MANY of us will have started the new year with good intentions, so how about making one of those a pledge to support those small businesses which are working so hard to put Scottish produce on the table?

Research shows shopping local really matters, with evidence that between one to two-thirds of a pound stays within the area which it has been spent, rather than heading off to centralised coffers to be scooped up by distant shareholders.

As many of us shake off the echoes of our Yuletide carousing, it is worth having a think about where our beer comes from. Alistair Brown is the CEO and founder of Edinburgh’s Bellfield Brewery, which has a fistful of industry accolades including the Best Taproom at the Scottish Beer Awards 2022.

While Brown is confident his business will weather the economic storm, he is calling on Scots to “Think Local, Drink Local” as spiralling costs hit the craft beer sector. He is keen for us to make choices which add value to our communities rather than go for generic, mass-produced drink.

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“The hospitality sector is really struggling,” he said. “I’m seeing small breweries going under at the rate of one a week now. If you buy a local beer, that supports the local economy. Pubs are at the heart of the community. We see people now are coming in, drinking less and staying longer but that’s fine – we have fires going so people can stay and get a heat in good company, and they can get a bite of something local too – we have pop-up food outlets catering for us which helps create a positive ripple effect to keep more local businesses going.”

Brown explains why he is keen to see breweries across Scotland thrive. “People do travel to taste authenticity,” he said. “With good, local ingredients and a range of lagers and ales on offer, Scotland is a destination of choice for folk who are passionate about beer. The more breweries there are to visit, the better that is for all of us.”

With medical advice telling us to be aware of the amount of alcohol we drink, it may well be that it is better to buy one or two really good local beers and sup them slowly.

The Brewed in Scotland website has an interactive map to help you find distinctly Scottish pints across the nation, from the Isle of Whithorn where the village’s only pub serves its Five Kingdoms Brewery range; to Scotland’s first community interest company brewery on the Isle of Eigg; to Shetland where the Lerwick Brewery just catches the edge on Scalloway’s Wreck Creation Brewing to claim the title of Scotland’s most northerly brewhouse.

In 2015 there were just over 100 Scottish breweries. This number climbed to more than 180 in 2021, but now is tumbling as businesses are hit by eye-watering costs – the price of ingredients alone has risen by 15-30%.

The National:

George Wotherspoon is head of sales at the Loch Lomond Brewery. He is clear about the importance of clear provenance in their marketing.

Wotherspoon said: “The Loch Lomond brand is recognised around the world with healthy connotations of wildlife, clean water, and beauty.

“We have good customer loyalty. Local folk like to support a beer which comes from their community, and visitors want to taste an authentic local product.

“We find the vast majority of our online sales comes from folk who have visited the area and are looking for a reminder of a happy holiday, or from locals who now live away but are looking for a taste of home."

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Being at the larger end of the small brewery business, Loch Lomond Brewery has the resources to diversify into distilling its own gin in order to survive the heavy impact both of Brexit and the cost of living crisis.

“I don’t know that we can make a profit out of beer this year, Scotland is haemorrhaging breweries”, Wotherspoon says. “Margins have always been slim for micro-breweries, but things are really difficult now. All of our costs are spiralling, and we want to ensure our staff have secure, well-paid jobs.”

With so many of us working harder, cutting back, making do with much less, life now can feel like it’s a hard slog through slow mud. But, I think, that is why it matters more that we make a stand, that we demand better.

Rather than feeding the corporate machine, let’s move back to supporting our local economy. Let’s make those small acts of solidarity which make us part of something with the power to make real change.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign