also be explored.

Officials at the city's museums service have been involved in early discussions over the plans, which are being pursued by John Martin, a former finance manager with brewing giant Scottish & Newcastle. However, the council is keen to incorporate the concept as part of a "museums hub" in the Old Town.

Mr Martin, 59, of Swanston, in south Edinburgh, is working on his plans with the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) and curators at the official Scottish Brewing Archive at Glasgow University.

He said: "My aim is to create a world-class attraction with links to Edinburgh's past but also looking to the future.

"It would not only explain the history of the brewing industry but also how beer has been made over the years, and explain how the beer produced here was once the safest thing to drink in many parts of Scotland, because water supplies were so poor.

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"Although the project is in the very early stages I've already discussed them with the council and there are a couple of developers interested. I'm now working on a feasibility study to take things to the next stage of development."

Colin Valentine, chairman of the Edinburgh branch of Camra, said: "The city was the main area for brewing in Scotland for more than 200 years, but it's become very much a forgotten part of Edinburgh's history.

"It's only since the 1960s that the industry really declined in the city, and there is now just the one main brewery, the Caledonian at Slateford."

Lesley Richmond, head of the Scottish Brewing Archive, said: "Brewing was once a huge industry in Scotland. You only have to look at the number of street names or developments that were named after breweries."

Thriving industry that employed thousands

MONKS at Holyrood Abbey are thought to have become the first beer-makers in the city in the 12th century.

Commercial brewing was launched in the Holyrood area in 1600.

By the turn of the 20th century, there were more than 40 breweries in the city.

The plentiful supply of pure drinking water led to the development of densely packed clusters of breweries, dubbed the "charmed circle", in and around Canongate, Craigmillar and Dalry/Slateford.

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The two main players in the industry in Edinburgh were the Younger and McEwan dynasties, which merged in 1931. Scottish Brewers' roots went back to 1749, when William Younger created a brewery near the site of the current Kirkgate centre.

By the turn of the century, McEwan had nearly 90 per cent of the beer trade in the north-east of England, a flourishing business in Scotland and a valuable export trade to Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and India. At its peak, the company was producing about one and a half million barrels of beer a year, and employing a staff of more than 200.

Before the Second World War, about 4,500 people were employed in 17 breweries in the capital.

The end of an era was signalled by S&N in Edinburgh in 2004, when it decided to close its Fountainbridge brewery, with the loss of 170 jobs.