That whole Edinburgh-Glasgow comparison thing has been done to death, on sounding boards far more intelligent and worldy-wise than this one. Perhaps such X vs Y talk is inevitable, when two cities are so close geographically and at the same time vie for cultural importance. Think Melbourne and Sydney; Tokyo and Osaka; Preston and Blackpool. There must, though, be something in the differences between these twinned cities, otherwise nothing would be said, I guess. I remember talking once to an MD/founder of one of Edinburgh’s most respected independent coffee houses about the imminent prospect of him opening a branch in Glasgow. “It’s tough” he said. “The people in Glasgow, they want labels, they want design, they want the best. They want it all!”. I’m not sure what that says about those of us in Edinburgh, but it is a neat summation of our friends along the M8, maybe.*
*He actually said us Edinburghers are more experimental, and willing to try new things (for what it’s worth)
Those ‘tired and trusted’ notations that have been pinned to Glasgow really stood out for me yesterday, when looking around the finally completed Drygate Brewing Co in the east end of the city. Since heading through on a miserably rainy night in February for their label artwork launch event, the whispers about what Drygate are up to have intensified. I can say, after having seen it, those whispers are not just true, but hugely understated. Drygate is going to be the start of something, without a doubt; you get the impression that they don’t so much want to start a brewery as begin an entire movement. A 24-tap brewery bar. Food created by the team that got Leith’s Vintage to where it is today. A raised flat-roofed beer terrace. Event space for gigs and exhibitions. The outlook is firmly squared at Glasgow, but Drygate is on a par with anything in the rest of the country.
There is a small elephant in the room, though – the investment the project received from the C&C Group; a company that has long held the lion’s share of drinking chips in Glasgow. But from what I gather, the suits from up the road (and it really is just up the road; the Drygate brewery sits on the grounds of the Tennent’s facility) have handed the reins over to Scott Williams and his team and let them at it, as they see fit. So are C&C buying ‘craft’? Or are they simply investing in it, like other groups have done with other breweries? Does it even matter? The idea that was repeatedly returned to during my visit was that Drygate means to appeal to everyone, right from the beginning. Everyone recognises this is the only way ‘craft’ beer will become mainstream. And inclusion, on this scale, requires investment.
One way the Drygate brewery are seeking to gain a groundswell of support is similar to what other breweries are now introducing – a public access brewkit, allowing members of the public the chance to create, brew and take away their own beers. Drygate’s Studio Kit (pictured) will come online at the end of next month. Like the full-scale kit, it sits in full view of the enormous bar area, allowing people the chance to watch what goes on at any time. This is deliberate, as Scott explained. “This whole layout sets up for theatre,” he told me. “You get to see people doing something; you want to see brewers actually at work, connecting hoses and creating the beer. You come to our brewery, at Williams, and you’re just on an industrial estate. This is so much better.”
The kit, which has now been stencilled with the previously-released artwork created by graduates of the Glasgow school – is a Simatec 24 hectolitre system fabricated in Italy. It’s a compact kit, and with the numerous conditioning tanks in place, will allow for what the Drygate Brewery really want to major in – experimentation. Billed as the UK’s first experimental craft brewery**, the core lineup of three beers (more on which later) will be augmented by many more small batch offerings. Over twenty different recipes are already on the cards, when brewing begins (for the next few weeks, all beers will be produced at Williams, whilst the final installation is undertaken). As Williams/Drygate’s Richard McLelland said “We’re not going to be straight out of the traps; we’re going to maintain interest levels by not being afraid to make mistakes.”
What Richard means by this is that they are essentially coming at the project with a sense of adventure and an open mind. Whether you subscribe to the fact that they are the first experimental** craft brewer here or not, from talking to the brewing team, it’s pretty clear that very little is off the table at the moment. And, speaking of tables, the star in the making at Drygate is undoubtedly the food that will be on offer. From paired charcuterie, Vintage-style, to a more relaxed upper bar area for burgers and substantial beer food, two kitchens will get people in for the food, right from the start. Some comparison to the Vintage is inevitable, but V@Drygate (as I think it is to be called) will nonetheless be bar-led; pints will be available, for instance – although beers over 5% will be offered in the schooner serve; stronger beers in third measures.
