Bavarian gem of a brewery in the heart of Glasgow
Saturday 12 February 2022
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Great European Road Trip
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Originally from Bavaria, WEST founder Petra Wetzel first fell in love with Scotland on a school exchange near Stirling. She returned in 1994 to study at the University of Glasgow and has been here ever since. The idea for WEST, a German-style brewery abiding by the German purity law, was born when Petra’s father first visited her in Glasgow and spotted a gap in the Scottish market.
While the very idea of craft beer – never mind craft lager - was pretty unfamiliar in the UK when WEST opened in 2006, the brewery quickly struck a chord with local drinkers, simply by ploughing its own furrow and letting the beer do the talking.
“We didn't really go knocking on doors at the beginning,” says Simon Roberts, the head brewer. “We were happy making great beers for our beerhall and it was other venues that approached us, asking to stock our beer. While craft beer and some of the new and novel terms that came with it might have been intimidating, great quality lager wasn't. Generally, the drinker knew a great quality lager. It also helps that German beer and excellence go hand in hand, which was already well in consumers’ minds, and that many people knew and loved WEST as a venue and a brewery.
We always want customers to be able to have a couple of pints without switching up
“We got underway before there was a large-scale craft movement in Scotland and long before ‘craft’ was well known and discussed. I would say that WEST was very much looking inward and forging its own path. There wasn't a huge amount of competition at the time and the sole focus was supplying the beer hall so what the rest of the market was doing wasn't that important. Interestingly it is hard to think of a craft brewer who isn't now producing or trying to produce a lager.”
With all of WEST’s output brewed and packaged on site, the Templeton Building on Glasgow Green is the spiritual home of its brand. “The site played a vital part in the industrial history of the city and holds a special place in the heart of Glaswegians,” continues Simon. “This made it the perfect place to create and serve our beer, where guests can take in what we are really about and meet the people who make it.”
The location of the taproom reflects WEST’s continuing pride in being a local brewery, and a higher concentration of its stockists are still in the Greater Glasgow area. Its beer can be found increasingly further afield, however, in most of the major supermarkets and many venues across Scotland.
“The beer scene in Glasgow has changed almost unrecognisably since 2006,” says Simon. “The main difference is the education and expectation of the beer drinking public. It is also probably fair to say that the beer drinking 'community' has become much bigger and more diverse. WEST has always been about doing what we do with pride and ensuring our beers are drinkable. We always want customers to be able to have a couple of pints without switching up. While we certainly have a broader choice now and there are much more options for those inclined to drink 'craft’, we've never really pandered to fashion or fads.”
WEST may not have chased fashion, but fashion has certainly come around to WEST, with craft brewers up and down the land now offering their own take on traditional German styles. It is important to remember though just how pioneering WEST was, in terms of pushing the quality of British-brewed lager, and how it continues to fly the flag for the full diversity of German brewing.
Simon says: “I think that at one point there was little choice on the bar or supermarket shelf and that lager was perceived to be yellow, fizzy, cold and nothing else. It is certainly not the case now. Helles, Märzen, Vienna are all now pretty well known and we can't shock people the same way by telling them that Munich Red is a lager. Our range perfectly showcases the diversity of the category. The great thing is that many more people are willing to branch out and try a broad range of lagers. Furthermore, for the most part, lager is no longer a dirty word.”
“From the brewers’ perspective, German brewing is an incredible way to learn to brew. You must understand your core ingredients, processes and many of the styles give you nowhere to hide as flaws are instantly noticeable. I also think it forces creativity. If we want chocolate, citrus or banana flavours then we must use our understanding to achieve it. We can't add fruits, spices or flavourings.”
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