I don't know what it is - lockdown - getting on a bit, or just nostalgia, but I'm enjoying at least some of my time on Facebook - Dumbarton Memories in particular. I had held out against Facebook and its somewhat baffling layout for, well, forever, until earlier this year when I signed up. Nonetheless, I enjoy (mostly) the stuff I read and remember about the old town, even contributing and sometimes, shedding a little light, though my memory isn't quite as sharp as some who still live there. Not all mind, just some.
Of course beer and brewing isn't far away from my thoughts. There used to be a brewery in the town which I have mentioned on this blog before. It is a frustration that Dumbarton people have such little memory of it, or simply aren't interested, but that's just the way it goes. Still, one or two snippets have emerged and of course, I'm not entirely blameless myself. Despite living in the town for 20 odd years, I didn't know anything about Gillespie's Crown Brewery myself, until meeting Charles McMaster, the then curator of the Scottish Brewing Archive when I did some work in Edinburgh many years ago. I also refer you here to my previous post.
However, the idea of a new brewery intrigued me and while I rarely give individual breweries** a platform on this blog, I decided to do just that and got in touch with the two lads that run the show to find out what they are about. Firstly the name. This is something I do remember, as the local newspaper is the Lennox Herald. Lennox comes from the coat of arms of the county Dunbartonshire and can be described thus:
"The arms were granted on July 20, 1927. The arms are those of the historical region of Lennox, of which the town Dumbarton was the capital and the region thus was nearly identical to the county. The motto "Levenax" is derived from the Gaelic Leamhanach, or "Land of the elm trees".Now I can't say that I remember many elm trees, but I am old enough to remember when Dunbartonshire had its own police force and the polis cars then had the above coat of arms emblazoned on the doors. You can see a photo of one here.
The brewery has substituted hops for the roses and inserted a neat addition of its own motto. It doesn't need much translation and is a nice touch by owners Andy Jarvis and Iain McLaren. It's nice too to see they at least are inspired by the town's brewing past.
So what's the skinny on the brewery? Here we have it in a convenient question and answer format:
Who are you?
Founders are Andy Jarvis and Iain McLaren, we met while working together. Andy had been a keen home brewer and Iain had also done some home-brew in the past. We are currently the only two members of the company, so we share all the work including brewing, bottling and labelling.
Why a brewery in Dumbarton?
We'd read about the history of brewing in Dumbarton, and thought it was time that the town had a new brewery! Dumbarton, and West Dunbartonshire, has a rich history, and we wanted to tap into that in order to promote our local area as well as bring traditional Scottish beers with a modern twist to market.
Setting up wasn't difficult - it took a few months to find and secure a suitable unit. Once we had that we were able to fire up the kit and start developing our beers.
Where and what do you brew?
We have a very small unit in Dumbarton, close by the River Leven. Until recently we were brewing in 100L kit, but have recently upgraded to 300L vessels. Brews are generally two weeks in the FV, another week secondary fermentation, and then into bottles. We do casks as well, but due to the current pandemic we're concentrating on bottles.
What are the hopes, aims and ambitions?
Our ambition is to have a successful, well-known, small
brewery. Brewing has been a learning curve for both of us, but we're getting
great reviews and feedback. Our small batch size does mean there are variations
in each run, but we see that as something unique and proof that we're not a
mass-producer of genericness! Finding outlets has been a challenge - we've had
support from independent retailers, but the pubs that are tied to a brewery are
a hard nut to crack.
We’re inspired to see so many great, independent Scottish breweries doing so well these days and I think that pushes us to continue to try to improve - and expand upon - our own range of beers. As far as Desert Island beers - the list would probably be as long as our arms, but it would definitely have a load of stouts near the top; things like Sam Smiths Organic Chocolate Stout, Wild Beer Co's Millionaire, Thornbridge Cocoa Wonderland. I think I'd also need to temper the list with some lighter beers - pretty much anything from Sharps Brewery, specifically Doom Bar though and maybe some Innis and Gunn thrown in for good measure.
What’s your ambition for Lennox Brewery? Hobby? World domination?
We're hoping to be able to expand so that we can take some staff on and continue to produce excellent beers that put brewing in Dumbarton back on the map!
So what of the beers? The current production, as you'd expect, covers all the bases. One delight to this ex season ticket holder, is that the brewery produces the official beer of Dumbarton FC. This pleases me greatly as I remember all too well drinking in the Dumbarton FC Social Club - like the then football ground, but not the club - long gone. Then, we drank without a great deal of enthusiasm, beers from Drybroughs who had rather a monoclastic* view of brewing, each beer being parti-gyled from a base beer which wasn't great to start with. Mind you, we knew nothing of that then. But I digress. The brewery produces an Amber Ale called Sun of the Rock (see below), a lager, IPA, Oatmeal Stout, Golden Ale and, more adventurously, a Cranachan Ale. So plenty to go at. I'm looking forward to trying the stout as I note the lads mention a favourite beer which is also one of my mine - Thornbridge Cocoa Wonderland. As an aside, I remember - not too well - discovering it in cask form and on top blob in Sheffield before the CAMRA AGM. The bar is therefore set extremely high for the stout, and if a fan of the UK's largest selling cask beer, Doom Bar, the Amber Ale may well be on the money for you.
The Scottish brewing scene has been a thriving one in recent years and the success of BrewDog (obvs), Harviestoun, Stewart, Fierce, Williams Brothers and of course, nearby Loch Lomond, just announced as Scottish Brewery of the Year, gives a great aiming point for any newcomer. There are now over 100 Scottish Brewers, so, Covid aside, the scene is thriving and for many, success can be achieved. As Chairman Mao said, the longest journey starts with a single step.
Finally, it is, to this exiled Son of the Rock, very pleasing
indeed to see brewing returned to the town. As with all breweries at the moment, given where we are with
Covid-19 restrictions, this must be a bit of an uphill task, but I wish
them success and look forward to visiting when Boris and the Wee Nippy
Sweetie allow it.
* It appears I have made this word up, but I like it, so I'll dictate the meaning. "Producing many variations from one original."
** OK. John Willie Lees excepted
A native of Dumbarton can be referred to as a Son of the Rock. Not sure about the gender aspects here, so I'll just move on.
The lads kindly sent me a few beers to try, but that of course doesn't influence me in any way. I'm just doing my bit for the return of brewing to my home town, so if you can, give the beers a try. You can have a look at the website here and the boys will sort you out with local delivery.