Black Isle Brewery is Scotland’s most longstanding Organic brewery, making world-class beers from the finest organic malt and hops – grown without chemicals – just as nature intended. We expanded the range of their beers that we carry last year, and they’ve been remarkably popular with customers and members alike. We asked founder David Gladwin to tell us a bit more about his business.
1. How/why and when did you start your business?
I started Black Isle in 1999. I was unemployed, and frankly unemployable. I wanted to create something and loved beer. I believed in organics and sustainable agriculture, so I decided to start an organic brewery and build an organic beer brand. My philosophy was drink great beer - but if you can, drink great organic beer thereby contributing to sustainable production and a healthier environment – "Save The Planet Drink Organic".
2. Why did you choose to be fully organic?
Because I believe in the principles of organic production; put simply, less is more. Since the 50’s and 60’s, modern agriculture has been hell-bent on yield at the expense of everything else, including the health of the soil, rivers, woodlands and oceans, the flora and fauna of the planet, and the physical and mental health of human beings. Whether it is cancer-inducing glyphosates sprayed onto malting barley prior to harvest, or bee-killing neonicotinoids applied to oil seed rape and sugar beet, it creates a choice: personally I do not want to ingest weed-killer when drinking a glass of beer, and equally I want a tomato to be nutritious and delicious and not just a bland, spherical red object.
10 years after starting the brewery I was able to buy 130 acres of farmland around the brewery. It had been used for 40 years for modern intensive agriculture. We converted it to organic production and yes the yield has gone down and we have a few more weeds, but the bio-diversity of the farm has rocketed; we have birds, bees, moths, butterflies in abundance. I wake up to a deafening dawn chorus; this spring the song thrushes have been heart-stoppingly beautiful, and we even had a colony of rare haw finches visit us for about two weeks.
The brewery, situated in 125 acres of Organic farmland, North of Inverness
3. How has the global pandemic affected your business?
Pretty disastrously to be honest, in general. We woke up 12 months ago to find that the hospitality sector, which we were heavily invested in, had been completely shut down overnight. The on-trade has been virtually non-existent, and even the odd window of opening has been crippled by social distancing measures.
That said, mail order has been good and there are other good things to come out of the pandemic. There is more demand for locality, seasonality, organics, and quality, even in the beer business which is of course correct and as it should be.
4. What motivates you?
What motivates me is the Black Isle mission to make really exceptional organic beer, and to see as many people as possible drinking it. Love beer - love life - love the environment. It’s fun; it’s delicious; it’s socially responsible; it supports sustainable bio-diversity, and it’s good for you.
Black Isle owner/founder David Gladwin
5. Is there an individual or organisation, current or in the past, who inspires you?
Rachel Carson, who documented the destruction of synthetic pesticides and herbicides in her book Silent Spring, published 1962.
Yvon Chouinard, surfer, climber, falconer, reluctant billionaire, and altruist.
Peter Bouckaert, head brewer at New Belgium Brewing Co 20 years ago who inspired me and described himself as the Jackson Pollock of brewing.
And the Trappist monk abbot of Saint Sixtus Abbey of Westvleteren whose quote I have had above my desk for over 20 years. Westvleteren is renowned as the most delicious beer in the world and is so popular they limit the amount any individual can buy, and you have to book to go and collect it. He said, “As every man we must be able to live. So we have to try to earn our living and let others share in what we have to abstain from. Indeed, we have to live ‘from’ and ‘with’ our brewery. This must be strange for business people and difficult to understand that we do not exploit our commercial assets as much as we can. We are no brewers. We are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks.
It’s a lesson in humility and a reminder that money isn’t everything.
6. Apart from Greencity, which other three or more people, living or deceased, would you invite to make a dinner party entertaining?
Rachel Carson, Yvon Chouinard, Sarah Vaughan, Groucho Marx, Audrey Hepburn, Jimi Hendrix, Mathangi Arulpragasam, Dylan Thomas, Jane Austin, Picasso, Joan Rivers, Alexander von Humbodlt.