Taste Magazine had the fantastic opportunity to catch up with the owners of the brand new craft beer brewery, Moonwake. Vinny and Finlay have worked in breweries around the world and have teamed up to create this craft beer brewery and bring some new and refreshing tastes to the scene. Moonwake have found a unit just off the Shore in Leith where they are currently producing their first batches of beer and their core range is Lager, IPA, Pale Ale and Milkstout – which is what they were brewing on our visit. The duo have created an amazing open space within the industrial unit they are in as they have the brewing ‘kit’ as they call it, and they have also created a space for a ‘mezzanine taproom’, which is still under construction but already has the features to be accessible for everyone and dog friendly! Although we weren’t able to chat with Vinny as he was busy overseeing the production of the milkstout, we caught up with Finlay and the company’s Marketing and Events Manager, Sarah. They told us about some of the difficulties they’ve had in the industry and what they hope to achieve over the next few years.
You bought [this unit] just before Covid?
Finlay: Technically we bought the kit during covid but in terms of being in this unit, being in this space, we took it back in February 2020. Just before everything happened. It’s worked out all right in the end. it’s actually probably worked out in our favour a little bit.
Why is that?
Finlay: We started in February let’s say, and if we had staff, we’d be paying for this and paying for staff and not have any market to sell into. We had to really adapt the way our business works. Whereas now, we’ve just started producing and pubs are now open again, so we’ve kinda done much better than we would have done.
So are you looking at the market in the local Edinburgh area?
Finlay: Initially. We’ll be able to go to Glasgow but there’s a massive market in Edinburgh and we wanna be able to supply all those guys before worrying about London or any of those places.
Sarah: And if we have our own venue, we can try and put on some of our own events on the [mezzanine] if people wanna get out of the city centre during August.
Finlay: Yeah, and the big thing around here, is there are a lot of breweries now opening up around here. It just means that if anybody wants to get involved in the craft beer industry by coming down to see the breweries, that’s not actually too hard. There’s us, and there’s Pilot, there’s Campervan. All these guys all in this very small space, and it just brings people down here. It’s only a positive for everybody. So even though they might be our competitors, we’re all benefitting each other in some way.
What are your personal goals over the next 5 years?
Finlay: Well there’s quite a lot of them to be honest, certainly as an employer. Creating a professional space for people to express themselves is really important for us. Myself and Vinny have been at the bottom rung for many years ourselves, and we know what [it’s] like. We don’t want people to feel like some of the ways we did in the past and it’s very important that the people we get in are just as important as we are. The marketing side of things, the sales side of things. We‘re not gonna pretend that we can do any of that. These people are important and I’m not gonna tell Sarah how to do her job cause she knows more about her job than I do. So creating that space where Sarah and Wes [the Sales Manager] can express themselves and feel like a part of what it is we’re creating, and when they are at pubs, they can feel proud of what they’re drinking.
Sarah: So going back and forth, we’re able to share our opinions and put things in, and then we’re also learning from that.
Finlay: We’re able to challenge each other without anybody getting annoyed about it. But then in terms of business goals: to employ the people we want to employ. We also have a grant through the Scottish government which is mainly about creating jobs but it’s also about exporting Scottish goods. We’re a real living wage employer. And to be able to afford to do that, we obviously need to sell some beer and be competitive in the market and start growing. So, we’ve spent an awful lot of money on the kit in the hope that in 5 years time or even in a years’ time we’re able to really start producing a lot of beer, and start getting it out there and get down to all those places. To employ the people we want to employ, to create the business we wanna create, you need money, and to get money, you need to sell a good product, through Sarah and Wes, and if the beer’s good, which I know it will be, then we’re on for a winner.
How many jobs do you have to create [through the grant]?
Finlay: We’re committed to 12 jobs over 3 years. We’ve currently got 4, so that includes myself and Vinny cause we are employed through the company as well, but then we are getting a bookkeeper soon, as a part time role leading onto a full time role as things grow. We’ll be getting a delivery driver, we’ll also get taproom staff. And then going on from that, we’ll have more delivery drivers, more sale staff, more marketing people as we enter into more events. That’s essentially where the jobs will come from - more of what we’re currently doing. But what we’ve committed to is 12 [jobs] over 3 years and we think that’s plenty doable. So, all being paid living wage as well so and that’s important for us. If you pay people right, if people get satisfaction, if you listen to them, you take everything on board what they’re saying, then you’ll create a perfect environment for people to work in. And that’s important, very important.
Do you think it’s been hard to go from employee to employer?
