Based in the heart of Glasgow, Drygate has quickly become a true local institution since opening its doors in 2014
Words: Richard Croasdale
Thursday 03 May 2018
This article is from
Can of The Year
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Based in the heart of Glasgow, Drygate has quickly become a true local institution since opening its doors in 2014. A brewery and taproom located in a former box factory – later repurposed as the technical services depot of Scottish brewing icon Tennent’s – Drygate is a joint venture between Tennent’s and Alloa craft brewery Williams Bros. Despite enjoying wide distribution across Scotland and beyond, Drygate is still run by a small team and has retained its local ethos, working closely with small local businesses, other breweries in the west of Scotland and even the Glasgow home brew community.
Operations manager Matt Corden says: “It was mostly Scott [Williams] who came up with this idea of an experiential brewery in the middle of the city, whose focus would be on breaking down the barriers between the brewery and the public. The guys at C&C [Tennent’s parent company] loved the idea, and were looking for a way into the craft market. They set Drygate up as an independent brewery, where Tennent’s owns 49%, Williams Bros owns 40% and the remaining 11% is held by staff, so no one company has control and the brewery is free to pursue its own path.”
Drygate’s link to Tennent’s is fairly well-known, at least in Scotland, and was initially a source of some suspicion among drinkers and even other brewers. Matt acknowledges this has been a problem, but argues the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
“When I joined the business in mid-2015, I picked up on the perception problem immediately. At the time it felt like Tennent’s was a dirty word, as big beer tends to be among the die-hard fans. I also felt that, when the brewery had launched the previous year, there had been a bit too much focus on brand and marketing, so I was determined to bring that focus back onto the quality of the beer, as that’s really the only sustainable way to overcome an image problem. No corners cut, no bad beer leaving the brewery.”
This commitment to ‘quality first’ can be seen in how Drygate has developed over the past couple of years, particularly in the appointment of Dave Stark – formerly of Brewdog – as head brewer and the team that has steadily been built around him.
Also key to winning round a suspicious craft community has been the aforementioned ethos of openness. Providing time, expertise and access to equipment for home brewers and smaller commercial operations has been core to the Drygate vision from day one.
“We’ve got small brewing kits here, 50-litre Braumeisters, where members of the public can come in and brew their own beers. We’ll package it up for them and they can take it away. The original vision was that we’d use the 250-litre kit that we’ve got on site – we call it our studio kit – for that purpose, but decided we needed to offer an intermediate step.
“Now more advanced homebrewers looking to take the next step can use the studio kit to scale up their recipes, or even start their own small business on it. We’ve done that for quite a few new breweries, like Up Front Brewing Company; Jake Griffin was one of the original brewers for Drygate. Chris Lewis who runs Dead End Brew Machine started off brewing on our studio kit, and Ben who runs Gallus Brewing Company. We always wanted to be a hub for home brewing in Glasgow, by letting these guys come in and start up their own companies and get their homebrew out to a wider audience. It’s been really successful in that regard, the studio kit.”
Of course, the studio kit is also useful for Drygate’s own ongoing in-house development, and was the birthplace of several of its most popular beers – now found in the year-round Studio Series – including Disco Fork Lift Truck, Orinoco and Crossing the Rubicon. Particularly since Dave joined the team, Matt says the creativity of the brews being attempted on the studio kit by all the brewers has really taken off, with beers ranging from an Irn Bru-inspired Belgian white ale to a brown ale with beetroot and balsamic vinegar.
Most of these experimental brews won’t be experienced beyond Drygate’s awesome taproom, where brewers get to see the public reaction first hand, and punters get to see where and from whom their beers originated. While it’s certainly unlikely a beer like Dirty Bulkin’ – an imperial stout with blueberry and banana, fermented with Heffeweisse yeast – will ever make it onto the shelf at Tesco, other more accessible experiments will undoubtedly go on to become household names (relatively speaking). It’s also important to the soul of the brewery to keep upping the ante with new and daring creations.
“We’re considered a bigger craft brewer now, so a lot of the day-to-day is spent on production of Gladeye, Bearface and Disco Fork Lift Truck on the main kit. So it’s nice to have the studio kit there; at the end of the day brewing can get a bit boring if you’re doing the same thing day in day out.”
Particularly in the super-competitive supermarket environment, Drygate undoubtedly owes some of its success to it distinctive and eye-popping can designs. Famously – there was a lot of press coverage at the time – the core beers were all designed by former students of the Glasgow School of Art. What people may not realise though is the designs that have come since, most notably decorating the Studio Series, have a more unexpected but equally interesting origin.
“The cans we’ve got in most supermarkets, the studio range, were all designed by a guy called John Felix, who was our original delivery driver for the brewery,” says Matt. “It turns out he was a very good illustrator, so we starting using him for small runs on the studio kit. In fact, he was a far better artist than he was a delivery driver, so he struck out on his own and went freelance. His mad illustrative style is so distinctive that the studio range has almost become a brand in its own right.”
“Our links with Glasgow are hugely important, though we didn’t really make much of that when we launched. We are very proud to be a Glaswegian business. With the events space here and the space we have upstairs, we have the opportunity to celebrate local bands and be part of the Celtic Connections festival, which is a big thing for us every year.
“As well as welcoming local brewers to use our equipment, the event space is another really positive way we can engage with local people and businesses. We’ve got an urban market here every second Sunday, so the whole event space gets given over to small local producers. You can sit and have a couple of pints, watch the rugby or, pop through and look at the market stalls; bring your kids, your dog. For me, it’s that openness that’s always made Drygate really special.”
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