Hi Richard, thanks for taking the time to give us an insight into Vault City and congratulations on winning Brewing Product of the Year at the Scotland Food & Drink Awards 2022, in September. To start, please can you tell us a bit about the brand and the history of Vault City?
Thank you! We were absolutely delighted with the award. We’re Vault City, an independent craft brewery and Scotland’s largest sour beer producer. We make heavily fruited, modern sour beers in (sometimes) sunny Portobello, Edinburgh. Since 2018, we’ve focused on relentless exploration when it comes to brewing. Our house culture and mixed fermentation base pair perfectly with real fruit ingredients, and we use literally tonnes of the stuff in our recipes to help push the boundaries of what people would typically expect from a beer.
What started in the basement of Steve, our founder’s Edinburgh flat, has quickly grown to a craft brewery producing well over 300,000 litres of beer a year with two taprooms and a smokehouse in Portobello. We certainly don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we are serious about beer. Every two weeks we release new beers focusing on sessions, mid, and high vault-age sours. For us, that means bright colours, bold new flavours, and a production team that aren’t afraid of a challenge.
You were up against some tough competition for the award (from household names such as Aldi and one of my favourite local taprooms, Bellfield Brewery). Please tell us a bit about your winning product, the Bruichladdich X Brewgooder Barrel Aged Whisky Sour Beer, and what makes it special?
It’s amazing to stand shoulder to shoulder with some seriously talented and established breweries like Bellfield and Drygate. To come home with the award was absolutely unreal, and a true testament to our production team’s hard work.
Together with Islay’s masterful distillers, Bruichladdich, and social enterprise, Brewgooder, we created an 11% ABV wild honey and lemon balm infused sour beer, barrel aged in Bruichladdich single malt barrels for nine months. Bruichladdich casks had previously never left Islay to be used by a brewery, making the sweet oak and barley flavour they’ve imparted on the beer incredibly special. Finally, wild lemon balm was added, hand-picked by Bruichladdich’s resident forager, delivering a perfect lip-puckering tartness. Each bottle unlocks 1000x its volume in clean water projects globally, creating one of the most impactful beers ever brewed for a good cause.
Vault City produce some interesting – super exciting - flavours of sour beer such as blackcurrant choc chip waffle, pineapple habanero and dark fruits cookie dough. Where does the brewery get inspiration for the flavours?
We take inspiration from lots of different places, but our main source for recipe generation comes from our team. Each quarter we’ll have a team meeting, sample some of the highest rated beers from Untappd, check in with our Vault City communities on social for their feedback and together come up with a release schedule for the months ahead. Sometimes people’s ideas come from flavours they think would work well together, and we’ve even created beers based on recipes from MasterChef.
The Scottish craft beer industry seems to be booming with over 100 breweries operating nationwide. How do you tackle this for local and international markets?
We’re very lucky to have such a niche product. People laughed when Steve started a dedicated sour beer brewery but it’s a style that’s grown massively in popularity over the last 4 years, and not just in the UK. Our fruit forward sweet/tart beers are very accessible and in many ways become a gateway for people getting into craft beer, which helps us cut through the noise of an already saturated market.
Our beers are especially popular in places like Singapore where the hot weather calls for refreshing fruity drinks.
Are there any special features that make Scottish craft beer different from craft beer produced outside of Scotland?
Scotland has a great craft beer community, with fantastic breweries doing amazing things, but I guess the same could be said for many other countries. Where Scotland has a great advantage in my opinion, is our sheer number of distilleries, which gives ample opportunity for barrel aged beers and collaborations like our Bruichladdich/Brewgooder partnership.
Vault City have distributors throughout Europe and some in Asia. What are the main challenges and benefits to setting up a reliable distribution network?
Covid has presented significant challenges, with some countries still facing varying levels of lockdown. Brexit also meant shifting our export strategy when during times of uncertainty we began looking further afield for places to sell our beer. One huge benefit we have is that our beer is suitable for ambient storage. It doesn’t typically have hops so we don’t need to refrigerate the beer when exporting it, which has opened up a lot of export markets. It also doesn’t fade in flavour the way hoppy beers often can, so our beer has a long shelf life which is another thing that makes Vault City ideal for export markets.
And which flavours appeal in different geographies?
Big fruity flavours go down a treat in most countries, but especially so in Asian countries where the weather is hot and humid. We find that the flavours appeal more seasonally than geographically. Our pastry and dessert sours are great in colder months, and our straight up fruit sours are extremely popular during summer.
Any exciting plans for the future for Vault City that you can share with us?
We’ve just added 8 new tanks and a brand new canning line to the brewery so that’s been extremely exciting! We also opened our new taproom & smokehouse back in July so we’ll be hosting more events there. 2023 for us will be all about export, which hopefully means more beer festivals and international collaborations!
And finally, a question we’ve been asking other friends of Scran & sIPs™ – as well as each other: What would be your festive tipple of choice from your own collection?
From our current releases, I’d have to say Double Cinnamon Cherry Caramel Biscuit, but we also have a big chocolatey stout coming this Christmas which will be the perfect fireside tipple for the festive season!