Time for celebration in Tweedbank
Interview: Gavin and Annika Meiklejohn
Awards bring cheer to Borders brewery
They met in a brew pub in Canada, made a go of home brewing in New Zealand and finally put their experiences into a business in Scotland.
For Gavin and Annika Meiklejohn the journey that led them to the Borders town of Tweedbank has been, in their own words, a tough one.
A £600,000 package of support from their bank enabled them to make the step change from husband and wife partnership into a company that now has 13 staff and is looking to relocate for a second time in six years.
Their Tempest Brewing Company is at last able to produce enough beer, as Gavin says, “to enable us to make money”.
The firm’s progress has been recognised by their peers. At a lively dinner and ceremony in the Corn Exchange, Edinburgh, Tempest was named Scottish Brewery of the Year, and winner of four categories in the inaugural Scottish Beer Awards.
“It’s fantastic. Such a great honour,” says Gavin, a 40-year-old Fifer who graduated from Strathclyde University not knowing what he was going to do.
He drifted off to British Columbia, doing a variety of jobs. Did he have any thoughts about becoming a brewer?
He breaks into laughter. “No, I was 21 and snowboarding, just having a good time,” he says.
However, meeting Annika in the brew pub set the couple on a course that would initially take them back to her native New Zealand and then to Scotland.
“We were making beer in New Zealand and my friends would come over from Scotland and ask why they couldn’t buy it back home,” says Gavin.
They decided to head to Scotland where they found a derelict restaurant in Kelso. When they outgrew the premises they moved to Tweedbank. Now they are looking to expand again to a spot nearby.
Getting bank finance in the last 18 months has seen the business transformed.
“We could not make enough beer and so we were not making any money. We have invested in a new bottling line and other equipment. Turnover is up sixfold.”
He says the next phase will include additional warehousing space.
Annika, who is from Christchurch, handles the commercial and administrative roles such as exports and human resources. The firm’s beers are sold in France, Italy, Singapore and Spain.
She has previously spoken about the contribution made by the opening of the Borders Railway.
“We held an event recently for 500 people and I reckon up to 70% came by rail. It has really helped to bring people in.
It had helped reduce staff turnover. “We saw staff leaving regularly. Now our staff use the railway,” she said. “We see huge opportunities in the Borders to be successful.”
She was overjoyed at the firm’s victory in the awards, so much so she was having trouble recalling how many gold, silver and bronzes they picked up.
“Everyone in the brewery deserves this. I feel so pleased for them,” she said. “It’s great for Gavin, he was the one who was determined to do it. He’s worked so hard to make this happen.”
Education: Balwearie High School; Strathclyde University
Education: University of Canterbury, New Zealand