History of Belhaven

A story of history & heritage: The Belhaven Brewery

Belhaven Pubs wouldn’t be where they are today without Belhaven Brewery, the place where everything started. It’s the oldest working brewery in Scotland, located in Dunbar, a picturesque area of East Lothian. But what does the ‘Belhaven’ mean? Belhaven means ‘beautiful bay’, and looking at the rolling barley fields, pretty coastline and stunning countryside, it’s the perfect name.

Belhaven Brewery

What is the origin of Belhaven?

Belhaven Brewery was established in 1719 by local market gardener John Johnstone, and its popularity grew quickly; in the 1800s the beer was featured regularly in publications in London, and the Emperor of Austria is rumoured to have proclaimed Belhaven’s beer as the ‘burgundy of Scotland.’

Dunbar itself is well-known for its brewing history and is thought to have been founded in the 1200s as a site for agriculture, malting and brewing by Benedictine monks. In fact, many of the cellars dug by these monks are still used by the brewery today!

Is Belhaven still brewing today?

As busy now as it was when it was built, our brewery continues to be a hive of activity, with a dedicated team drawing on brewing traditions that date back over 300 years. Together they create friendly and approachable beers bursting with Scottish character, using malted barley and fresh spring water from a local source together with unique Belhaven yeast.

Belhaven Brewery produces over 20 different beers, ales, and stouts, including Belhaven Black, Belhaven Wee Heavy, Belhaven Craft Pilsner, and of course, Belhaven Best, which continues to be Scotland’s best-selling ale. We export to over 45 countries including the USA, where Belhaven is the official beer of the New York Tartan Day events.

Want to find out more about the brewing process? Belhaven Brewery’s doors are always open, with brewery tours running daily. Book your visit and find out more through our website here.

Open for business: The rise of Belhaven pubs

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’ (or ‘thirty neighbours’) concept, taken from a line in the poem Tam O’Shanter by Robert Burns. These pubs were a place for the community to come together and find a place to sit back and relax... with good beer of course.

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, around 150 sites were owned by Belhaven, attracting the attention of Greene King who brought the group in 2005.

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


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, although both businesses maintain a strong local identity within the Scottish marketplace.