10 Questions For...

Robyn McCallum

Co-owner/Bottle Baron Edinburgh

1) Hi Robyn, thanks for taking some time to chat with us! First up, we’d like to know about your relationship with the city of Edinburgh, what is it that you love about living there, and where would you recommend we visit to eat and drink if we came to stay?

I’d have to say Edinburgh is by far my favourite city to live in. From the outside looking in, it’s an extraordinary city. I moved here when I was 12 from the US and other than moving to Dundee for University, I think I would always have wanted to move back here.

It’s hard to peg what to do and where to go first when you come here, there’s so much choice. This city is a real melting pot of different people and cultures, you can find just about anything you could want. When it comes to food, pick a cuisine, any cuisine; you’ll be able to find it.

With so many Edinburgh based food bloggers, you’ll be worrying about where to go first, rather than whether you’ll find something. If you’re looking for something ridiculous, hit up Kyloe for a steak that’ll blow your mind. If you’re looking for the best burrito in town, look no further than Illegal Jack’s, just along the road from Bottle Baron. If you’re a sushi lover like me, head to Kanpai on The Royal Mile. Nestled into Hunter’s Square is Civerinos, one of the best pizza joints around.

The list goes on and on.

Drinks are a whole other ball game. When you’re looking for beer, the possibilities are endless. Edinburgh is a large city but the centre is easily accessible and I find most hot spots to be within walking distance of each other. While I’m an avid home-drinker, my favourite haunt would have to be The Hanging Bat on Lothian Road. You’d be hard pressed to be disappointed in there.

2) And what about when you’re away from home. If you had to pick one city in the world, which would be your favourite and which places there made it so special?

I don’t get the time to travel often these days but I was quite taken with Manchester when I went down briefly for Indy Man last year. The Northern Quarter particularly was an incredibly striking area. I’m a sucker for architecture and it’s a wonderful city to look at. I’d love to get back down there this year if I can manage it, I found the people, the food and the beer to be incredible.

Much like any other major city, you could spend an endless amount of time exploring.

3) Tell us about opening Bottle Baron, what was the motivation here, and did you come up against any unexpected struggles at the time?

The idea behind Bottle Baron spawned a few years prior to us opening. My partner Daniel and I met at Abertay University, oddly enough studying games. He would build the engine, I would create the art to apply it. We both acquired a love for craft beer over the years and it became somewhat of a hobby.

When we were blindsided with the prospect of becoming parents, it was time to rethink our situation. We’d been disenchanted by the games industry and were looking to move back to Edinburgh. We both shared the goal of working for ourselves. Combine that with a real passion and you’ve got yourself an idea.

When the idea of opening a bottle shop came to light, it was hard to stop talking about it. Eventually, that idea became a reality. We were adamant we wanted to do something that made us want to get out of bed in the morning. Coincidentally, that happened to be beer! 

There’s no lack of great beer in Edinburgh but we wanted to create a space at Bottle Baron that’s main focus fell on it. While we do sell wine and spirits, beer dwarfs them in comparison when it comes to shelf space. We love talking about beer, we love getting people excited about beer and more than anything, we love bringing new people into the fold that would have otherwise never known it existed. We want to bring good beer at good prices to people, and hopefully offer some knowledge along the way. It always has been and always will be the main focus of Bottle Baron.

For the first year or so I stayed more ‘behind the scenes’, simply because I was a mum. With more time (and more childcare) I’ve been able to throw myself into the front line and I’ve been loving it. I’d have to say the biggest struggle is finding the balance between working for yourself and raising a child. When we opened, we were new parents with a drive to make something real and concrete for our son. He’s had a tough start in life and when it boils down to what motivates us to continue, it always falls back to him.

But like any independent business, the real struggle comes from doing everything for yourselves. Everything thus far has been done by a team of 2 people. We constantly feel overworked, but the joy we get from doing exactly what we want far outweighs any lack of sleep we may suffer. I like going to work because it’s fun and I feel pretty lucky to be able to say that.

Bottle Baron Edinburgh - Beavertown
Bottle Baron - Hanging Bat
Bottle Baron Edinburgh - Bottles
4) And aside from the success of Bottle Baron and your role as an influencer within the beer community, is there anything else you’d like to achieve within the world of beer?

