We catch up with entrepreneur and head brewer, Calum Bennett at Loomshed Brewery
Hi Calum, tell us why you think Harris needs a brewery?
Personally, I think everywhere should have a local brewery, it makes for a much more interesting beer scene, increases consumer choice, increases local employment and is environmentally better than importing beer. Harris has such a unique place it needs a beer to reflect that.
What sort of beer are you going to brew? When will the first batch be ready?
We will be brewing a pale ale and a craft lager, these are good honest approachable beers. We have put our own twist on some classic styles. We aren’t focusing on trends or gimmicks just producing some really high-quality beers from the best possible ingredients.
There will also be doing some seasonal one-off beers using local produce, I am looking at a sea salt gorse gose at the moment and we have some ex-Speyside whisky barrels which we will be doing something with in future.
What have been the hardest things to do in setting up a brewery?
There has been a lot of paperwork to do, some of it very, very, very boring indeed!
Any funny stories in setting up the business?
I can’t really think of anything
You’re in your early 20’s have you found people to be helpful or patronising because of your age?
Most people have been really helpful, I think that I project quite a confident image when it comes to brewing knowledge but also I’m not afraid to ask for help when I need it. I did the M.Sc course in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt and I think people take me much more seriously than they otherwise would because of this. We have a consultant who has been in the industry for well over 20 years and he has been a great mentor to me so I know that I have a backup if I need it.
People often talk about how much work it is to set up a business. How much do you work a week? What do you do with your time off?
It is a huge amount of work, thankfully we have a great wee team working together to get it all sorted. I handle most of the production stuff and Rob and Jamie handle the rest between them. So it’s fairly well spread out. Its feast or famine with work hours, sometimes I am waiting for deliveries and licences and just do my core 40 hours a week and some weeks I do multiple brewdays or have meetings and it can be well over that.
In my time off I like to enjoy the island life, BBQs on the beach in summer, really lovely scenic walks. When it rains (which it does a lot during a Harris winter) I do an inside hobby, I am an avid tinkerer so I always have something on the go, mushroom growing, I make a lot of fermented foods kombucha, hot sauce, kimchi, sourdough, etc.
Some of us grew up in an era where all we could drink was chemical filled rubbish, but now we seem to be going through a golden era of craft brewing with new ones sprouting up on (seemingly) every corner. Are you worried that there will be an oversupply of craft breweries?
It certainly is an exciting time for beer at the moment! I still think there is a lot of room for smaller local breweries. Beer is a £9 billion a year industry and craft beer still only has a small fraction of that. The vast majority of the market is still the chemical filled rubbish of yesteryear.
However, I think that the way people think about beer is changing and the public is demanding a high quality of drink. People want to drink beer which is fresher, more eco-friendly and has a greater variety. Moreover, they want to be connected to the beer, it needs to tell a story. I think craft beer can offer that in a way that the AB InBevs of the world cant.
I definitely think craft beer is not only here to stay but also has some growing left to do. I see the recent Carling rebranding as a big vote of confidence in this. Here was a brand who was playing the volume game, Carling was one of the cheapest beers you could buy, can’t imagine the margins on it were great but they made loads of it, it was one of the biggest selling lagers in the country. Now they have rebranded it to a higher quality more expensive beer. That is the canary in the macro lager coal mine to my mind.
Where do you intend to supply?
We will be supplying the whole of the western isles and hope to grow into the mainland in the future.
You’ve got a cool and funky design, did you do it?
I wish I had the skills! No, it was a great up and coming artist Hannah Jakobsen who worked in one of Jamie’s shops part-time while she did her Art Degree.
We’ve just been to Harris on holiday and it really is one of the most beautiful places on earth. We were, however, a bit disappointed with the food. Do you have any plans to expand the brewing operation into other areas?
It definitely is beautiful! There certainly is an abundance of fantastic local ingredients on the island and we are planning to branch out to do other food and drink projects, it all depends on which passionate young Hebridean we find to bring into the Loomshed family.
Do you want to stay small and happy, or are you after global domination?
I think we want to go somewhere in the middle, all businesses need to grow and so will we in order to create as much employment on the island as we can. I think dominion of the beer shelves of the Western Isles will be plenty for us!
You studied in Edinburgh, where would you go for a good pint?
It depends on what you want. The Athletic Arms (Diggers) always has well-kept beers and is a great setting, it’s like the blueprint for a good local pub and it does fantastic pies, so if you’re after a laid back evening with friends then diggers is the place. If you want to drink the craziest crafty beers then it has to be the Hanging Bat, they always have all the newest and maddest beers. It’s the sort of place where you can follow a 14% Barleywine with a beer that looks like a mango smoothie! So if you’re going out purely to taste some amazing beers that’s the place to go!
How do we stay in touch with developments at Loomshed?
Our website is now live Loomshed.scot
We are also on all the main social media platforms @loomshedlife
Our brewery and taproom will be open on the outskirts of Tarbert by July this year so pop on it and say hello!
Thanks, Calum and good luck with the new venture. Harris is a beautiful island and you have provided yet another great reason to go there! Read more about island businesses here