Finlay: It’s definitely been a learning curve. You know, even things down to pay, the tax system. You think it would be really simple, you pay somebody a certain amount and then you pay the tax. But it’s not, it’s really complicated, it changes how much people get paid every month just because of the varying tax system. I would say it’s been fun, it’s been interesting. Frustrating at times, yes, trying to get your head around a lot of stuff. But actually just employing people and stuff, it’s not that hard. You find the right people and you make a nice environment and everyone wants to come to work and it’s fairly straightforward, it’s not difficult. The difficult part is just selling the stuff, and actually getting some money in. But even now the process of that is quite simple. None of it’s complicated, it’s just about doing it right. Certainly for myself and Vinny, we’ve been doing this for a long time, and this is quite fun, cause it’s on a new kit. But in about, 6 months time, it’ll be a bit boring creating the same thing over and over again. Being consistent in what we’re doing. But when you talk to people about what you do, the focus is always about beer, or brewing or alcohol in general. People always associate alcohol generally with good times, being out with their friends: it’s always good as long as you have a beer in your hand. It’s a very unique industry: why couldn’t you be happy about it?
Is there any [beer] you’re particularly excited for?
Finlay: I’m excited for what we’re brewing today actually, the milkstout. I’m a big fan of milkstout generally speaking, as a style of beer, but I’m also interested in the lager.
Kaitlyn: Is that the first one you brewed?
Finlay: It was actually the second one.
Sarah: We wanted it to be the first one.
Finlay: We did because it takes four weeks to come out, so we wanted to get that in time before everything else, but lager you ferment at much lower temperatures, and we hadn’t had this fully commissioned yet, which is our chiller, so if we were to brew it, we would have been doing ourselves a disservice. [The chiller] got commissioned the next day so it was only a day later.
What was the first thing you brewed?
Finlay: It was our Pale Ale, which again was a learning experience, just the little things the kit does that we didn’t anticipate. It was the first time we used it. [There were] just things that we didn’t anticipate happening, and then you have to try and correct everything as you go, so it was definitely a long day. The lager is very interesting cause the water in Edinburgh is so pure, it’s so soft and it’s perfect for breaking lagers. The majority of what beer is, is water, so it’s a very key ingredient. I’m interested to see what we can produce and actually making a lager properly.
What are your specific key ingredients and where are they coming from? Are you using Scottish produce?
Finlay: As much as we can, unfortunately with the climate that Scotland has, we can’t grow everything. In terms of barley, Scotland has an incredible amount of good barley and that’s what we’re using here in on our lagers mainly. It’s also incredibly hard to get a hold of because all the distillers take it, so actually getting Scottish barley is very difficult, but we have two companies that we buy from – Baird's Malts who are a traditional Scottish malting seller and Simpsons who are down by the Borders. And then we’re getting a lot of our Pale Malts from Simpsons palette malts and then Hops. Some hops do grow in Scotland but not very nice ones to brew with. Currently, we get hops from America, New Zealand. Vinny [has] his connections in New Zealand.
In terms of marketing, you said you have presales already?
Sarah: At the minute, Teuchter’s Landing are gonna take some and Monty’s up by Haymarket have preordered as well. We’re talking to lots of local Edinburgh bars. After months of talking, we’ve actually got beer.
Finlay: Yeah, it’s very difficult to get people to commit to you until you actually have something physical.
When you eventually open up that mezzanine, are you going to do tours?
Sarah: I think initially we’ll open the taproom and see what the response is and see what people want. And then if there’s a big interest in brewery tours and tastings, we can start doing them quite casually, but if people are really interested in it, then we can start doing it more formally.
Finlay: I’ve done tours before by myself for breweries I’ve worked in and my problem with [paid] tours is there’s an obligation for you to make them all happy. In my experience, people who have come in of their own accord, they’re having some beers, and some drinks, they’re talking to you and then you’re like, oh, do you wanna come and have a look. And they’re the people that come back and drink with you, or come back and spend more money with you. Or if they go away, they buy your stuff through the web-shop because [they] had a look around for free. As soon as you charge for it, it becomes an obligation for you, and if they don’t enjoy themselves, then it only makes you look bad. There’s a reason why the mezzanine looks over the kit.
Sarah: And you wanna have a relaxed, but embracing atmosphere in the taproom so we’ll start off casual and if there’s a really big interest then sure.
How and why did you pick this particular street and this particular unit?
Finlay: A little backstory. When we first came down here and we first drove in, we originally said we wanted to be in Leith cause there are industrial units in Leith and lots of people live around here, and more residentials are being built up. So we got a brewery right next to the people, where the people wanna drink, and be is certainly down on the Shore. So we parked just up right around the corner and we walked down here and we looked at this unit and we said, oh it’d be good if that came up - cause it wasn’t up at the time - and lo and behold, two months later, it came up on the market and we jumped at the chance. We spent an awful lot of money to get it. We were so desperate to get this because of its location.
Sarah: And we didn’t want to be detached from our customers. We wanted to be able to have a place where people can come and it’s a short stumble from there to here so.
Finlay: People sitting on the shore, they can come in and get some cans of beer and go back out if they want to. I think we’ve got a really good space on the basis that all our global competitors around here said ‘how the hell did you get that unit’. Just lucky I guess. It turned up at the right time we were looking and we jumped at the chance and that’s it. We’re also taking 6C as well which is the unit on the end, so we’re already expanding without actually earning anything. The cold room that you’ve been in is incredibly small and it’s the one thing we had to sacrifice on being in here cause it’s so small. So 6C has become available; we’re gonna put a massive cold room in there which is just more storage space for us. It means we can be here for ten years longer.
