Brewing success in Shetland

Kjol at Shetland Harbour

By Silke Reeploeg, Staff Researcher with the Centre for Nordic Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands

Earlier this year the University of the Highlands and Islands received funding from the Scottish Funding Council Innovation Voucher Scheme to collaborate with the Lerwick Brewery in Shetland on a research and knowledge transfer project.  The aim of the project was to develop an ‘events range’ of beers to coincide with local events on Scotland’s northernmost island group.  Sounds good right?  The result was a fantastic, limited edition, beer inspired by the annual ‘Bergen-Shetland’ yacht race, which was launched during the race June.

The Bergen-Shetland Races are the most challenging and spectacular sailing races of the North Sea, as you can see from their Instagram photos.   In Shetland, the race is hosted by the Lerwick Boating Club, and is accompanied by a programme of social events (prizegivings etc.), guided walks, and other activities – which meant a dedicated beer would have a wide local market.

Considering my German background, I was of course delighted to work in partnership with a local brewery to develop this product.  We wanted the branding to reflect the shared maritime culture of the Northern Isles and Scandinavia, so invited members of the race organising committees on both sides of the North Sea to put forward suggestions for the name.  We decided on ‘Kjøl’, the Norwegian word for the keel of a boat, which was ideal.  It joins the idea of nautical activities with the ‘Norwegian-ness’ of the event.  The new product was received enthusiastically, both by the Norwegian sailors and islanders alike –   click here for the press release and here for a feature on the ‘Taste of Shetland’ blog.

But what impact do we think this project has had on the company and the academics involved?  Well, we do have a new product and increased sales for the Lerwick Brewery.  But there were also additional, unanticipated benefits in terms of promoting the company’s profile and activities as part of a University KT project (including a motion at the Scottish Parliament). 

Social Media proved to be one of the most effective ways to promote the product, with the university Tweet retweeted 24 times in English and 3 times in Gaelic, having a potential reach of 27,000 people (As calculated by Twitonomy based on the total aggregated number of the followers of each of the retweeters, source University of the Highlands and Islands).  Similar figures were achieved through the Lerwick Brewery’s own twitter feed, bringing the total of potential reach to over 50, 000.

For the Centre for Nordic Studies the impacts have been in the area of raised public awareness of their research activities, and an increased interest in their educational activities.  The collaboration also attracted international attention, with an article in a Norwegian newspaper.

 Both the company and the academic team found the project resulted in an increased awareness of each others’ activities and contacts, which led to additional impacts, such as coming into contact with new people, and potential markets they had previously not been in contact with.  But overall, and that is perhaps the most important part of collaborative working – it was just really good fun!

Silke Reeploeg is a Staff Researcher with the Centre for Nordic Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands.  She has just submitted here doctoral thesis investigating connected cultures and intercultural communities between Scotland and Norway – follow her on twitter @silkereeploeg or read her research blog here:

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