Monday, 17 February 2014

Drygate seeking and finding the exceptional

Glasgow’s brewing scene is on the up. For quite a while I’ve looked enviously eastwards to Forth Valley, the Lothians and further afield, where it seems a new brewery pops up every couple of weeks.

Glasgow is full of hipsters, and we have plenty of railway arches, so I don’t quite see what is taking so long. Of the existing breweries, the new WEST facility at Port Dundas is making progress at a glacial pace, and although the beer at the Clockwork is much improved under the watch of Declan McCaffrey, there are no plans for expansion there. But there are rumours and plans of more than one new brewery in the city.

The most concrete development is the Drygate Brewing Company, which held its first formal event last night. The brewery is a sort of joint venture between Tennent’s and Williams Bros, with Tennent’s providing the money and Williams the direction. Both sides are at pains to stress the independence of Drygate. Personally, I find this a bit of a shame – there won’t be any interesting Tennent’s-branded speciality beers coming out of this facility.

Just the word “Tennent’s” is, of course, like a red rag to some, and when the partnership was announced last October, the Brew**g blog was full of comments from their idiot followers, pompously declaring that Drygate and even Williams Bros themselves, would no longer “count” as “craft” – in spite of the fact that Williams have been making wacky beers since Brew**g were (literally) in nappies. Scott Williams said on the evening that Williams Bros had “been brewing for 20 years; for the first 15 people said we were mad.”

Since I don’t subscribe to the “craft beer” nonsense, I will judge Drygate as I do any other brewery, on the quality of their beer.

The Tennent connection is undeniable, though – the new site is right next door. The original Drygate brewery was founded in the middle ages before the Tennent brothers bought it and made it into today’s Wellpark Brewery. The roof of the brewery building inspires the brewery’s zig-zag logo, reminiscent of the resistor symbol on a circuit diagram, or a Joy Division album cover.

“Seek the exceptional,” it said on the placeholder web page on The latest recruit is talented young brewer Jake Griffin, co-creator of the magnificent Zombier porter, who is leaving Fyne Ales for Drygate. Jake is an obsessive fermenter, the type of man who would build his own bed out of malt pallets. In lieu of a portfolio he brought along an oily, minty, pineappley IPA. Another young brewer will be joining Jake, but I’m not allowed to tell you who he is yet.

There are some other prototypes to taste: Bearface, a fresh-tasting lager with some characterful rough edges and herb and tobacco flavours; Isaac IPA, a brown, dry, resiny beer that needs to be more distinctive, and a strange apple ale with tannic notes. The beers are matched with labels designed by alumni from the Glasgow School of Art.

Drygate is more than just a production brewery. The site will include a restaurant, run by the people behind the acclaimed Vintage in Leith. Top restaurant staff have been lured across from Edinburgh too. The brewery kit will be visible from the restaurant, through a large glass wall. The main plant is 24 hectolitres, with a 2.5 barrel pilot plant on the side, so there is plenty of flexibility for experimental brews.

I think this could be the most exciting development in Glasgow beer for years, and suddenly Dennistoun looks like a much more interesting part of the city to hang out in.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Glasgow paradox

Recently I wrote this guest post on Glasgow pubs for Harviestoun’s website, spotlighting some of the pubs I think are worth a visit.

Even though it’s impossible to deny that in terms of beer, Glasgow is in the shadow of its neighbour Edinburgh, the city has plenty to keep the beer-lover occupied, and a list of “best” pubs can only ever scratch the surface. So I left out such well-known pubs as Tennent’s, Blackfriars and the Three Judges – and as was only to be expected, the blog immediately got a deluge of comments along the lines of “What about Blackfriars/the Bon Accord/etc”.

I left them out for two reasons – firstly to skew the selection towards pubs where you might expect to get a Harviestoun beer most of the time, and secondly because I wanted to focus on some other great pubs which get less attention, rather than pubs that are already well-known for their beer.

I’m not sure if I can express this thought without offending the best beer pubs. I don’t mean to imply that they don’t have friendly service or a good atmosphere. But — how should I put this – the Glasgow pubs with the best beer are generally not that spectacular as pubs. With several notable exceptions, our best beer pubs are mostly architecturally undistinguished, renovated in the 1990s and, well, if they didn’t have great beer I probably wouldn’t go there that much.

 On the other hand, off the top of my head I can think of half a dozen excellent pubs with only mediocre or even poor cask ale. And here’s the paradox. In addition to these there are some absolute gems of pubs in Glasgow with no cask at all. But they are great, unique pubs with real character. In similar pubs in Edinburgh, you might have to make do with Deuchars IPA. In Glasgow, it’s often a case of making do with Tennent’s Lager.

I find myself drinking Tennent’s more often than I’d really choose to, because I’m in a terrific pub where that’s what they sell. I have thought of writing a guide to these bars, 40 or so great Glasgow bars that don’t sell real ale, but the title would inevitably be “The Bad Beer Guide”, which seems a bit harsh even by my standards.

I am sure that other cities have their share of fantastic pubs with disappointing beer – I can think of quite a few in London – but this phenomenon seems most extreme in Glasgow.