Williams Bros is one of the most exciting breweries in Britain. Here we speak to co-founder Scott Williams (pictured right) about how the beer scene has changed since 1988, using traditional ingredients, and all about the beer he's most proud of

Williams Bros started in 1988 - was there a feeling that the beer scene in the UK was changing even then?
To be honest the opportunity in the beer scene never really occurred to us in a general sense. Prior to brewing heather ale our involvement in brewing was essentially at the homebrew level – through a couple of shops of our own in Glasgow and Aberdeen as well as supplying other homebrew retailers from our wholesale business covering the UK and Ireland.

We had contact with a few small brewers at this time by supplying them with malted barley, hops and often yeast but none were doing particularly

Williams Bros is one of the most exciting breweries in Britain. Here we speak to co-founder Scott Williams (pictured right) about how the beer scene has changed since 1988, using traditional ingredients, and all about the beer he's most proud of

Williams Bros started in 1988 - was there a feeling that the beer scene in the UK was changing even then?
To be honest the opportunity in the beer scene never really occurred to us in a general sense. Prior to brewing heather ale our involvement in brewing was essentially at the homebrew level – through a couple of shops of our own in Glasgow and Aberdeen as well as supplying other homebrew retailers from our wholesale business covering the UK and Ireland.

We had contact with a few small brewers at this time by supplying them with malted barley, hops and often yeast but none were doing particularly well and ultimately gave up the ghost. In those days even homebrewers were mainly interested in brewing very traditional ales – no crazy hop varieties for the most part and the art was in making smooth session-able fairly low ABV beers with perhaps the odd barley wine thrown in for good measure. Getting retailers to stock the products seemed to be the big issue for new brewers and they had to pay the same level of duty as the mega-brewers.

What was the ethos the brewery started out with?

Given that we knew in starting brewing commercially that there were challenges in gaining listings and making a profit, we knew the beer would have to be special and sell for a premium. Luckily the reason we had decided to brew commercially is because Bruce had been working on a recipe to recreate ‘heather ale’ since he first heard of the tradition from one of our homebrew customers. Brewing of heather ale in Scotland goes back over 4000 years, has lots of historical and literary references (see our web site) and was for us an opportunity to approach the beer market from a different perspective.

We were selling Scotland, both as a product since the ingredients used (water, barley, heather, bogmyrtle) were indigenous, and the romantic history of which there was a great deal to utilise. Our target markets were tourists and export, we had little luck in most traditional bars but were welcomed with open arms by restaurants and shops catering to tourists. Very quickly the tourists found importers for us in several overseas markets.

How has the brewery adapted to the current burgeoning scene?

As I have often said Williams Bros were a bit of a sleeper cell of brewing. We have been doing our own thing, brewing with weird and wonderful ingredients for so long and slowly building up our consumer base that we were in a great position when the buffalo came over the hill – we jumped on their back and are enjoying the ride. It’s very exciting to see so many new breweries out there especially as most of them are producing great beers and pushing at the boundaries of style and ingredients. There are so many folk out there yet to experience the world of ‘craft’ beer that it looks like there is plenty of scope for the herd to continue growing.

One key aspect of Williams Bros is resurrecting traditional beers – why is this so important?

Well that was our business plan. After heather ale we increased our range using the same ethos – beers brewed using indigenous ingredients with interesting historical precedent. We only started brewing our range of Williams Bros beers once we had taken over the brewery in Alloa and realised we needed some more mainstream (obviously with a twist) beers to fill the brewery and bottling line and so avoid going bust. Keep in mind that things were very tough for a lot of years, prior to SIBA (god bless their cotton socks) pushing for and through progressive beer duty in 2002 small brewers were not doing too great, the whole growth in craft beer in the UK was enabled by this one act.

FOUR TO TRY...

Williams Bros / Midnight Sun / 5.6%
Combining roasted barley, pale malt, chocolate malt and oats with fresh root ginger, this spiced porter is subtle, restrained and well balanced. Midnight Sun has notes of coffee, chocolate, ginger and some earthy hops, with a light body and dry finish.

Williams Bros / March of the Penguins / 4.9%
Coffee, dark chocolate and liquorice flavours are joined by zesty orange peel in this rich, warming stout from Williams Bros. Brewed with oats and wheat in addition to dark roasted malts, March of the Penguins is smooth and creamy with a dry, slightly bitter finish.

Williams Bros / Fraoch Ale / 5%
The original craft beer! Williams Bros. Fraoch Heather Ale is brewed according to a 4,000-year-old recipe. Made with heather and bogmyrtle, the taste is light with flavours of heather, herbs, spice, and perhaps peat coming through. Florals and berries come through on the nose. Finishing clean and smooth, this speciality ale is at once exotic and familiar

Williams Bros / Birds & Bees / 4.3%
Infused with fragrant elderflowers and lemon zest, Birds & Bees was brewed to be enjoyed in the garden on a sunny afternoon. Golden in colour with aromatic floral notes and heady elderflower, this fruity summer ale has a light biscuit body and finishes dry with zingy citrus.