How did you decide what to do with this interior? How to design it?
F: Our many, many days of drawing and I’ve been very very lucky again as I have three architects in my immediate family, like my parents and my sister. In terms of utilising the space to put the mezzanine in [up there], it increases your space by 50% and then we’ve also got the kit. It’s just about measuring it correctly, working closely with the guys who installed the kit. And then as long as all the measurements are correct, it fits right? That’s why you have architects. But we try to get a nice harmony between production so Vinny’s not hindered too much, the layout of the kit and the public space, and aesthetics. We try to get a nice balance between them all and there were times when this mezzanine and this gangway met up. There were lots of different variations and this is what we settled on
One of the only things I didn’t really get, is why is flooring the best possible investment?
Finlay: That floor is firstly antibacterial. It’s a particular property that kills bacteria on the floor which is one of your biggest hygiene risks. So when you lay pipes on the floor, you can get bacteria in them and it can infect the beer - so it has to be a hygiene space. It also all slopes into the middle, so there’s an essential stainless-steel drain and all the water flows into the drain as supposed to coming out here [outside]. Also we use quite a lot of chemicals to clean and sterilise where [they] eat the concrete and then you get big holes in the ground. And then you have stagnant water sitting in it and when you have that, you have bacteria as well, which is all a bacterial risk. It takes probably about 45 minutes a day to clean a concrete floor and even then you haven’t cleaned it. I’ve worked in places where you didn’t have a floor and it takes you hours and then it still looks rubbish. Whereas that takes us five minutes to wash down and then you’re done. It’s unbelievably expensive and I can understand why people get very twitchy about spending that much money on a floor but it is the single best investment you’ll do and after a year, you’ll realise why you put it in. If you wanna sell to supermarkets, you have to have a floor; you can’t sell to supermarkets without getting certain certifications that you wouldn’t get if you were on a concrete floor. It’s just not hygienic enough.
So is [selling to supermarkets] a goal with the canned products? Later possibly down the line?
Sarah: Not immediately and it will involve a lot of thought as well, cause we’ll still want our bottle shops and our independent customers to be valued and looked after. There is a balance to strike as well. We’ve already had long conversations about it and it will keep going until we decide how to do it, and even then we’d have to have the capacity and everything. It’s a while away before we cross that bridge.
Finlay: There’s a lot of bottle shop owners that will not buy from you if you’re in a supermarket cause they know you’ll sell to the supermarket at a lot cheaper price than if you’re selling it to them. But they don’t have the buying power that a supermarket would.
Sarah: So it might be you do some beers for supermarkets and some beers for independence shops. You need to look after [everyone]; there’s a balance.
Are you going to look at doing a vegan, gluten-free, non-alcoholic beer, or any of those three?
Finlay: So going back to the grant, that’s actually one of the criteria. They don’t like giving you money if you’re just the same as the brewery down the road. One of [the criteria] is selling to part of the market that’s undersold, whether that’s gluten free or non-alcoholic or something completely different. Innovation is big for them. They want you make something different, supply to a different market. We want to make a rice beer, which is a Japanese style of beer and rice is naturally gluten-free, but getting hold of rice, brewer’s rice, is so difficult. It’s unbelievably hard but we will get there and we’ll be one of two breweries in the UK that will make a rice beer.
Sarah: Our milkstout has lactose in it but we’ll do another stout one day that doesn’t have lactose in it.
Finlay: Instead of using lactose which is a very common sweetener, so it’s un-fermentable, you can put other types of sugar in, so dextrin, which are un-fermentable, so you can get the same effect without using lactose. But the thing with lactose is that, as much as it’s a sugar, it also creates a creaminess in the beer which is quite satisfying as you won’t necessarily get it from other types of sugar. But there are ways of creating those types of beers without putting that allergen in. There’s lots of things that we can do, to look at, to experiment with and the fact that we are able to make those decisions ourselves. Certainly myself and Vinny can create something different and unique and be known for it instead of following everybody else.
Sarah: When it comes to the core range styles that we’re doing, like Lager, IPA, Pale Ale, Milkstout, they’re very well known accessible styles but we’re doing them well. Like keep it simple, do it well for those and then get experimental.
Finlay: You get that right, you get the precision right on it, you get the consistency right, then you’ll be selling that stuff for years. And then you can have fun with everything else. But you have to have those two.
Sarah: And hopefully, you can get other people to explore those things as well.
Finlay, Vinny, Sarah and Wes have created a fantastic space to show off their brewery kit and with the upcoming mezzanine taproom soon to be finished, beer lovers will love going to drink with them and chat. The taproom will be accessible for everyone, including a wheelchair lift, and toilets on the ground floor. Be sure to keep up to date with their latest news by clicking here.
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