Elgin’s Industrial History – what’s brewing?…

Picture of The History Series

The History Series

In this collection of carefully researched blog posts, our resident historian (and wonderful Office Manager) Kay Jackson delves into the stories that shaped our buildings, and the buildings and communities around them.

I suppose it’s no surprise to learn that brewing in Scotland goes back some 5,000 years … but I was surprised to learn that the mainstay of domestic beer making lay firmly the prerogative of women, right up until the 17th century. ‘Alewives’ passed down their expertise introducing ingredients such as herbs and heathers to their potent potion. It’s reported that in Aberdeen in 1509, there were 150 brewers – all women! By the 18th Century, the brewing industry was all about mass production and this feminine dominance soon waned.

Tax on beer was lower in Scotland than in other parts of the country. There was no tax on malt in Scotland, which gave Scottish brewers a financial advantage. Here in Moray, the opportunity was grasped by a group of local businessmen to set up their own brewery. In 1784, they purchased ground close to the already ruined Cathedral for the princely sum of £60 which I reckon equates to about £11,500 today, so not such a bad price!

I learned a good bit about the background to the establishment of breweries in the fascinating ‘Annals of the Burgh and Parish of Elgin’ written by Robert Young, FSA in the 1870s. It covers a myriad of valuable descriptions of local life going right back to the 12th Century. For anyone interested in our heritage, it’s a ‘must’ and really easy to access online.

From this publication, it seems the Elgin Brewery was one of the best breweries in the north of Scotland throughout the 19th Century. Having been destroyed by fire in 1898, the brewery was successfully rebuilt. However, a few years later the Town Council eventually bought it over as part of general improvement plans. There was growing concern that pollution from the kilns was adding to the decay of the Cathedral structure, so brewing ceased on this site.

Another brewery, called the West Brewery, was established at Gallowcrook in 1830. This became another busy industrial brewery but by 1897, the company’s owners decided to change direction and go into the distilling trade. Some 126 years later, the Glen Moray distillery still uses local barley and ranks in the top list of Scotland’s finest malt whiskies.

The beer making tradition still has strong roots in the north with a number of successful micro-breweries providing a wide selection of craft beers … going back to basics by focusing less on mass production and more on exciting flavours and varieties. It’s good to know that Moray’s brewing heritage continues to be a success story!

Just as beer was used as a healing drink in many cultures, Kombucha – fermented green or black tea – has been used for centuries for the same reason. With greater awareness of probiotics and the possible health benefits of fermented foods, Kombucha has resurged as a health product in recent times.

One of the UK’s leading producers is one of our Chanonry Court tenants right here on our doorstep. Kompassion Kombucha has an award-winning product and offers exclusive flavours, prepared with 100% natural ingredients.