The view from the top of the Necropolis encapsulates almost the entirety of the Glaswegian life cycle. The Royal Infirmary sees birth, death, and all manner of ailments in between on a daily basis. Glasgow Cathedral takes care of those archaic but somehow still important rituals – christenings, weddings, funerals. The Necropolis itself is the final resting place for some fifty thousand of Glasgow’s sons and daughters. And of course, the most notorious of Glaswegian past times is symbolised by the sprawling Wellpark campus of Tennent’s brewery. This site has been producing beer since 1556, and in doing so has played a crucial role in Glaswegian weddings, wakes and weekends for more than four and a half centuries.
I grew up round the corner from Wellpark, so for a long time just assumed the smell of yeasty hops and the smell of fresh air were one and the same. While I’ve managed to distinguish between the two for a good few years now, it was inevitable that early olfactory exposure would later lead to some hefty (but responsible!) exploration of the enormous beer universe. The newest heavenly body to have formed in the beery Scottish solar system is Drygate (I appreciate I’m stretching this metaphor a bit – especially as galaxy would be a better analogy, although not nearly as alliterative – but bear with me, I’m nearly done with the pretentious opening paragraphs).
Taking its moniker from Wellpark’s old name and bankrolled to a large extent by Tennents themselves, Drygate promises to be “the UK’s first experiential craft beer brewery, bar and kitchen”. While this contradictory arrangement would usually be grounds enough for a nosey around, it’s also worth mentioning that one of Drygate’s three head brewers is Queen Margaret Union life member Ed Evans (AKA DJ Fannypadz. AKA Events committee guardian angel. AKA Social committee hero.). For you, dear reader, I thought I ought to check things out.
The official opening of Drygate was exquisitely executed. On arrival, we were greeted by hip, young, pretty things who handed over some literature containing a little Drygate backstory, some solid marketing material and, most crucially, our drinks vouchers. The building itself (a converted box factory, apparently) has embraced the industrial aesthetic of its surroundings and left a lot of the interior as a fairly standard minimalist bare brick and exposed vent deal. However, the gorgeous copper-topped bar with 24 (24!) rotating taps is beautiful and draws your eye to the main attraction – a transparent glass wall to the brewery itself. This is the “experiential” bit. While sipping on your chosen tipple (remember, 25 draught beers as well as 200 bottled beers), you can watch the next Drygate beer being made right in front of you. And, for those who prefer the tactile over the visual, you’ll be able to draw on Drygate’s expertise and equipment to brew your very own beer very soon.
This is the exciting bit. The “craft beer revolution” (thanks Brewdog – boak) has been rumbling on for years now, but this is the first time novice and experienced homebrewers will be able to access facilities like this to refine their recipes. What’s more, should you cook up something tasty in those big ol stills, you’ll be able to sell your beer back to Drygate. This means you could wander in and have a pint of your very own creation at the aforementioned pretty copper bar.
There’s also the “kitchen” bit, mind? The food has been outsourced to experts in the field – Leith “gastropub” (again, boak) The Vintage are in charge of making sure you’re well fed as well as watered. The numerous menus – grazing, deli, and a la carte – mix reliable standards such as pulled pork burrito, fish and chips, etc with some genuinely interesting experiments. At the opening, I sampled something the shape of a mini sausage roll but filled with liver in a dark gravy rather than minced up dry sausage meat. Visiting more recently, I put together a “grazing board” – basically a mixed cheese/meats/fish/veggie platter. Options included intriguing dish names like “Oak smoked cheddar brulee” and “spreadable chorizo”. My mum had a savoury almond panna cotta with lemon curd (yeah I still go out with my mum – and what?). It was good to see interesting food being pushed alongside interesting beer, and not just resorting to the safe “gourmet” burger model that other beer-mad bars employ (looking at you Inn Deep, Brewdog, etc).
