by Peter Urpeth.
Locally brewed cask and craft ales will be available once more in the Outer Hebrides from the beginning of March, when the Hebridean Brewing Company opens it new brewery, bar and shop in Newton Street, Stornoway.
As it is situated more than 50 miles off the north west coast of Scotland, the new facility is appropriately named 'The Edge O' The World Brewery'.Under its licensee and head brewer, Andy Ribbens, The Edge O' The World will serve Hebridean Brewery's five ales in the bar, as well guest beers, perry and cider.
The new facility, formerly a warehouse and offices, is providing the Hebridean Brewery with new space, and plans to grow.Working at a current brewing capacity of 5400 litres a week, with a hand-bottling and packing process that enables completion of 800 bottles a day, the brewery is looking to expansion with an additional 4000 litre brewing set-up.
"Our aim," says Andy, "is to produce everything on this site.Other brewers do cut costs by contract brewing but I just don't feel that that is the right way of doing things."
Andy could be forgiven for finding every way possible to overcome some of the additional costs of being a brewer in one of the UK's most remote breweries, and transport and logistics remain the biggest headaches.
In a previous incarnation, the brewery was forced out of business following a Christmastime mix-up that saw vital stock left sitting in a haulier's yard whilst supermarket buyers awaited their key festive deliveries of the brewery's strong bottled ale. Now, as a new company and with new backers, Andy is using his knowledge and experience of the trade to deliver a distinctive new bar.
The licensed trade in Stornoway is currently dominated by Punch Taverns, with half of all the premises in the town belonging to the chain.For the local brewer this has created a difficult challenge in terms of ensuring local availability of his products, and one that heis meeting by opening his own dedicated licensed point of sale.
Aimed at gaining popularity with a mixed range of customers, the bar's main offer will be beers and wines. It has a children's licence and plans for the near future include serving food. Bucking the trend, the Edge O' The World has not taken a late licence and plans to close at 11pm every night.
"I've got no interest in doing spirits," says Andy, "I'd rather do teas and coffees than a lot of spirits. I want to make this an enjoyable place for anyone to come and sit and have a drink. If you want to go on somewhere else after we shut there are plenty of places catering for that in town already."
The brewery is also offering a new membership scheme that will reward members with discount prices on the brewery's ales. "After all," says Andy, "I can make significant cost reductions due to the fact that the beer is only travelling through the wall at the back of the bar.We find that during the summer our biggest markets have been the other islands - Harris, Uists and Barra. Stornoway is and always has been a black hole in terms of real beer, and we are going to change that."
Andy Ribbens, despite his distinctive London accent, has very strong ties to the island, and so, when he left his work as a logistics manager for the Well Research Foundation, a large research pharmaceuticals corporation, and began learning the brewery trade, he decided to return to the island to set up his businesses, and to live in the family home of his grandparents in Tong.
His experiences in the pharma industry extended to being one of the social secretaries at the firm's social and sports club facilities.With the club’s associate and retired membership approaching 6000, the experience helped Andy develop many of ideas for the pub trade: "I've seen a biochemist talking to a medical chemist, talking to a physical chemist and coming up with really good ideas over a pint, and that's where alcohol can be good, and it’s that kind of atmosphere I want to create."