Bitter whiff Tales of the city: GLASGOW

The beer's great but the smell is too much for the neighbours
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The Independent Culture
City dwellers take the inevitable grime and odours of urban life in their stride - all part of that Faustian pact we made when first we moved off the land. But you can push a man too far and in the quiet residential Woodlands district of Glasgow, close by the University, too far is a brewery on the ground floor of your block of flats.

Glasgow tenements frequently have commercial premises - shops, pubs, restaurants - at ground level. The premises occupied by the Glaschu brewery since it opened last August used to be a car showroom. It wasn't a very big showroom so it's not a very big brewery. It only makes about 2,500 pints a week; a third for the Uisge Beatha pub next door, two-thirds for the off-sales trade (please bring your own sealable plastic container). But, with all those picture windows, it has quickly become a local landmark, rarely without a clutch of small boys pressing their noses up against the glass for a glimpse of the mysteries within.

The owner of both the brewery and the pub, Duncan MacGregor, isn't tall enough to be a landmark but he still cuts a dash, energetic and dapper with his yellow waistcoat and pepper-and-salt hair. It was his sense of showmanship that led him to locate the copper brewing kettle centre stage. "I would have had all the piping in copper too, but the environmental health people wouldn't wear it," he says.

Ah yes, the environmental health people. What a broad brief they have. No sooner had they stopped advising MacGregor on the requirements for a brewery than they were back to investigate the worries of local residents. Whatever you think about beer, you can't make it without giving off that sweet, hoppy aroma.

"Separate complaints were made to this department," intones Ian Muir from Glasgow District Council's environmental health department. "Under the Public Health (Scotland) Act of 1897 we are required to investigate." Surprisingly in this hi-tech age, "investigating" involves someone from the office going down to the complainant and, well, sniffing. Only 12 people complained, most of them in the flats immediately above the brewery. Still, says Muir, "the complaint was substantiated as far as we're concerned. It does sound a bit subjective but after nearly 100 years there's an enormous amount of case law."

No one complained about any other aspect of the new venture. Having customers who took their beer home before they drank seemed an improvement on the lively student pub next door. MacGregor tried to meet his neighbours half way and put in more sophisticated ventilation. But unlike a restaurant where all the cooking smells come from the cooker and can be siphoned out through a hood, in the brewery, the aroma - or the stench, depending on your point of view - is pervasive.

It was on the basis of the environmental health department's recommendation that MacGregor's formal planning application for Glasgow's first new brewery this century was rejected last month. An enforcement order to close it down has now been issued. You may think it a tad rash to spend £25,000 on a brewery before you get permission. But it seemed like a good idea at the time. "We wanted to extend the pub," explains MacGregor. "But the council said the only things they would allow there were an undertakers, a post office, a launderette, an antique shop or a small manufacturing unit." He looked at the surrounding area, which has several other pubs and a number of takeaway food outlets, and came up with the solution: "We thought we'd have take-away beer, manufactured on the premises."

Unofficially the council thought it was a great idea, especially with the Richard Rogers-style display. Indeed, according to a spokesman, it still does ... in principle. But it couldn't ignore its environmental health department.

MacGregor, however, is not going to give up easily. "We're going to appeal. If that fails we'll go to the Secretary of State. We'll go all the way." If anything, he wants to expand the brewery. Indeed, there is a suggestion that he needs to expand it to make the unit economically viable. MacGregor denies this, but concedes his enthusiasm for the brewery is for the market opportunity it represents rather than the beer.

"I drink whisky myself. But even the big brewers are beginning to install gravity pumps in their pubs in the west of Scotland, now. It's what people are asking for." While the appeal process drags on, the Best Bracken, a pale but tasty bitter, the Double Whammy, a strong ale, and the Pride of the Clyde, a lighter ale, continue to be available. Hurry while stocks are still being brewed.

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