We’re a month shy of completing our first year in our new Portobello Brewery – 2021 has been a tremendous year for Vault City, although one that feels a lot like flying by the seat of our pants.
I’ll start by saying how incredibly humbling it feels to be surrounded by a team of people with such incredible passion – we’re trying to give back the best we can with decent wages and our four-day working week – it often doesn’t feel enough to have such an enthusiastic and talented team pour their heart and soul into every beer that goes out.
With that said, and in typical Scottish fashion let’s start with a regret. We’re gutted to see some of the issues with Strawberry Stars, the flagship beer for our third birthday. There are growing reports of issues with refermentation, resulting in a beer that isn’t representative of the quality we strive for. We went through the usual process of ensuring terminal gravity in tank, however, given it’s the first time we’ve worked with glitter we’ve got a few things wrong. In order to package with the glitter dispersed throughout the bottles and kegs we needed to recirculate during packaging – something we hadn’t done before. We’re looking into how this caused a tertiary fermentation to kick off, a small one but enough to over carbonate a number of kegs and bottles, and make a mess of your kitchen. Initially this looked to be an outlier however over time it’s clear we’re now in a recall position.
The whole team is gutted and we’re changing processes going forwards to ensure terminal gravity without pasteurisation or filtration methods to preserve the mixed fermentation character of our beers.
If you had issues with Strawberry Stars, please get in touch with us directly if you purchased from us, alternatively directly with whomever you purchased from. To the bars and bottle shops we really know you don’t need this additional overhead and we apologise profusely. With that in mind, if you’re determined to try this awesome beer, get your bottle as cold as you can, pour into a large glass, give it time to decarb and enjoy!
As the issues with Strawberry Stars developed, it gave us time to reflect on how we operate as a business.
Sour Sunday started during lockdown and gave us a lifeline that allowed us to survive and eventually grow during the pandemic. We’ve not revisited how we work since then – it’s great to start looking to the future and bring Vault City into a post-pandemic world.
We were at risk of fatiguing you and ourselves with the volume and speed of different releases. When we set out on our Modern Sour Beer journey, we committed to only releasing sours that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the superb national and international beers we’d been seeking out. Whilst I believe we’re still holding true to that ethos I think we’re in danger of burning out. To that end we’re slowing things down for the time being to focus on getting the best beer out to our fans whilst also giving ourselves more time for a great number of projects, research and development and charitable work we’ve regrettably not had the bandwidth for.
Sour Sundays will be moving to three-weekly releases. We’re going to remove the shackles of working with Silly, Series and Session monikers – we’ll have our Session Sours and our Sours going forwards.
The next release (26/09) is our strongest to date. We’ve been relentlessly tweaking, reviewing and, for one of the beers, rebrewing to hit exactly what we want.
Double Maple, Triple Chocolate, Blueberry S’more has been one of the most fun beers to work on – we’ve been experimenting with various ways to load as much chocolate character into a sour. We’ve smashed previous records for blueberry in our beers and sourced some incredibly pungent maple syrup.
Mango Session Sour is straight up Rubicon. We used 1.6 tonne of Mango in this beer, which turned out not to be enough, so we dropped in another 400kg to make this a 2-tonne monster Session Sour. It’s outrageous and has all the great parts of what Mango can do to a beer without the peeled-veg sulphur stuff that we’ve worked tirelessly to eliminate.
Finally, the beer that needed brewed twice to get right however I’m happy to say it’s the best we’ve released yet, and that opinion is shared with a few others around the brewery. Ross from Alpha Delta is such a talented brewer and has picked out the perfect start for what I see as nailing a beer that we feel we haven’t yet smashed out the park – the Sour IPA. We’re all prepared to see SDIPA fly under the radar – Sour IPAs don’t get the love they deserve but we can put our name to this with immense pride.
This isn’t some mad sales pitch in the middle of a blog about slowing down production – it’s all about ensuring we have enough time to get our beers exactly where we want them and getting massively excited about our new releases in the process. Sour Sundays will be moving to every three-weeks for the time being – possibly even once a month if we need the extra time to get things to where we need them to be.
Doing More with Less
We’ve got so much to get excited about – some things we can share, some things we can’t just yet.
We’ve got some incredible collabs lined up – these are getting our full attention and we’re still star-struck to be working with all of these names. We’ve already mentioned the Alpha Delta collaboration, we’ve got Three Hills joining us early October for a Modern Barrel-Aged, Time-Travelling Imperial Stout and another dark release coming early next year with a well-known Stout lord. This is just the tip of the iceberg – 2022 looks to be the year of the collaboration for Vault City.
We’re expanding our style horizons – not only are we going to play around with more non-mixed fermentation releases, but we’re also going to be doubling down on the funk – we think we’ve got a perfect second location with space for a decent number of barrels to allow for experimentation. Pair this with the distillery across the road offering up freshly empty single malt barrels – we’re hugely excited for some barrels and blending. For us it doesn’t stop at beer – there’s some really exciting things about to be announced.
We’re also now at a stage where the ship is steadied and we’re able to think about how we can use Vault City as a force for good. We’ve got two incredible collaborations lined up all focussing on issues important to us at VC, first up working with Siobhan (@britishbeergirl) on a collaboration to help towards building a safe and discrimination-free beer industry. Secondly a launch on St. Andrew’s Day with a brewery and distillery we can’t quite believe wanted to work with little auld us.
We’re still giving back to our staff – we’re now working a four-day work week three out of every four weeks. We’ll be fully 4-day by the end of the year and we’re all loving the extra time off. Private healthcare got added a few months back, we’ve got a mental health first-aider in training and are in the process of mapping out everyone’s progression. We need to start behaving like a grown-up business to make sure we’re attracting and keeping the best staff.
Finally, the most popular question at the festivals over the summer – when will you have a taproom? Plans are still afoot however we’ve just signed and instructed work to start on our Edinburgh city-centre bar in Haymarket. This will act as a small presence to get a sour beer-focussed craft beer bar into a major UK city, launching this side of the new year. Secondly our 250-person capacity tap room is planned for Spring 2022 complete with a live music venue and the soon to be announced Vault City Secret Garden.
There’s so much to be excited about, the most important thing is that we keep doing what we’re doing to the best of our ability and give ourselves the freedom to pursue what excites and intrigues, our relentless exploration is what keeps us ticking.