In a wee, packed unit in Dundee city centre, brewer Danny Cullen creates craft beers which honour the city he now calls home.
Danny’s company, Law Brewing, is even named after the iconic Dundee Law.
Beer-lover Danny refers to himself as the “Mod scientist”, so named for his love of the 50s subculture and his background in microbiology.
He works out of his brewery solo 7 days a week, and had no experience with beer or hospitality when he set up shop in 2016, but that hasn’t stopped him.
Since then, he has created more than 50 craft beer flavours, ranging from the experimental (Celebrity Joose New England Style IPA) to those representing Dundee, like the Dundee Cake Ale.
Danny’s PhD in microbiology and time spent working with the James Hutton Institute has allowed him to use his knowledge of science to his advantage when it comes to beer-making.
While he loves what he does, it has been a hard slog too.
“When you start, you’re really passionate and enthusiastic, but then you find out it’s not as easy as you think,” admits Danny.
“I think I was a bit naïve. I don’t have the man power to get enough done in a day.”
Science meets ‘Mod’ culture with Danny’s rebellious beers
But despite the long hours, Danny has persevered with his creative offering.
Last year, he even submerged kegs in the Dundee city quay to mature, alongside the HMS Unicorn.
Though his knowledge of science serves him well in the brewery, he also has a lot of creativity to come up with his flavours.
Mod may not be a term everyone is familiar with. This refers to the culture in the 50s which Danny has a passion for.
He explains: “It was a subculture in the 50s in post-war Britain. Everything was pretty boring and depressing. So a group of youngsters started up this movement.
“The Mods were probably the first punks because they rebelled against so much in society.”
Danny’s love for Mod culture and music helped to inspire his creative beer brand.
Over the years, he has crafted “punk” flavours like the Coronation Lager, which was inspired by the Sex Pistol’s song God Save The Queen.
How does Danny brew his beer at Law Brewing Co in Dundee?
So how does he actually brew these quirky beers? It takes scientific know-how to get the craft beers just right, and it is all done in his wee unit in the West End of Dundee just off Perth Road.
He explains: “Your ingredients are: water, the yeast to ferment and produce alcohol and CO2.
“Then you’ve got the grain which is generally barley, but you can have wheat, rye, rice, maize – any starch source.
“When you do the mash step, it’s the enzymes in the barley or wheat that start to break down the starch. It’s a whole biological process.
“You get different types of grains. If they’re lightly heated, the beer is mild. Then you get crystallised, then brown. All the way to roasted, which you use in stouts.
“There are a hundred plus types of barley malt. So you can change flavours by using different combinations.”
Hops at home
In a testament to keeping things local, Danny has even grown his own hops – which he used for the Dun De’ Saisons beer – in a Dundee back garden.
“Everyone knows you can grow hops anywhere,” he says, “it’s just the yield and flavour will be slightly different depending on their environment.”
The brewing process involves a huge hot water tank which Danny fills with Dundee water. This is then transferred into the “mash tun”.
“You need to work out the volume of water to add to the grain,” explains Danny.
“The rule of thumb is two times the volume of water to every gram of grain.
“You let it soak and the enzymes in the grain will break the starch into sugar.
“This is usually at 60-70 degrees, so that’s another way you can change the flavour.
“The high end means the beer will be sweeter. If you do it at a lower temperature, it will produce a drier beer.
“You can play about with it.” Though Danny did note that this is harder in small-scale breweries like his where the machines aren’t temperature-controlled.
“Then,” he adds, “you do a sparge [sprinkle with water] which stops the enzymes from working and washes the sugar from the grain bed. That’s a filter going through the pump and into the boiler.
“That’s based on the volume and the alcohol percentage you want.
“Once it gets to boiling point in there, you add your hops.”
Newest craft beer at Law Brewing
At Law Brewing, Danny is introducing two new flavours. Once again, the beers are inspired by Dundee itself.
The first is a Marmalade-flavour pale ale that pays homage to the city’s jam heritage.
Inspired by Mackays marmalade, this ale combines the punchy flavour of Seville oranges with ginger root.
Danny’s other new beer is Scott’s 80/- Discovery Ale.
This features eye-catching artwork by Dundee artist Linda Bee and is a nod to the city’s shipbuilding past.
“It’s a traditional 80 shilling, which is quite a popular style of beer in Scotland,” says Danny, “I’ve never sold any of those before.
“It has a malty and creamy Scottish Tablet finish.”
“For me,” adds Danny, “it’s about using good ingredients. It’s not about profits.
“I probably don’t make as much money because I want the beer to be the best.”
Involving the local community, as he has done since he began, is what makes Danny tick.
Since he started Law Brewing in 2016, he has supported local projects like charity Optimistic Sound and reduced waste with Clark’s Bakery to make pale ale using their surplus bread.
“It’s not just about making beer,” says Danny, “it’s about getting the community involved.”