The Fountain Brewery, Edinburgh
Lying amidst piles of rubble and high metal fencing in the Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh stands the former Fountain Brewery. A site of pilgrimage surely for all lovers of cheap lager.
The brewery was once part of the McEwan drinking empire, founded by William McEwan (1827-1913) in 1856 with money borrowed from his family. Fountainbridge was a prime location with its excellent transport links provided by the railway and Union Canal (which still runs alongside the site and provides a nice urban amble). McEwan soon established a presence in the Scottish market, before setting his sights on colonial trade. By the turn of the 20th century, a gentleman could enjoy a pint of McEwans as far and wide as Australia, South Africa or India.
The company merged with William Younger & Co Ltd to form Scottish Brewers Ltd in 1931, before that company merged with Newcastle Breweries Ltd in 1960 to form Scottish & Newcastle Breweries Ltd. This led to a thorough updating of the plant and S&N opened a new Fountain Brewery at Fountainbridge on a 22 acre site beside the Union Canal in 1973, much of which forms the remaining site today.
At its peak, the brewery produced about two million barrels per year of well-known brands such as McEwans Export, Tartan Special, Kestrel Lager, Gillespies Stout and Youngers. Quality brands. But despite the always willing domestic market for such produce, the Fountain Brewery was closed by S&N at the end of 2004 due to the fierce competition of the beer market. About 170 workers lost their jobs.
Despite this, the future of the site looks set to flourish. The Fountain North development plan has been dreamed up to remake the area into offices, housing, retail outlets and a new public park. It aims to become Edinburgh's largest regeneration site, incorporating all sorts of contemporary environmental concerns such as tree-lined boulevards, green space, pedestrian and cycle routes, family housing and underground car parking.
At present though, it looks a right mess. The site isn’t technically open for public exploration, but then again, there isn’t that much effort made to keep out the interested. The site is fast falling into a state of neglect, with pigeons being the main occupants these days (judging by the amount of bird poo cascading over the surfaces). The remains of various half-fallen, dishevelled spaces and places are left to see, although the brewing machinery has departed along with the workers.
For now, the Laughing Cavalier (McEwan’s famous logo) is still set up there against the skyline, having a great time with beer in hand. It’s definitely worth a look before yet another landmark of Scotland’s industrial history is converted into designer urban living.
How to get there
The Brewery is found at 159 Fountainbridge between Fountainbridge Road and the terminus of the Union Canal in Edinburgh.