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Craft beer: pumping new energy into our pubs

By on November 10, 2014

The thirst for craft beer is re-energising and reshaping Glasgow’s pub scene, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘special brew’, writes Ginny Clark.

From a few independent brewery pioneers bubbling up over the past decade, together with a trendy nod to some unusual bottle labels, the city is now flowing with new beers, new bars and for some, new ways of working. Scottish craft and micro breweries can now be counted in their many dozens, including the island-based Arran Brewery, Alloa-based Williams Brothers Brewing Company, Barrhead’s Kelburn Brewing Company, Edinburgh’s Innis and Gunn, Fraserburgh’s Brewdog, Loch Fyne’s Fyne Ales, and Glasgow duo Drygate and West.

Drygate, of course, is an example of how the craft tag can confound perceptions. Described as Scotland’s first experiential craft brewery, Drygate is a collaboration between what might be considered as a mighty beer factory, Tennent’s, and the Williams Brothers Brewing Company.

So what is craft beer? And is it different from real ale?

At it’s most basic, and at the risk of entering a hot debate where some are passionate about defining their product, a craft brewer is small and independent, using authentic brewing processes. Cask ale, or real ale brewers, tick those boxes too. But the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) say cask beer is distinguished from the mass-produced variety because it has not been pasteurised and still has natural carbonisation. Yet some craft brewers might argue that – with their own authentic approach –  they are all in the same ‘craft’ camp.

These are important discussions for the small brewers, determined to carve out their identity as distinct from the mass-producing big boys. For many beer-drinkers, however, this distinction may be all but academic. What matters most to increasingly discerning customers, is the diversity and quality of pints now available to them.

Derek Hoy, who along with friend and business partner Alec Knox, set up Hippo Beers on Queen Margaret Drive two years ago, says this year’s craft beer explosion is down to one thing …

He said: “Taste. It’s definitely the main thing, when you compare a beer that has been mass produced to a beer that’s been crafted with quality ingredients, that’s what people appreciate. It can seem like there’s been a bit of a bandwagon, or a trend, in the city recently. But it’s more than that, as increasing numbers of people discover that difference in taste.”

Hippo – the name is a nod to patron saint of brewers St Augustine of Hippo Regius, not a warning about over-indulgence in your favourite tipple – has been part of that industry’s flourishing. The speciality beer shop and online store has been a popular addition to the craft scene in the West End, which is particularly robust. The duo are now building up a wholesale arm of their business, with the aim of marketing Scottish beers down south. But wherever you are, one aspect of drinking craft beer that will not go unnoticed is what the customer will pay for that distinctive taste and good quality – and that’s certainly more than your average pint. But these beers are not for guzzling …

Derek added: “There are a number of reasons for the price ranges, including the quality of ingredients, and duty. But these are beers to be savoured, they are a different type of product.”

Collaboration is also a key word for this industry, as we see not only breweries and pubs working together but sometimes brewery joining brewery in ventures or projects. That approach helps to generate a sense of community around the industry and it’s an inclusive culture that extends to many craft beer – and cider – fans too. Many of the bars that specialise in craft brews also offer good menus, host live music and organise events such as brewery tastings or festivals.

And when you walk into a craft pub, you’ll find the bar staff more than happy to tempt your custom with taste-sized samples in a try before you buy …  Donald Stephenson, editor of Glasgow-based Beers of the World Magazine, agrees the craft beer “revolution” is not just about discovering enjoyable brews – but also discovering some enjoyable bars.

He said: “Gone are the days of when only a poor selection of tasteless lagers haunted the bar fonts of Glasgow. The avid beer hunter can now reach out and grab a piece of the revolution that has been sweeping the globe – interesting beer with purpose and provenance. Glasgow is brimming with great venues serving great beers.

“You can choose to taste the world with some simply stunning imports or take an introspective approach and get to know the British brews that stand up against any from other lands. Whatever you preference, take only one mind-set – the desire to try new things, as you never know what you might find. For a great starting point head to the West End of the city, find a place that suits your character and ask the bartender, ‘what good beers do you have?’.”

Here are a few establishments where you’ll find craft beer locally – if we’ve missed your favourite, please let us know and we’ll add them to the list. Many pubs are beginning to include bottled beers and perhaps one or two craft pumps, so availability is definitely on the rise …

Brel, Ashton Lane, G12 8SJ 0141 342 4966
The garden and conservatory help to make this an atmospheric bar, even heading into winter … Refreshed and reinvigorated under new owners last year, the beer horizons have widened beyond Belgium … Bottled beers and ciders come from Germany, the Czech Republic and across Europe and over to the USA. On tap, beers from local brewers Kelburn and West are included.

BrewDog, 1397 Argyle St, G3 8AN
Part of the flourishing independent chain started by former Aberdeen schoolfriends and craft beer legends James Watt and Martin Dickie in Fraserburgh seven years ago. A wide range of beers are produced at their eco-brewery in the North-East of Scotland and the Glasgow bar, located right opposite Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, also offers a selection of guest brews.

Curlers Rest, 256-260 Byres Rd, G12 8SH 0141 341 0737
With more than 300 years of hospitality history, this bar has been through a number of transformations, most dramatically in the last 15 years. Now part of the large UK group Mitchells & Butlers, under their Castle brand, the Curlers still has a local and individual feel. They list five real ales, 19 speciality beers and three ciders on tap.

Hippo Beers, 128 Queen Margaret Dr, G20 8NY 0141 946 3020
Beer lovers Derek Hoy and Alec Knox opened their shop two years ago, frustrated by what was on offer in city bars and stores and determined to spark “a beer revolution”. The former Glasgow Uni mates also sell their wide range of craft beers, real ales and world beers online.

Inn Deep, 445 Great Western Rd, G12 8HH 0141 357 1075
With a great riverside setting down the steps at the edge of Kelvinbridge, this bar offers cask, keg and bottled craft beers. The house beers are by renowned Alloa-based Williams Brothers Brewing Company – the brewing family who started out running what was the home brew suppliers Glenbrew on Dumbarton Road by Broomhill … and who own this bar.

Munro’s, 185 Great Western Rd, G4 9EB 0141 332 0972
The impressive reincarnation of the old Captain’s Rest is itself helping to breathe new pub life into the St George’s Cross area. In addition to their permanent range of beers, including craft and cask options, this Maclay Inns bar also offers an interesting guest list of six craft and cask beers on tap, bottled beers and ciders.

The 78, 10-14 Kelvinhaugh St, G3 8NU 0141 576 5018
This award-winning vegan cafe-bar follows through with vegan-friendly, and sometimes organic, beers too. The independent, just down from the western edge of the Finnieston strip, has a good range of craft beers, ales and ciders, on tap and in bottles, with a weekly-changing selection of Williams cask ales too.

The Squid & Whale, 372-374 Great Western Rd, G4 9HT 0141 339 5070
An address that has gone through several identity changes over the past two decades, The Squid launched last year but already has the feel of a long-established bar. In keeping with their Mexican cantina-style menu, this independent specialises in American craft lagers & IPAs but also has a wider range that includes Scottish ales, German pilseners & weissbiers, South American/Mexican beers and guest bottles.

Three Judges, 141 Dumbarton Rd, G11 6PR 0141 337 3055
This Partick Cross institution has such a solid and traditional feel it demands description as a pub rather than a bar … Cask Marque accredited, and CAMRA award regulars, there is a choice of nine different real ales at this Maclay Inns establishment every day. They feature beer, ale and cider from throughout the UK as well as offering a number of Scottish pints.

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