It’s incredibly hard to say where I see us in the future. Like any Independent business, every decision falls on your shoulders. At the moment, we’re looking to continue making a success of Bottle Baron and bring more people into the community. That’s what we set out to do. There’s a slight ‘clique’ atmosphere that the community gives off worldwide and we want to break that idea down.

We get every kind of customer from all walks of life. We want everyone to know excellent beer is out there. Dan and I wanted to create a place, somewhat of a “Candy Land for Adults” and I’d like to think we’re there. We quietly passed our second birthday this month, so I’d still consider us a young business.

Currently, my plan is to throw any and all free time into improving Bottle Baron as a whole, despite the fact that I’m stretched for it. When it comes to the future, who knows. The thing about beer is you can never really stop learning. I come from an artistic background, so much like art, you can never really stop learning about beer. You can always improve and expand your knowledge and skillset. But for the people that really feel it, that’s what beer is. Art.

So if I were to say there was any one thing that I will always be doing, it’s learning more. One of my favourite sayings is “Live like you’ll die tomorrow, learn like you’ll live forever.” It’s a great way of looking at life and can be applied to just about any scenario.

5) Do you feel that the beer scene in Edinburgh is lacking at all? What (if anything!) would you like to see changing within beer in your city in the coming years?

Surprisingly, no. I must say I’ve got myself in a pretty fortunate position. I’d consider Edinburgh the hub of beer in Scotland, it’s one of the few places where you can find a good beer just about anywhere. If you’re looking for a good night out, there are dozens of bars that have constantly changing tap lists and Meet the Brewer events going on.

When it come to bottle shops, you’re bound to find one in every corner of the city beyond Bottle Baron. More and more shops are dedicating real estate to craft beer and I’d put my money on it that you won’t be disappointed when visiting here. The Edinburgh beer scene is particularly active on Twitter and you can find just about any information you could want about good bars and bottle shops there.

6) I’m curious. You have a large following online and your Instagram feed is a colourful scene of beer labels, as well as your own personal aesthetic. Do you ever feel pressure to represent women in beer in a certain way, and do you find yourself thinking very carefully before posting photos of yourself?

First and foremost, I consider my online presence an entirely separate entity from Bottle Baron and especially, myself. It’s something that started as a hobby, a way to be creative without having to dedicate huge amounts of time to get the end product. A photographic beer diary, if you will. The older I get, the less time I have. I’ve always loved photography and it sort of dawned on me one day to make beer the subject. It’s my job after all, I’m surrounded by it everyday. I simply like making beer look as good as it tastes.

I’ve only just came round to the idea of being an ‘Influencer’ and even then, it’s a very grey field to navigate, simply because social media is still a relatively new concept. My following, I feel, came from simply doing what I liked. There is no formula for cultivating a mass following organically, simply because what motivates someone to hit the follow button differs from person to person. Somehow I acquired over 10K followers in a year and when people ask me how I did it, I don’t have an answer.

wouldn’t say I feel pressure in any way, simply because I don’t take it too seriously. I enjoy talking about beer and I enjoy taking pictures of it. It’s a hobby at the core and my hobbies don’t put food on the table.

As far as putting myself out there? I definitely have a comfort zone. Typically , it’s a case of me just liking my make-up that day. I grew up a major tomboy and only got into it a few years back when I found myself looking for a way to be artistic without needing a lot of resources in front of a large presence of women in beer, particularly on Instagram. There is a real struggle at present, that’s something that can’t be argued.

There is a lot of hate directed towards women, the reasons for which are vast and endless. While I personally don’t partake in overly provocative posts myself, there is a minute amount that do. This, I don’t have a problem with. What I do have a problem with however, is the shaming that occurs alongside it. While I haven’t experienced much backlash myself, I’m far from blind to it. Many women I’ve come to consider friends have fallen victim to online bullying and downright harassment, which in itself is a ridiculous idea.

