Last Saturday I fulfilled a lifelong dream. Well, maybe not “life long” – let’s say, a dream I’ve had since I started boozing (though that’s not as snappy). I visited the world famous (?!) Wellpark Brewery in my beloved city of Glasgow.
Before we get to the visit itself, a wee bit of background of my life as a drinker…
Now, it’s fair to say that I do love The Drink. I’m Scottish FFS – it’s built into our DNA. Actually, that just reminded me of a comedian (whose name now escapes me) I saw during the Fringe who did a bit about the fact that he doesn’t drink and how hard it was to sit his parents down and “Come Out” as a non-drinking Scot 🙂 Anyway, yup, I love a wee bevvy now and again. I was a relatively late starter on the booze (for a lassie growing up in the outskirts of Glasgow in a wee village with not a lot to do) at 17, when I drank Diamond White cider (not to be confused with White Lightning – I wasn’t quite that bad!). Bloody hell – that was some stuff! The actual memory of its taste now gives me the proper dry boak – as does the thought of K Cider, which I “graduated” to at 18. The joke amongst my friends used to always be that I was such a lightweight, I just needed “one bottle and a sniff” and I’d be under the table. Or singing. Or aggressively telling everyone I loved them (“no, no REALLY – I REALLY DO!”).
I’m pleased to say that my drinking tastes have “matured” over the years. I have left the cider behind (with the odd pint of decent vintage stuff a rare treat) and now much prefer lager, wine or – of course – a yummy Scottish malt whisky (there is no point me starting spraffing about my love of malt whisky in this blog post – I could go on for hours and there is NOTHING WORSE than a whisky bore. Actually, scratch that – wine bores are far worse). Let’s stick with lager for now. This is a drink that I didn’t partake of until well into my twenties and I can’t for the life of me remember why I started on it. It was probably something to do with a pub not having cider on draft and me still wanting to drink a pint to not look like a wuss (thankfully, my attitude towards worrying about whether folk think I am a wuss or not has also “matured” – now, frankly, not a fuck is given). Once I discovered lager, it became my drink of choice and I’d happily have six or seven pints on a night out. That was back when I was Very Fat and I think my size meant I could tank more than was really healthy. I’ve shifted a few stone over the last couple of years and one of the benefits (?!) has been that I am now just about back to where I was when I was 17 – with “one and a sniff” being enough for me: the six or seven pints in an evening is just a distant memory – and, let’s be honest, that’s probably no bad thing.
I drink lots of different lagers / lager-type beers (no, I don’t really know / understand the difference, and I can’t be arsed to find out) – happy to try any, really. There are numerous “artisan” ones available to the discerning lager drinker these days: I could mention LOADS but just a couple of favourites of mine from Scottish brewers are Williams Bros. – especially their Caesar Augustus – and West Beer – especially West 4 (although their tagline, which is “Glaswegian Heart; German Head”, always makes me snigger – hehehehe German Head – just me, then?).
However, the one that I always come back to is good old faithful Tennent’s Lager: The Big Red T.
Right – ok – let all the wailing and gnashing of teeth from “proper” beer drinkers commence. I have heard it all before – and I don’t fucking buy it. There is NOTHING WRONG and A LOT RIGHT about this magnificent Scottish drink. OK, maybe I don’t have the most refined palate in the world (eg I have been known to eat a battered “cheese n’ burger” from the chippy and proclaim it to be a triumph of culinary expertise – TBF I had probably had more than “one and a sniff” at that point…) but it’s thirst-quenching, sweet, fizzy, has just a wee touch of bitterness on the aftertaste and is thoroughly enjoyable. I’d have it above plenty of other lagers – and I think it sometimes get unfairly dismissed.
Tennent’s Lager is lovingly brewed in the Wellpark Brewery in Glasgow, just a twenty minute walk from the city centre, on Duke Street. I knew they did guided tours and had been meaning to go for years. The opportunity arose last weekend when I’d arranged to meet a good friend for a long overdue
bitchy friendly catch up to share gossip news, in Glasgow, where he lives. The plan originally had to be to just “drink a lot of lager” – but then I suggested that we break that up with a visit to where the magic actually happens – where they actually make the stuff! Said pal was more than happy to be my Brewery Buddy, so off we went.
I have to say, the tour really did not disappoint. For just a tenner, we were treated to a visit to a kind of museum-type bit of the visitor centre, which had a film all about the history of Wellpark, and then various displays to peruse.
From the info film, I learned a few interesting facts:
- There’s been a brewery on the site for 900 years!
- The current site is 18 acres in size!
- Bonnie Prince Charlie stopped off for a swally there
- The water used to come from the Lady Well (which sounds a bit rude – and is also the name of the pub right opposite the Wellpark Brewery, where we had a swift half before the tour – and jolly nice it was too) and now comes from Loch Katrine (I knew that already, cos that’s where Glasgow’s water comes from generally anyway)
- Tennent’s Lager as we know it (the fizzy stuff) dates from 1885 when Hugh Tennent visited Germany and decided to make something similar to the pilsner he’d had there
- Tennent’s were the first brewery to use cans – in 1935!
- 70% of pubs in Scotland have Tennent’s on draft
- The “lager lovelies” – ie the “sexy” ladies that they had on the cans – ended in 1993 (just as well, really) and were advertised by Morecambe and Wise in the 70s
- The guy who plays Jamie in Outlander played Hugh Tennent in the TV ad in 2010!
After the film and a talk through the displays, it was time for the tour proper. It was very comprehensive, taking us through all the main parts of the production process. Our tour guide, Daniel, was great: really knew his stuff and was chummy with a dry sense of humour.
We got to look in the big Mash Tun thingie (it smelled) and also saw where the lager is bottled / canned / barrelled. That bit was crazy! The place was HUGE and properly state-of-the-art. They produce an INSANE amount of lager each week – and they even allow “guest” brewers to use their facilities, including Innes & Gunn and Sainsbury’s! Even as recently as the early 90s, shift workers in the factory had a “lager allowance” for every shift! Alas, that’s gone now. Thank you, Health and Safety laws *rolls eyes*.
After the 45 minute tour, we retired back to the lovely onsite bar / tasting room where we were treated to tastes of three “speciality” brews from Tennent’s. Alas, I wasn’t really listening / taking notes (I am a BAD blogger!) so can’t remember the ins and outs – although I do know that they were all well tasty – and one was *9%* – it’s not really sold in Scotland as, in the words of Daniel the tour guide “we can’t be trusted”.
After that, Daniel did the honours and poured us all a pint of the good stuff – lovely, ice cold, fizzy yumminess. And the first pint of many Big Red Ts consumed that day!
All in all, a brilliant couple of hours and I’d highly recommend it. Really friendly staff, very informative and comprehensive tour and a great atmosphere.
Say what you like about the Big Red T: it’ll do the job for me – now and forever.
Right, since I’m currently typing this sitting in my local, please excuse me while I go and order another one…