Interview: Stuart Leithead from Shilling Brewing Company

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Glasgow makes beer on an industrial scale and exports it all over the world. Increasingly small producers are also getting in on the action and creating new craft brews that experiment with different flavours and types of production. It’s a burgeoning business, creating some interesting drinking dens alongside trendsetting pints.

While places like Drygate and West have opened on the peripheries of the city centre, newcomer Shilling Brewing Company is right in the thick of it, taking over a handsome building on St. Vincent Street to create their new concoctions. Intrigued by the aromas of fresh hops, we decided to ask some questions of manager Stuart Leithead.

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Glasgowist: So, six months into it, how are you finding things?

It’s been interesting. We find ourselves making changes as we go on. The company that owns us is a midsize company, it owns ten units in Scotland, one in Manchester and then another dozen in London and the south coast. So we’re a relatively small company with diverse units and we haven’t done anything like this. So, it was a case of myself and my three assistant managers learning the ropes and doing a lot of research on it. Then we have an in-house brewer – Declan – who used to be the brewer at Clockwork on the Southside. He’s worked for Brewdog and things. For us it’s been a fascinating learning process.

It’s a bit of a learning process for Glasgow as well because we haven’t had a brew pub in the city centre before.

Absolutely. There’s nowhere else in the city centre that does it. Obviously there’s Drygate, West and Clockwork who have a different focus but we’re actually getting a bit of a community with the other places as well. We had a lot of input with Drygate in particular when we were in there researching the process.

What’s the range of beers you have right now? Are you concentrating on a particular type of beer in terms of taste?

We have our three core brews that we do all the time. We have seven beers in total on tap – we always talk about doing an eighth beer but we think that seven is the optimum amount that we’re set up to do.

The core brews are the Unicorn IPA, The Glasgow Red and The Steamie which is a blonde ale. So now we have three quite diverse brews there, we can play around with that. At the moment we’re doing a Black Star Teleporter, a black IPA. Then there is is a Shilling Squared which is a twist on the old heavy style.

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What about your food?

We have been doing nine pizzas plus a couple of rotational specials. We’re supplementing that with some more sides but we want to keep the menu simple.

Your signature beer would be the Unicorn would you say? Hence the massive Unicorn mural on the wall.

Yes, that’s our current flagship beer.

How do you even start to design a beer? After you decide to open a brew pub, what happens next – do you look at different ingredients or start to think about what you want it to taste like or does someone show you a palette of flavours and you pick some out?

I think it’s all of those things. It depends on what’s available to us in terms of hops, You might not know this but there’s a bit of a shortage at the moment, particularly in the States.

It’s all those goddamn hipsters in Portland and Brookyln hoarding the supply.

Pretty much. People are bulk-buying heavily and I wouldn’t say we are restricted but it is something we have to bear in mind. If we come up with a beer, we want to know we can do it again in six months time.

In terms of a palette we do try to keep our beers fairly diverse. With brewery equipment and kit, it’s not a case of the first day you fire it up and that’s you away and running. It takes a while to learn what you want to do and the ways to get the most out of it. I feel that’s where we are now.

We’ve not been conservative with our choices but we’ve done established styles to this point and we maybe haven’t been as adventurous as some more established breweries. So, we’re really starting to look at those alternatives on what we can do.

Has that been informed by chatting with some of your regulars too?

In terms of deciding what we are going to do, we always put it out there on social media, take feedback, look at trends and take feedback from customers. We involve our staff a lot and get them to recommend things. We brew two or three times a week so we do have that chance to do something a bit different. Maybe we’re not quite sure how it will go, but we can try it out.

How have people taken to the idea of having a brew pub on St. Vincent Street?

We kind of did assume that people would realise we are a brew pub straight away after walking through the door. The copper stills are quite big but because of where they are on the gantry, people think that they are just for decoration. So we have to educate people about what we do and our staff have been trained to know the brewing process inside out.

What comes next, could we see Shilling Brewing Company in other parts of Glasgow or other parts of the country?

Potentially. That’s the dream obviously. There’s so many different ways for us to expand. We are sill perfecting what we do here and making a lot of changes. From this point, we’re looking to get out to the festivals and we are going to start selling our beer in Alston bar and beef, which is another one of our units.

We’ve good relationships with some of the local brewers and we’re looking ahead to doing some collaborations which is exciting.

Is there a common desire to see the craft beer sector grow so people are willing to help the new kid on the block?

Do you know, we weren’t sure about this. But there’s a real sense of helping each other around the smaller brewers. It’s kind of mutually beneficial. We get to showcase their products in city centre as well as our own. I think we all compliment each other really well.

Opening here, does it strengthen the brand by saying your beer is from Glasgow?

For the last few years I think Glasgow has been seen as a vibrant city and the fact that so many restaurants and bars are opening reflects a confidence in the city.

If you were to add an eighth beer, do you have any tips on what you are experimenting with?

Oh, one of the ways is to experiment with what we get in from other suppliers – we had a few sours. We had a red berry and hibiscus sour that went down really well. Sour beer would be something we’d like to expand.

We still haven’t brewed a stout. We’re looking at a raspberry milk sour or something like that.

We’d try that.

So would I! Declan has lots of ideas.

I can imagine when you are sitting with the staff it becomes quite a lobby session with people suggesting what they think will sell but also what they would like to try themselves.

Well that’s it. It’s the challenge. Find something that you like and that other people would like. We do have that flexibility now to experiment. Expect to see some wacky stuff coming up.

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