From the early beginnings...
While 1719 may be the earliest documented evidence of the Belhaven Brewery, there may well have been beer production on the site pre-16th century as the wells and certain cellar vaults are known to date from around the time of the Reformation.
Monks (noted for brewing skills) settled in the area from the 12th century. Luckily they had access to both fine water and top quality local barley.
Keep it in the family
John Johnstone took ownership of the site in 1719 and it's widely accepted that under his ownership the brewery started brewing for commercial sale.
1815 saw the end of the Johnstone dynasty when Ellis Dudgeon married into the Johnstone family. For nearly 150 years, the brewery traded as Dudgeon & Co. Under Ellis Dudgeon and his successor, son-in-law Alexander Hunter, a wide variety of ales were produced. At this time, the 'shilling' terminology was widely used to categorise beers in Scotland. It was really just an invoice price but was a useful indicator of ascending strengths (although not particularly accurate!).
The Dudgeon range stretched from light table / harvest beers (27/- and 36/-) to much stronger, export ales like the 54/- and 80/-.
Times they are a-changing
Commercial rail made it to Dunbar in 1846 both opening Belhaven up to a wider audience but conversely exposing the brewery to competition from further afield. At this time, Dudgeons diversified the business to focus on the maltings side (while still producing beer but in smaller quantities). It is thought that this diversification enabled Dudgeons to survive the widespread changes affecting other smaller Scottish breweries whose numbers dwindled as a result of closure or amalgamation.
Through both world wars, Dudgeon continued malting and brewing for the military with a notable key customer - Belhaven Beers. After WWII, Sandy Dudgeon Hunter (son of Ellis) joined the firm and spearheaded the successful development of award winning ales.
Advertising with Bill
Belhaven Bill, the famous trademark, first made an appearance in the 1950s. Created by Sandy Hunter and his friend Bill Woodward, Belhaven Bill became synonymous with the beers and the location - a large, heavy fisherman wearing seaboots with Dunbar Harbour behind him. He continues to make his presence known at the Belhaven Brewery - pop by and say hello!
All change again
By the 1970s, the malting side of the business that had seen the company survive two world wars, was feeling the strain of competition from modern automated plants. In 1972, family ownership came to an end as the business was sold.
But this end was just the beginning of a twenty-year vibrant and significant period of growth for Belhaven.
1993 and a Management buy-out led by Stuart Ross enabled the management team to further expand and develop the business resulting in a successful flotation on the London Stock Exchange in 1996.
Most recently (2005), Belhaven was bought by Greene King.
To the future - all the Best!
Belhaven Best - what a success story! Launched in 1991, the beautifully balanced smooth and creamy honey-coloured beer pioneered a new concept in beer drinking in Scotland. Best is dispensed using a mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide - otherwise known as nitrokeg technology.
Adding to the family, in 1998 Belhaven introduced Best Extra cold - the same delicious pint but with the temperature dropped a few degrees.