The history of Belhaven Brewery


The history of Belhaven Brewery

The beauty behind the name

Belhaven Brewery is Scotland’s oldest working brewery. Founded more than 300 years ago, it’s where it all started for us. Without the brewery, there’d be no Belhaven pubs. Nestled along the striking east coast of Scotland in Dunbar, our spectacular East Lothian location provides a key insight into what we’re all about. 

The word ‘Belhaven’ means ‘beautiful bay’, and it certainly fits the bill. Our brewery is only a short stroll from the sands of Dunbar Beach and a clifftop that looks out across endless North Sea waves. Surrounded by rolling barley fields and country parks that give way to swathes of open Scottish Lowland countryside, it’s no wonder we’ve never left. 

Belhaven Beers

The origin of Belhaven Brewery

In the beginning: John Johnstone’s vision

Belhaven Brewery was established in 1719 by local market gardener John Johnstone. Blending his skill for brewing with the natural gifts of the local area, his vision was to showcase the beauty of Belhaven far and wide. The beer quickly made a name for itself. In the 1800s, it was featured regularly in publications in London. Thanks to the high quality of Johnstone’s product, it’s even said that the Emperor of Austria declared Belhaven’s beer the ‘burgundy of Scotland.’ 


Brewing history in Dunbar

Dunbar’s brewing legacy

Given Dunbar’s history, it’s no surprise our hometown has become synonymous with brewing. It’s thought that Dunbar was founded in the 1200s by Benedictine monks as a site for agriculture, malting and brewing, and the connection to our past endures to this day. Many of the cellars dug by these monks are still used by the brewery today. 


Modern brewing at Belhaven

300 years strong: brewing traditions continue

Steam engines. Electricity. Cars. TVs. The internet. The pace of change over the last three centuries has been incredible. But through it all, our brewing traditions remain the same. Our brewery is the same hive of activity it was when it was built, with a dedicated team that draws on our history to create unique Belhaven beers bursting with Scottish character. We use malted barley and fresh spring water from a local source together with Belhaven yeast, to bring you signature flavours that span generations. 

Greene King - Belhaven Beer - Bottles

Belhaven beers

Beer range and global presence

Belhaven brewery produces a range of different ales, lagers and stouts. Our range includes Scotland’s No.1 ale, Belhaven Best, and No.1 stout, Belhaven Black, as well as Belhaven Wee Heavy and Belhaven Twisted Thistle. We export to over 45 countries including the USA, where Belhaven is the official beer of the New York Tartan Day events. 

Belhaven Brewery tours

Immersive experiences: brewery tours

Want to find out more about the brewing process? Our doors are always open, with brewery tours running daily. You’ll learn all about our brewery in one of our old cellars, The Haven, including more about our history and how we make our beer. Before you head to The Monk’s Retreat to taste a selection of Scotland’s favourite ales and stouts. 

Book tour

The expansion into pubs

From brewery to community hubs

In 1995, Stuart Ross, chief executive of Belhaven Brewery, made the decision to take the brand further into the hospitality industry with the acquisition of eight managed pubs across Edinburgh, Rutherglen, Glasgow, Perth and Dundee. The idea for these pubs was the ‘Drouthy Neebors’ (thirty neighbours) concept, taken from a line in the poem Tam O’Shanter by Robert Burns. The pubs were a place for the community to come together and find a place to sit back and relax – with a great beer in hand, of course. 

Acquisition by Greene King

A new chapter: Belhaven joins Greene King

Following the flotation of the Belhaven Group on the London Stock Exchange in 1995 and with a considerable sum of money set aside for this purpose, the business began acquiring more sites. After two more visits to the stock market, Belhaven owned around 150 sites. This attracted the attention of Greene King, who brought the group in 2005. 

As part of Greene King’s growing portfolio of successful brands, the Belhaven business operated some of the existing Greene King pubs in Scotland. This resulted in the development of the Eating Inn brand, which subsequently expanded south of the border. 

Current status and identity

Legacy lives on: Belhaven today

Currently, Belhaven leased and tenanted pubs sit within the larger Greene King Pub Partners estate and the Belhaven managed pubs operate within the Greene King Local Pubs business. Both businesses maintain a strong local identity within the Scottish marketplace, ensuring Belhaven’s long-standing commitment to quality, tradition and community. 

Find your local Belhaven pub

At Belhaven, we’re proud of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. We stay connected to our past to keep us moving towards a future that’s full of great beers, delicious food and memorable moments. Join us at your nearest Belhaven pub and book online now. 

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