Think of the Cairngorms National Park and you probably have a long list of images that come to mind – stags, red squirrels, stunning views, mountaintops and lochs. Think food and drink and you probably enjoy dreaming of venison, salmon and a peaty whisky. Yet one of the area’s most loved beverages is rapidly building its reputation year on year to become a first class international favourite.  Since 2001, the Cairngorm Brewery has been brewing some of the most delicious traditional cask ales ever imaginable. So to see in the New Year, What’s On took a trip to the Brewery and caught up with managing director, Sam Faircliffe, to get an insight into working at the Cairngorm Brewery and see what the future holds for this exciting company.

What’s On: Hi Sam, thanks for chatting to us at such a busy time of year. What’s been happening in 2013?

Sam Faircliffe: 2013 has been an incredible year for the Cairngorm Brewery. We achieved 3 Gold awards in the SIBA National Championship for Black Gold.  Firstly, as a draught beer, secondly as bottled porter/stout and finally we also won Gold in the Overall Bottled Beer Category.  In June we went on to receive International recognition at the 2013 International Beer Challenge with Silver, again for Black Gold. It’s so great to see our beers getting the recognition they deserve and it sends a great feeling through the Brewery as we are all so proud of what we do and produce.

WO: Talking of pride; what are you most proud of at the Cairngorm Brewery?

SF: The team who are passionate about providing first class customer service and quality premium products – it’s amazing to see how much everyone loves the company and the ales we produce.  Not only that, but the majority of the employees live in the Cairngorms National Park (only one doesn’t).  We have staff who have joined us in their late teens, early twenties and they are still here having grown with the company. Really that is where the passion comes from – the fact that everyone who works here is part of the success of the company and has been part of the growth and getting us where we are today.

WO: You guys have won so many awards over the years. Any particular awards that stand out?

SF: We have received so many awards over the years – currently we are UK Champion “Overall Bottled Beers” Category with our traditional Scottish Stout “Black Gold” as well as Gold in the Cask and bottled Porters Categories.  Black Gold also won Silver at the International Beer Challenge this year and was “Highly Commended” in the Best Drink Category at the 2013 Highlands & Islands Food & Drink Awards. Historically we were thrilled to receive the accolade of Champion Beer of Scotland in 2004 with Trade Winds & in 2005 with Black Gold.  Trade Winds also won Specialty Beer of Britain 2004, 2005 & 2006 and UK Champion Best Bitter in 2008.  In 2009, the national title of SIBA Supreme Champion Beer of the Year was awarded to our traditional Scottish stout, Black Gold.

In bottle, Black Gold gained the title of “Beer of the Year” in 2010 from the Vegetarian Society Approved products range.  All our bottled beers have been approved by the Vegetarian Society as suitable for vegetarians.  We also hold Great Taste Award Star accreditations from the Guild of Fine Foods for Trade Winds, Black Gold and Wildcat.

WO: Wow that’s some list! Amongst all this the Brewery itself has changed quite a bit too hasn’t it?

SF: Yes – beyond recognition to be honest. The brewery has expanded to create a new bottling plant, storage building, and office space. We won the 1st Building Design Award (Commercial Premises) with Cairngorms National Park Authority for the extension as it used local contractors, wooden cladding (the wood came from Rothiemurchus through a company in Inverness called Makar).  LED lights, PIR switches and maximum insulation in the walls so no heating system is required in the Bottling hall and Warehouse.  We also now bottle beer for 9 other breweries, mostly – in the Highlands too. Not only that, but we run tours of the Brewery and you can sample the beers and buy our whole range at our on-site shop.

WO: So, how has the company changed since you joined? 

SF: Well, I joined 13 years ago and since then the business has grown from 8 to 24 staff and the sales turnover has grown 20% year on year. It’s a privilege to work with such a committed team who produce great products, for our great customers. To top it all off, we get to work and live in such a beautiful part of the world!

WO: What are you most excited for at the Cairngorm Brewery for 2014?

SF: After winning our international award this year our focus is firmly on growth in the exporting of our beers. There is a real thirst for what we produce here in the Cairngorms and we are looking to build on that as well as further expansion of our production facility. It continues to be a busy, but exciting time.

So, this year why not take a trip to the Cairngorm Brewery and take part in a Brewery Tour & Tasting? Both are available during shop opening hours.  Prior booking is essential for tours. The shop is open from Monday to Saturday (10am-5.30pm, all year round), Sundays from 12.30pm–4pm from April to October.

See www.cairngormbrewery.com  and www.visitcairngorms.com 

Sláinte!