Jonny Sandison, Brewer

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Shetland’s food and drink industry is an up-and-coming sector for the isles economy. Promote Shetland spoke to Lerwick Brewery’s Jonny Sandison, to find out more about why the sector is becoming increasingly attractive to young people.

24-year old Jonny Sandison has been involved in food and drink in Shetland all his working life. He got into the hospitality trade at the the renowned Scalloway Hotel straight from school, but always had an eye to moving into the production side of the industry.

“I’ve always wanted to give brewing a shot,” he says. “Brewing or distilling- I probably was always going to start within the brewing industry.”

So, when an opportunity came up last year at the award-winning Lerwick Brewery, he jumped at the chance. At 23 years old, with no brewing experience but a lot of enthusiasm, he joined the small team as one of its two brewers.

While Jonny cheerily admits that he was at first surprised by the fact that brewing is ‘mostly cleaning’, he quickly got into the swing of things. Being able to take a batch of beer from raw grain to quaffable nectar is a highly rewarding process.

“The first week I was here,” he says, “I got a whole batch of lager kegs done. That was a really good feeling.

“I just wanted to get straight into the brewing.”

The brewery, which produces nationally-sold beers such as the 60° North Lager, Tushkar oatmeal stout and Lerwick IPA, keeps Jonny on his toes. Jonny explained that while there are bottling facilities on site, the sheer scale of demand for their product means bottling has to be outsourced:

“We’ve just not got the time or the man-power to justify spending a whole day bottling beer,” he says.

While there’s not enough time in the day to bottle, production and cask-filling keeps Jonny more than busy. The popularity of the beers means a fast-paced production schedule:

“Over the last year, we’ve been brewing quite often 3 times a week,” Jonny says, “which can be up to 6,000 litres… The absolute maximum we could brew is 4 times in one week, because that’s what we can fit in our current vessels.

“When our production was at its highest, we were brewing a lot, which was pretty hard going. In theory, we could have brewed 7 times over 2 weeks, and trying to package that too, just the two of us. So we’re talking 40 casks in a batch- that can be pretty hard going!”

Jonny’s plans are to stay with the brewery for the long-term, and while he has already been on an intensive brewing course, his ambition is to gain a qualification in the trade, and maybe even receive training in cellar management, which would allow him to install and maintain beer cellar equipment.

Of course, he wouldn’t be much of a brewer if he didn’t know his product:

“I’ve tried a lot of beers,” he laughs. “I don’t claim to be a connoisseur or a beer sommelier or anything like that- I like to dabble in some different beers.”

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