What saddens me the most though, is when I see women partake in the narrative, which happens far too frequently. In a world where we’re constantly scrutinized, the last thing we need is other women weighing in on the idea that there is any ‘right’ way to be one. It’s this underlying tone that hurts us the most. We’re all here because we love beer and for most of us, that’s all it is. There are 7.4 billion people in the world, half of which are women. We can’t all be the same. If we were, it’d be a pretty boring world to live in.

Bottle Baron - Omnipollo
Bottle Baron Edinburgh - Robyn
Bottle Baron - Cloudwater
7) What do you find most rewarding about the online beer community? Is it conversation, opportunities to trade, meeting good people?

At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s definitely the people I’ve met that is the most rewarding aspect. I’ve come to know a lot of amazing people that I likely wouldn’t have if it weren’t for that one common ground. It’s amazing really that we can connect with anyone from any part of the world and I’m confident in saying I’ve formed many solid friendships along the way. There are people from all walks of life that love a good beer and coincidentally, we all love talking about it.

If I need someone to geek out with, it’s a simple case of picking up my phone. Someone will always be there to bounce ideas off of.

8) Which breweries, UK or further afield are you most excited about at the moment? Who are the ones to watch?

This is by far the trickiest question. Breweries are popping up left right and centre, so it can be hard to keep up. There are only so many hours in the day we can drink beer alongside running Bottle Baron! Off the top of my head, the brewery I’m most enamoured by at the moment would be Northern Monk. There’s no shortage of great beer and brilliant labels to accompany them. The combination of the two is really what gets the community going I’ve noticed. Their Patrons Projects series in particular is fantastic, they’ve made some of the best artwork the beer scene has seen, hands down.

The variety is a huge factor for me personally, I can’t be satisfied with the same styles continuously. Juicy, hazy beer has dominated the scene and for me, it’s the variety that keeps things interesting.

Contradictory to my previous statement, I have to nod my head to Cloudwater. There is no doubt they are the kings of haze in the UK and their international success is proof of that. They are producing some of the best IPA’s and DIPA’s at the moment and their transparency throughout the brewing processes has been wonderful to watch. They’ve really brought the idea of ‘hype’ from across the pond to the UK and it’s easy to say that craft beer in itself has changed dramatically in the last few years and for the better. Cloudwater have definitely played a huge part in that.

Breaking away from cans despite the fact that they are what’s hot at the moment, Buxton Brewery deserves an honourable mention. They’re exceptional in every way and have always been consistent in producing amazing beer. There is no denying they’re produced some of the best beer within the UK and as far as core range, I’d say they have the best to offer.

Axe Edge is still one of my favourite IPA’s. You’ll always find a bottle of Trolltunga in my fridge, it’s an absolute delight. And don’t even get me started on their collaboration with Omnipollo, Yellow Belly. Anyone who know me, knows how I feel about Yellow Belly!! 

9) Have you been to any beer events recently which have really stood out as being absolutely cracking?

When it comes to events, sadly I miss a lot of them. Between owning your own business in running Bottle Baron and parenting, it’s almost impossible to find the time to go out. It’s part of the reason why we chose to open a bottle shop rather than a bar, it’s what we know and it’s what we like. When I do manage to get out, there’s no shortage of events and tap takeovers all over the city.

Every week a new brewery is offered to us from the many craft dedicated bars across the city. Recently, we had the Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival grace our doorstep which is something we’ve been sorely needing for years now. They brought a lot of brilliant breweries and beers to our city which we’re more than thankful for.

10) This might be a terribly ‘girly’ question but I don’t care, you clearly have a passion for both cosmetics and great beer! So, if you could collaborate with one beauty brand and one brewery to create the ultimate product, who would you work with and what would you create?!

Oh wow, now this is a question I’d have to really think about. I wear very little on the day to day so for something more weekday friendly, I’d say a Tropic Thunder flavoured Chapstick from Dugges would be phenomenal. That would be MONEY right there. And for my inner vampire, I’d adore a Mac Russian Red lipstick made with 3 Fonteinen’s Oude Kriek. If only these dreams could become a reality!

You can read more of our kick ass beer industry interviews here 

Anja M
ANJA M Small human with a penchant for all things beer. Can usually be found in a taproom or sweating off a hangover at Bikram Yoga.

Fan of aviation, motorbikes, climbing, music and eating. Professional dog botherer.

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