The Drygate project aims to bring the ethos of Leith's The Vintage to Glasgow
The Williams Bros complex will contain a craft brewery, bar, restaurant and events space
A List Eating & Drinking Guide award-winner from last year is playing a key role in a brand-new project in Glasgow combining craft beer, good food, cultural collaboration, urban regeneration and the future of brewing in Scotland. David Pollock discovers more about the Drygate vision
When the decision was made to award The List’s Eating and Drinking Guide award for Best Newcomer to Leith bar The Vintage in 2013, it wasn’t without a pause for thought. After all, this would be the first time in twenty years of existence that the Guide would honour a pub with its top award. Could it really be good enough to match the very best of the city’s new fine dining ventures? Without a doubt, was the answer of anyone who sampled their expertly formed repertoire of charcuterie and craft beers, many of the latter courtesy of Williams Bros, a partner in the venture. Others agreed, as impressed reviews were followed by further accolades, including an Observer Food Award.
Now what feels like a small-scale and smart but homely start-up in Edinburgh’s port is going to expand dramatically as part of the new Drygate venture in the east end of Glasgow. Centred around a 1930s-era former box factory, the renovated industrial space will contain the Drygate craft brewery and bar as well as a much-expanded Vintage with space for more than 220 covers, a 300-capacity events space geared to hold music and comedy nights, and a roof terrace looking out over the Glasgow skyline.
‘As a Glasgow native, I'd always wanted to brew in the city,’ says the Alloa-based Williams Bros’ Scott Williams, a partner in each of the separate entities which are Drygate and the Vintage. ‘Drygate is first and foremost a craft beer brewery, which also happens to include a fantastic restaurant, two huge bar spaces and a world class home brew kit where visitors can come and share their thoughts and ideas.’
Much as eating spaces (including both the original Vintage and the 120-capacity V @ Drygate restaurant here) are increasingly opening up their galley kitchen to view by diners, Williams says that Drygate puts the process of brewing at the heart of the experience. ‘Drygate’s a 24 hectolitre brewery with a brew kit which is being sourced from Italy and is pretty much bespoke,’ he says. ‘The brewing process is going to be very theatrical in that you can see right through to the brewery from the bar. All of the interesting stuff is in plain view, including the ingredients and the brewers.’
With 24 taps on each bar and a shop selling bottled brewery product, the range will all be branded as Drygate, he says, with the core lager, IPA and apple ale all visually enhanced by label designs from Glasgow School of Art students. In addition, riding on the crest of the contemporary art wave that’s hit Glasgow, these designs by artists including Emma Houlston, Linda Sweenie with Jack Bedford, and the Good Press team, will also decorate Drygate’s interior.
From a Vintage perspective, the firm’s director of operations Darren Blackburn is at pains to point out the uniqueness of the brand will continue. ‘We don’t want to be a big brand, certainly from the Vintage side,’ he says. ‘I hate chain restaurants, I hate the soullessness of them. We have the Vintage in Leith and the Vintage in Glasgow, and both menus will be of the same ilk but different, each head chef will put their personality into it. The wine lists will be different, the beer lists will be different – we’ve got a good talented team in each venue, and they lose interest when you just tell them what they’re going to be doing.’ His head chef is David Sutherland, who has just spent a year as sous chef in Leith following stints at Stravaigin and the Kitchin.
Blackburn describes the food on offer at both the downstairs V @ Drygate restaurant and in the beer hall upstairs as simply ‘modern British’ (‘if we serve crème brûlée, we translate it as “bird cream”’), with the restaurant serving pub classics like fish and chips alongside a more fine dining orientated à la carte menu, while the beer hall focuses on burgers styled upon hop varieties: for example, the New Zealand Green Bullet hop, whose companion burger is made with lamb shoulder mince and a rosemary dressing. The aim is to match flavours while revealing the provenance of the hop.
Elsewhere, the Vintage’s self-confessed USP of first-rate charcuterie contributes to tapas-style plates and sharing boards. ‘It’s traditionally a French and Spanish technique, and people say they’re the best in the world,’ says Blackburn, ‘but I think the British producers doing it these days are really challenging their European counterparts. Farms like Peelham in the Scottish Borders, Trealy down south [in Monmouth], Great Glen Game in the Highlands, they’re all doing fantastic products. They take European techniques and use British produce, which as far as I’m concerned is some of the best in the world.’ Some of the offerings at Drygate will include spreadable chorizo, octopus pastrami and a starter of pork cola cubes – cubed pork with a sweet dressing – as well as assiette of beef and a seafood and pork back fat chowder.
The pair freely admit that Drygate is a collaboration with the company behind Scottish mega-brand Tennants, but are sanguine about it given they have creative freedom and access to premises and resources they couldn’t previously have dreamt of. ‘Stephen Glancey (of C&C Group) showed me the Drygate building and said, "There's a blank canvas, what can you do with it?"' says Williams. ‘It just helped accelerate something that was always going to happen. There’s more choice than ever for beer drinkers but the market’s nowhere near saturation. It's wildly competitive and the consumer is becoming much more aware of what their palate requires and ultimately what constitutes "good beer".’
The shift to such a dramatic scale, says Blackburn, isn’t daunting. ‘People thought Scott was crazy when he started off twenty years ago [with Williams Bros] and he’s proved them all wrong,’ he says. ‘People want flavour now, they don’t just want cold, watery, generic lager, and you need to make it more accessible – a big venue is the way to do it. We’re not trying to be too cool for school, we’re all beyond that. It’s about providing quality drink and food, and we believe everyone should be a part of that.’
The Vintage at Drygate opens in May 2014 on Duke Street, Glasgow. Take along issue 723 of The List to receive 15% off the bill when having food. Redeemable by end of June 2014; users must pre-book stating offer.