Brewing the Leith Heavy


It started with Ian Rankin posting on Twitter. A photo of an article in Scotland on Sunday, written by David Mclean of the Lost Edinburgh Facebook page and showing photos of the Oxford Bar from 1982. Quite why it’s posted by Lost Edinburgh is anyone’s guess – the Oxford isn’t lost. It hasn’t changed a bit except that the tall beer founts are away and, of course, the point of the article, Willie Ross is away. Also lost was the Leith Heavy.

Some mild searching went on but when Ron Pattinson didn’t know I figured the game was up.

The photos were posted again in April by Avalanche Records and retweeted by Mr Rankin. On that occasion, my query about who made the beer was retweeted and with his 110,000 followers, responses started coming back identifying the short-lived Leith Brewing Company and Ken, ChummeryKen, and, most importantly:

The most remarkable thing about this is that I’ve known Scobes since some time around 2010 when he was a stalwart of Blipfoto and I was a new member. Edinburgh truly is a village.

Anyway, having met up with Scott last evening, I’m sitting here with the original home brew-sized recipes for the Leith Heavy and the brewing logs for the full 10 barrel brews of the Leith Brewing Company. And much more memorabilia. And there’s more of it to come.


But the beer. It is, as you might expect, a fairly traditional Scottish Heavy made with pale malt, a generous helping of crystal malt, flaked maize, which I’ve never used before, and sugar. It should come out around a very sessionable 3.8% ABV. But there are big differences between the Leith Heavy and what the BJCP style guidelines class as a Scottish Heavy. It is lighter than a standard Scottish Heavy and much hoppier. Where the BJCP puts a Scottish Heavy as between 10 and 20 IBU, the Leith Heavy is 40 IBU. To put that in some perspective, Punk IPA is 35 IBU. This is going to be quite a hoppy Scottish Heavy.

The only thing not specified is the yeast. There’s many mentions of “Yeast from L/Clark” soon abbreviated to “Yeast ex LC” which must refer to the Caledonian brewery (founded in 1869 as the Lorimer and Clark Caledonian Brewery). But this is going to have to be brewed with available yeast so the first batch will be split and three different yeasts used: Wyeast 1728 Scottish yeast, Mangrove Jack’s M15 (called Empire and their recommended yeast for Scottish heavy) and my old standby, Safale S04 because it will always be there.

And unless Scott knows someone who would know the taste of the Leith Heavy, there will just need to be extensive testing to decide which of the three is the better beer.

And there’s the story of Ken to tell. This guy was a character worth knowing.

Brewing the Leith Heavy

It’s not just a beer, it’s a toast

Let’s see. I had not long made my first delivery to the Corner Shop in Crossgates so it must have been August last year when a friend said she had been asked by Jock at Woodlea Stables who it was in Limekilns was brewing beer. “You should go up and see him”, she said. I’m very glad I did.  He’s a lovely bloke, who generously swaps bread, cakes and coffee for beer.

And being a baker he is a man with too much bread, especially on a Sunday when the shop closes until the following Friday.

It’s a bit a fashion just now. There’s a bit of a bandwagon about it: beer made with waste bread. There’s Toast Ale. Jaw Brew’s Hardtack. Others I’m sure but it’s not exactly new. Beer and bread have a long history together. The oldest beer recipe uses bread although more recently it has tended to go in the other direction, with beer, beer yeast and spent grains making their way into bread.

And I’m not sure I’m convinced that “eliminating food waste” is much of a reason for making beer out of bread. Bread kinda should be wasted – of all the foods with a limited shelf life, bread is surely the one that should be enjoyed as fresh as possible. The problem with most bread is that its shelf life is too long. Stuffed full of modifiers and preservatives. Real bread like Jock’s, made with just flour, water and a little salt, leavened with natural yeasts, only lasts about a day or so. And there are so many other good things that can be made with bread that’s past its best – toast, French toast, bruschetta, bread and butter pudding, panzanella – that beer seems a bit of a waste really.

No, the reason I’m making beer with Jock’s bread is a little more symbolic. It will mark a bit of a partnership, a collaboration between bread and beer. A toast. The first of my (regular, I hope) pop-up shops will be at Woodlea Stables on 1 July (licence permitting) and I thought it would be nice to combine his bread into my beer to mark the occassion.

So the bread has been cut up into cubes and dried in the oven. Rather than the slow, gentle drying that seems to be recommended, I’ve given it a good roasting to darken the crust and get a good bit of caramelisation. It’ll go in the mash with the grains and hopefully contribute a nice toasted flavour, a bit of colour and maybe a little sourdough tang to the beer.

It’s not just a beer, it’s a toast

It’s not mean, it’s recycling 

It just seemed so wasteful – 200g of fine Columbus and Amarillo that had only been used for dry-hopping about to be composted. And at the back of my mind I remembered reading about the practice of dry hops being used again for bittering. And it was still reasonably early. There was still time to get a brew on.

Of course, I had no idea how to use them. I mean, how much bittering would you get from the hops? Putting the amounts into Beer Alchemy wasn’t much help.It suggested a really bitter brew but I doubted that. They’ll have lost something to the beer they were dry hopping. The internet was a bit of a letdown, although this clearly isn’t a new idea.

So, guesswork. First, a simple malt bill – pale malt and some light crystal malt, aiming for 4.5% ABV. Something that would be fine if it was quite bitter but would be equally OK if it wasn’t all that bitter. I also hedged my bets on the hops – half the used hops for the full boil, the other half at 15 minutes and some new Mosaic at flame out. Fermented with S-05. And probably dry hopped with more Mosaic.

Transferring to the fermenter, it tasted like it’ll be easy-drinking bitter: nothing that would take the enamel from your teeth. Initial thought is that next time I’ll put all the used hops in for the full boil. And I’ll plan ahead – finish brewing at midnight is no fun. As ever, we’ll see when the yeast has done its work. It may well just be something I have to drink myself but an interesting experiment.

It’s not mean, it’s recycling