Full name: Kirsty Dunsmore
Role: Founder / Head of Marketing
Twitter Handle: @edbeerfactory / @kirstyod
Fun Fact: “I’m a qualified advertising practitioner and forklift truck driver”
J: So, let’s start at the beginning. As far as I can tell, your background is in the world of big ad agencies – so, how did you end up in the beer business? Where you always a beer fan? Or was it the EBF’s artistic vision more that drew you in? You guys launched back in October 2015, right?
K: That’s right – we launched just over a year ago, and I moved from Soho adland to Bankhead Industrial Estate shortly before then. In a way, breweries are in my blood; my mum (from Northern Ireland) and dad (from England) met through working for Scottish & Newcastle, and that’s why I was born and brought up in Edinburgh.
So although I’d never worked in brewing before EBF, the industry was dinner table chat – and beer drink of choice – as I was growing up.
Originally I forced myself to like beer, before it became my genuine go-to drink, and that all got so much easier and more exciting as craft beer exploded in the UK. Brewing’s always been a sociable industry, and now it’s also one of the most creative going. And we’re a particularly art-leaning craft brewery at that.
The chance to start a family business from scratch, to see a product go from idea to pint enjoyed in the pub, and that combination of commerce and creativity, was a very appealing draw from the word of advertising. I’d also moved from a big ad agency to progressively smaller ones, and really like working at small companies. You get to have a wider job role and contribution, and your efforts speak for themselves.
Please tell us about the Eduardo Paolozzi connection – the man who invented pop art. Asides from being Leith born, what is it that has tied you guys so closely to him? As I alluded to above, and as I understand it, there’s an artistic mission running in parallel to your beer making, right?
That’s right – art’s another family interest and kept cropping up as we were discussing plans for the brewery. In a roundabout way, Paolozzi came out of the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014. We were developing plans for the brewery that year, and couldn’t avoid the topic of Scotland and Scottishness. Amidst some pretty negative debate on both sides of the border, we decided to create a business that would represent the best of modern Scotland as we see it – that’s inventive, irreverent, outward-looking – and Paolozzi came from that.
He represents all of those values, and is a great unsung (surprisingly) Scottish hero. Not being called ‘McTavish’, for a start, helps reframe what a Scot is. The more we learned about him, the more inspiration we took. The amazing thing is he’s credited with inventing Pop Art, and isn’t all that well known.
We pay a charitable donation to the Paolozzi Foundation for every pint and bottle of beer that we sell, so that they can continue to promote Eduardo’s artwork and ideas, and in return we can use his artwork on our packaging and in our promotion. We’re hoping to expand the Eduardo Paolozzi fanclub at the same time as selling beautiful beer.
So it’s just the one beer for now (though I believe you’ve won quite a few awards for it over the last year…) Anything new in pipeline?
Yes we do, actually. We intentionally focused on brewing one beer really well to start off with, and we see Paolozzi as being our ongoing ‘flagship’. But we are developing some new beers which should be ready by next spring, about the same time as we’ll open an expanded taproom and visitor centre at the brewery. We’re applying the same principles (taking underappreciated styles – so no IPA! – attention to detail, approachability, unisex) into this new range. It’ll be recognisably from the same brewer as Paolozzi.
Would you call what you guys are doing ‘craft’ beer? Seems that Scotland has really upped its brewing game over the last decade or so (though I read that Edinburgh was once a hive of brewing activity!) Where do you see the beer business going in the next few years?
Edinburgh was a world brewing capital in the 1800s and it’s great to see brewing and distilling (on a much smaller scale) booming again. Scotland and London are both particularly strong on the craft scene, and we have a great resource very close to the brewery in the form of Heriot-Watt University, whose Brewing and Distilling qualifications are sought after all over the world.
We’re certainly a microbrewery in terms of scale, but very conscious of joining the ‘craft’ scene late, so we’re always trying to avoid the category clichés and do things a little different. We’re thrilled by what craft brewing has done for drinkers’ perceptions of beer, but it can sometimes be a little insular and inaccessible. That’s why we’ve started with a lager, which is sometimes sniffed at by craft beer fans, and shown it can be a tasty and complex drink – but also one which can be enjoyed by a wide range of people.
Craft beer will continue to boom – it’s a few years ahead in the States and there’s no reason why the UK sector wouldn’t grow similarly. It’ll grow up, too, with less following of hop trends, and more appreciation of beer’s balance.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the beer business?
From the sublime to the ridiculous. I’m based at the brewery day-to-day and will typically be doing everything from writing a design and product brief for our next brand to packing boxes for online orders. It’s a very sociable and satisfying business, but also has a lot of mundane elements (cleaning, packing, stock management).
