A History of Brewing in Edinburgh and the Lothians


Edinburgh has a long and illustrious history of brewing, with around 40+ breweries back in the mid-1800’s down to 30 or so by the turn of the last century. Edinburgh used to be able to claim the title of the home of real ale (over Burton-on-Trent) with its ample supply of pure fresh water from the Pentland Hills and rolling barley fields of East Lothian, its Ales were famous & consumed worldwide. Edinburgh is also high up on the pubs per capita/square mile list too as anyone who has visited will well know.

However, the number of breweries was almost down to zero after the closure of McEwan’s Fountain Brewery in June 2005, the Caledonian Brewery had been threatened with closure in 1986 after purchase by the Vaux group but a management buyout had rescued it at the 11th hour and Stewart Brewery was established in 2004, starting the wave of new craft & micro brewery operations all over Edinburgh EH postcodes to return the region back to the pride of Brewing in Scotland again.


1550 – Records of Belhaven Ale being supplied to troops stationed at Dunbar Castle.

1719 – Dunbar market gardener John Johnstone purchased a plot of land close to Belhaven Bay near Dunbar and founded Belhaven Brewery.

1749 – William Younger arrives in Edinburgh and possibly gains employ at Robert Andersons Brewhouse in Leith.

1760 – William Younger purchases co-share in a Brewery at Kirkgate in Leith.

1778 – William Younger’s son Archibald Campbell Younger establishes his own Brewery in the precincts of the Abbey of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh.

1786  – Younger acquired a second, larger brewery at Croft-an-Righ, an ancient lane bordering the eastern precinct wall of the Abbey of Holyroodhouse.

1793 – Younger opened new and even larger premises in the North Back Canongate (now Calton Road) on a site that disappeared later with the building of Waverley Station in Edinburgh.

1803 – Another of William Younger’s sons, William II started his own brewery in the Abbey precinct and soon moved premises after buying an existing brewhouse, malt barn, kiln house, stables and dwelling house in the narrow lane between the Canongate and the Abbey known as Horse Wynd.

1825 – After Archibald’s death in 1819, William II arranged the sale of his brother’s brewery and in 1825 expanded his own by purchasing property on the opposite side of Horse Wynd. This, together with neighbouring ground acquired in 1829, was the site which developed into the Abbey Brewery.

1856 – William McEwan established McEwan’s Fountain Brewery in Fountainbridge, then a suburb on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

1869 – Lorimer & Clark establish Caledonian Brewery at Slateford Road, Gorgie, where it remains to this day.

1930 – McEwans merges with Edinburgh rival William Younger’s Brewery to form Scottish Brewers.

1956 – Abbey Brewery in Edinburgh, previously the Younger’s brewery, was closed down due to failing export trade after the Second World War.

1960 – McEwan’s merged with Newcastle Breweries, forming Scottish & Newcastle.

1965 – Brewing recommences at Traquair House Brewery (dating back as a domestic brewery to the 1700’s) at first experimental but production expands over the following decades [Scottish Borders].

1972 – Family owned by Dudgeon & Company for over 250 years, Belhaven Brewery was sold to a hotel group.

1979 – Broughton Brewery (Broughton Ales) was founded in 1979 by David Younger and James Collins in Broughton in the Scottish Borders.

1990 – Abbey brewery demolished ending the 200+ year association of brewing within the environs of the Abbey of Holyroodhouse.

1993 – During tumultuous times, management buyout of Belhaven Brewery to keep it operational & independently owned.

1998 – Willams Bros Brewing Co. build the Craigmill brewery in Strathaven [Lanarakshire].

2003 – Innis & Gunn setup offices in Edinburgh, though beer is produced at Wellpark Brewery, Glasgow.

2004  – Scottish & Newcastle announced the closure of the Fountain Brewery, production of McEwans and Youngers transferred to Caledonian Brewery. Steve and Jo Stewart establish Stewart Brewing and mash their first beer in a 10 barrel brewhouse at Bilston Glen Industrial Estate, Loanhead. Willams Bros move to Forth Brewery in Alloa [Clackmannanshire].

2005 – Greene King of Suffolk purchase & operate Belhaven Brewery.

2010 – Full to the brim and brewing round the clock Stewart Brewing invest in an upgrade to a 50 hecto-litre brewing kit. Former Stewart Brewing employee and Herriot Watt Brewing and Distilling Graduate Robert Knops establishes Knops Beer Company, brewing beer at Traditional Scottish Ales in Stirling. Barney’s beer founded. Tempest Brewing Co. established in Kelso/Tweedbank [Scottish Borders].

2011 –  Heineken sold the McEwan’s beer brands to Wells & Youngs and production moved to Bedford, England. Belhaven Brewery invests in £1 million new brewhouse. Natural Selection Brewing established by four Herriot Watt MSc Students. Scottish Borders Brewery (now Born In The Borders Brewery) established in Jedburgh.

2012 – James Davies establishes Alechemy Brewing at Brucefield Industry Park, Livingston. Knops Beer Company setup Archerfield Fine Ales at the Archerfield Walled Garden Brewery. Barney’s Beer move to new premises at Summerhall recently vacated by Edinburgh University Veterinary School. Black Metal Brewery founded in 2012. Pilot Beer established by Matt Johnson and Patrick Jones, fellow Herriot Watt MSc Students studying Brewing & Distilling.

2013 – Top Out Brewery established at Dryden Road, Loanhead. Black Metal Brewery share facilities. Pilot establish new brewery at Jane Street, Leith.

2014 – Black Metal Brewery share facilities at Top Out Brewery.

2016 – Bellfield Brewery established brewing gluten-free beer at Stanley Place. Edinburgh Beer Factory established at Bankhead.

I hope to keep this list updated, however the period 2012-present has seen a huge increase in startup breweries in Edinburgh and the surrounding regions both virtual (brewing under license elsewhere) and actual. Some sadly have been quite short-lived and others are healthy, happy and hopefully here to stay – as the passage of time decides the fate of each of these ventures I hope to note down those that last. If you feel you should be on here or want to update anything please get in touch.  In the meantime head over to The Beercasts review on 2016 – The Year Scottish Brewing Changed Forever.



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