**See update at the end of this blog post
The upstairs event area still has throwback touches to the building’s previous incarnation as a cardboard box factory (not least the corrugated roof, which has become the symbol of the entire project; and a design of tattoo for several of the team). Yellow lines, fading on the floor, must have had some significance in previous years; the external wooden beer patio is perfectly-placed as a sun-trap (tables are apparently being constructed from the metal cladding that protected the conditioning tanks on their long journey from China). A bare wooden stair up to the beer terrace will be stencilled with artwork, and then have hops trailed up it, to supply the restaurant with hop shoots (and hopefully the brewery, one-day, should the climate allow). The downstairs bar area also has a fully-stocked caged takeaway shop, featuring dozens of UK and overseas beers; also, growler fills on any of the 24 draught beers will be served. Every base has been covered; it’s quite something.
In terms of the ‘home’ beers, we got a chance to try the three core lines – pictured for the first time above, in their final guises. Bearface Lager (4.4%) was the product of a long-held wish to create a craft lager, to give people an entry point into something further (and disassociate from Tennent’s, presumably). Using a different yeast from Williams’s Alloan lagers, Bearface is hopped with Calypso, Amarillo and Cascade, before being dry-hopped with the latter. Soft and lemony, it’s really very good indeed. Gladeye IPA comes in at 5.5% (“I was doing my damndest to not make it taste like Joker”, said Scott) and features the interesting pairing of C-hops and Nelson Sauvin. Finally, Outaspace Apple Ale (4.7%) – described as ‘aromahopery with crunch’ is there not just to stand out; it serves as a nod to C&C’s numerous appley concerns, and is sweet and yet surprisingly moreish.
You can’t fail to be impressed by Drygate. Standing out in a city that prides itself on standing out; it has everything going for it to be hugely successful. Part of this is because of the facility, constructed to appeal to as wide a cross-section of Glaswegians as possible. But the other part are the people involved; the experience Williams Bros have, mixed with the intriguing prospect of a young triumvirate of brewers. Jake (ex-Fyne Ales), Alessandra (ex-Harviestoun) and Ed (ex-TSA) all arrive with reputations to be made, and boundless enthusiasm and recipe ideas in tow. Creativity looks set to run riot at the Drygate Brewery, that’s for certain.
I’m not going to get totally carried away, and say Drygate is like a small corner of Williamsburg transplanted to Glasgow – but it’s definitely a statement of intent. The idea of doing things for the fun of doing them, of appealing to as many people as possible, will help to act as a gateway for those who wish to walk through it, and discover new beers. With this in mind, there are even plans for C&C pubs to take Drygate lines with their Tennent’s orders; although everyone was keen to stress this was a long-term goal, at this stage, and the onus will be on the pubs themselves to give the new beers a run, if they think they’ll be taken.
It will work for a share of them though; the best beer I had yesterday, finally, was Jakes’ 8.8% Rin Stout – a one-off, it was like drinking smoothed, chocolately charcoal. “There’s really no way of going back to this,” said Richard, almost poignantly “Unless it’s really good, of course; then we’ll find a way.”
Drygate Brewery, Bar and Kitchen
85 Drygate, Glasgow G4 0UT
Tel: 0141 2128810 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Website / Twitter Feed
[Drygate opens to the public tomorrow, Friday the 23rd of May, at 12noon]
[Robbie from I Might Have a Glass of Beer was also there; check out his opinion here, and the guys from Get Around Glasgow’s thoughts are here]
** UPDATE – Apparently, I mis-heard on the evening, and the word ‘experimental’ was actually ‘experiential’ – the process of learning through direct experience. On reading Drygate’s website, I actually even assumed experiential was a typo. So much for being a writer. Drygate are claiming to be the UK’s first experiential craft brewery; technically it is along the same lines as experimental, but it never pays to assume something has been mis-typed. The Guild of Beer Writers award is going back in the post! Thanks to tomh for the tip-off. What an experients…