Then there’s upstairs. Another bar and dining area, plus an outside terrace that was obviously not just the makeshift afterthought a lot of otherwise good watering holes were forced to improvise after the smoking ban. The upstairs events space also currently hosts an exhibition of works by GSA students commissioned by Drygate. This art is part of a bigger collaboration incorporating bottle labels, some of Drygate’s interior decorations and the new Drygate “brand”. The exhibition space is hoping to host live events in the future, from comedy to music, as well as being open for hire for special occasions alongside the upstairs bar and dining area. It’s cool. However, in case you’re starting to think the place can do no wrong and are looking to book in your next birthday straight away, I’ve a few constructive criticisms to make.
Firstly, both Drygate, and particularly the Vintage at Drygate, have priced out the regular patronage of skint bohemians (that’ll be us students, by the way) needed to be properly cool. The open brewing stuff will cost a pretty packet too, we’re probably talking upwards of £100 a keg because of taxes etc. As such, the opening night and the couple times I’ve been in since have been filled with city councillors, the dreaded “young professionals” demographic, and the established middle aged media and arts mob. This, of course, is undoubtedly Drygate’s market. They’re not stupid – that’s who has money. But you, dear reader, subsisting on that measly part-time wages and paltry government subsidy are probably best saving Drygate for pay/loan day.
Secondly, the actual Drygate core range – currently consisting of Bearface lager, Outaspace Apple Ale and Gladeye IPA – is a wee bit uninspiring just now. The guest beers include some absolute belters, but if Drygate are hoping to be a competitive craft brewery, rather than just an exceptionally stocked bar, they’ll need to up their game. Speaking of being a “craft” brewery, Tennent’s involvement is also problematic. While sometimes a chilled refreshing pint of Vitamin T is all you’re after, there is no pretending the mammoth operation housed in Wellpark could be considered “craft”, regardless of whichever of the numerous competing definitions one employs. So long as drinks giant C&C group* owns nearly half of Drygate’s shares and all of the Drygate premises, it might be tricky to persuade people of Drygate’s artisan nature.
Then there’s the food. As I said, it’s definitely more interesting than even some of the really good pub grub in Glasgow, but the experimenting didn’t always pay off. Obviously, taste is a fairly subjective sense but the “home made pork scratchings” – big shards of crackling – were brilliantly crispy but otherwise pretty flavourless. The cheddar brulee mentioned earlier didn’t quite work, lukewarm cheese sauce underneath a glazed cheese crust turned out not quite as appetising as it sounded on the menu. The lemon curd served with the almond panna cotta was just too sweet and cloying for a savoury starter. However, fair’s fair and the hot smoked salmon, whitebait, pulled pork burrito and chips I tried were all delicious, and there’s much more on the menu that I’ve yet to sample.
I managed to catch up with Ed recently for a chat, and he was quick to point out that the core range of Drygate beers is still an ongoing development. The whole building, after all, has only been open about five minutes. On the tricksy C&C group involvement, I got a rather coy answer – “We don’t shy away from our heritage.” That said, while “grateful” for the support from both Tennents and Williams Bros, Ed promises me that Drygate is an independent company and intends to operate as such. Auspiciously, neither of the bigger breweries own an overall majority of Drygate. The obvious dedication to and genuine enthusiasm for great beer (evidenced by the hop tattoo which decorates Ed’s left forearm, and the all-your-christmases-come-at-once excited face he pulls when discussing Drygate’s future) is also a pretty persuasive combination.
Drygate is an ambitious work in progress. Novelty is in itself exciting; Drygate is not just a new brewery, it’s a whole new space for a whole new range of potential and possibilities. What’s in place is promising but not groundbreaking. Yet. Right now, it’s that potential, the promise of Drygate’s bold mission statements that’ll mean I’ll be checking in to see how they get on.
*(no – not the one that meets in the board room on the 3rd floor at 5pm on a Monday to discuss campaigns and charities – the one that’s owned Tennents since 2009)”