What’s good from a marketing perspective is I’m constantly getting feedback from the public – from serving customers in our brewery shop to social media comments – and take it all very personally!
What’s your greatest/most memorable professional moment been, so far?
Edinburgh Beer Factory being picked as one of the List Magazine’s Hot 100 (greatest cultural contributors in Scotland). We were the only drinks company among artists, musicians, writers and creative organisations, so it’s great evidence of our philosophy ability to transcend the craft beer category.
Where do you get your ideas?
On the toilet! Not always, but in seriousness, it’s often when you step away from work and screens (e.g. walking, on the train) that ideas strike. Looking at the question a different way, it’s really important to absorb from wider culture – interesting music, film, books, art and meeting a range of people. All of that comes out indirectly in different ideas. Creativity is making connections where there’s no obvious link.
What’s your philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
“What would Bowie do?”
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?
It’s the obvious answer, but getting the business off the ground. Though my dad has big brewer experience, none of us had started a brewery from scratch before, and every little thing is more complicated and takes more time than you’d imagine. So starting online sales, for example, meant getting the website sorted, getting quotes from courier companies, speaking to numerous cardboard box manufacturers and processing orders and packing them ourselves.
Our biggest fear was much more conceptual, though – it was ‘releasing’ Paolozzi, the idea and product, to the world. No-one else to blame, we felt very exposed and hoped people would get it and like it. We’re really pleased with how it’s been received. The biggest learning is not to worry about doing things the ‘right way’.
Experience doesn’t necessarily teach you the correct processes, it just gives you confidence that if you make a start, you’ll get there in the end. And actually, being tied to existing methods and processes immediately inhibits your creativity and ability to differentiate. A bit of naivete often helps you come up with something new, distinctive.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences?
Eduardo Paolozzi! And Tony Wilson’s Factory Records. People who are open-minded with diverse influences themselves, and essentially democratic in their outlook.
Most influences come from the arts rather than food and drink, but Paolozzi lager is very much inspired by the great Munich lager brewers and their Helles style in particular – it’s clean and smooth like a good lager should be, but also satisfyingly full flavoured, with a slight malty sweet aftertaste which is really moreish. A new take on a traditional style. Edinburgh’s good at that combination of history and innovation.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
Most – developing a sociable, tasty product from start to finish. Least – getting bogged down in sellotape, emails and cardboard boxes!
What advice would you give to aspiring food entrepreneurs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
Spend time on the idea, and make sure it’s distinctive. Then commit to it, and prioritise whatever will make the biggest difference to your business and enhance that distinctive idea. You won’t have time to complete your daily to-do lists, so the skill is in prioritising.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
Advertising. Or writing crime fiction!
If you could get anyone to try your beers (fictional or real, living or dead) who would you pick? Assume that they go on to be your brand ambassador…
Eduardo Paolozzi (and, a cheat of an answer, he’d share it with David Bowie, who collected some of his art).
What’s your ultimate aim and goal for the business?. If you could achieve anything with it, what would you pick? Money and reality are no obstacle, so shoot for the moon…
To still be around in 50 years, being the company who changed the way the world saw Scotland and beer.
Where next for you and the Edinburgh Beer Factory?
New geographies within the UK (London, Manchester), a new visitor centre here at the brewery, and brand number 2.
And we always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If you were given an infinite budget but had to spend it all on entirely frivolous stuff, what are the first 3 things you’d buy, and why?
Bryan Ferry’s sequinned biker jacket from Roxy Music days – love a bit of glam
A sculpture of Eduardo Paolozzi’s hands. He had massive hands, and worked hard with them. We could fashion a pint holder/table from them.
A private train modelled on the old 1940s first class carriages. Combines love of trains with a retro leaning.
You’ve been forced to (somehow) convert the brewery into either a death metal band or gangsta rap group, and commercial success is guaranteed. So, which would you choose, what would your first album be called, what would the music be all about and who would you collaborate with in the music industry?
Gangsta rap. Straight Outta Sighthill. It’d be all about the lack of culture and social ‘hub’ in Sighthill, where the brewery is, and how we’re striving against that to inject some glamour and beery sociability into the area.
Would collaborate with Public Enemy, as they were the roots of the genre and are still going strong. I saw them in the last couple of years at ATP Iceland and they were one of the best live performances I’d ever seen. So much energy and strangely camp. Flavor Flav announced he’d just become a grandad for the 6th time!
If you had to be transformed into any kind of household appliance, but retained your memories, ability to speak and personality, what would you pick?
Bottle opener. Then I’d get out for the fun stuff.
The Herald newspaper