Just about everything – the solitary car, the enduring foliage and the ground beneath my feet – is covered in a generous layer of thick, white frost as I reach an industrial estate on the very perimeter of Glasgow city centre. A dense layer of mist has descended upon the city and only the shuttered doors that immediately surround me are visible, the only noise a gentle hum somewhere within one of the units. It’s like a ghost town.
As I ponder my next move, I hear the undeniable creak of a door being opened before a friendly face pops out and asks: “Kevin?” I’m in the right place; I head inside the humble headquarters of Merchant City Brewing.
Merchant City are one of the newest breweries to place their mark on the thriving Glasgow beer scene (their first brew happened only in August of last year). Alongside the likes of Dead End Brew Machine, Up Front Brewing, Gallus Brewing and others, they’ve quickly set about doing what is fast becoming a tradition in the city’s craft brewing sub-culture: quietly making some of the best beer in the country.
“The Merchant City brand maybe doesn’t mean that much to people outside Scotland,” explains business development manager James Kidd, shortly after welcoming me to their modest brewery. “But in Glasgow it’s a renowned and vibrant area of the town.”
Despite this intrinsic link to the city it calls home, Kidd has no qualms admitting “our aim is to grow out of Glasgow.” He sees having their beers featured in Flavourly boxes up and down the country as an important stepping stone to making a name for Merchant City beyond the confines of Scotland’s biggest city. “To get our beers out there, it’s quite important to get into peoples’ fridges in the rest of the country.”
Behind all great breweries, though, must stand a great brewer and you’ll know this key component has been accounted for from your very first sip of Merchant City beer. Heriot Watt graduate Adam Gray assumes this vital role and with him, as the brewery’s website proudly proclaims, “the science is in safe hands.”
With years of experience working at some of Scotland’s top independent breweries, he tells me about his excitement at coming on board such an exciting venture at this early stage and being able to shape the direction of the beer it produces. And after years of working at different breweries, he’s happy to have a brewery he can call home.
“I’d like to be here for the long term,” Adam muses. “I’ve got experience of lots of different places but [Glasgow]’s a nice city to work in.
The range, like the brewery itself, starts off small but plans for expansion are never too far from the Merchant City team’s minds. A core three – a Vienna Lager, an American Pale Ale and a trusty IPA – are the primary focus for the moment but the cogs are constantly turning, whirring away in the background for what could and should come next.
Their Vienna Lager combines lightly toasted Vienna and Munich malts to give a copper colour and a complex, malty profile. This is balanced perfectly with noble hops – Saaz from the Czech Republic and Tettnang from Germany – to add a touch of dry, floral spice. It’s then fermented with a German yeast strain from Weihenstephan and lagered for six weeks, resulting in a stunning, smooth and clear beer.
Their IPA is as balanced as they come and doesn’t hit you over the head with any one element. Though its hop character from copious amounts of Cascade is allowed to come to the fore, a pleasant malt body rounds things out nicely and provides a stunning mouthfeel
Perhaps the most interesting of the bunch, however, is their American Pale Ale. Sure, it uses pale malt from British spring barley before heaping in classic hop varieties from the US and Europe (Cascade for a citrus bite and Saaz in support with a light spice). The magical key ingredient is a propriety blend of fragrant black tea with orange and lemon. This little extra takes this APA to a different level; super citric, highly aromatic and unbelievably refreshing.
“I’ve been a fan of tea beers for quite a long time and it’s always my go-to idea for something new: stick some tea in it,” says Adam. “There’s a lot I could do with tea. I’m quite a big tea drinker. Tea and beer are my favourite drinks so bring ‘em together. I’d quite like to do some more tea beers at some point.”
Though you can probably expect to see more infusions from Merchant City Brewing in the future, they’re looking to steep themselves in more than leaves. Beer culture and experimentation are both things they’re very much entrenched in.
“The conversations we have in here about beer are epic,” James states. “It’s really nice to have a company where everyone is into their beer. And quite seriously into their beer. It’s a common tongue, a common language.”
“The lads are making a brew a week on our pilot kit to flex their muscles. I say this smiling as listening to Adam and Simon speak about what they’re going to brew and how they’re going to brew it on a weekly basis is really quite exciting from a beer perspective. We’ve had an imperial stout that smelled absolutely amazing.”
While Adam considers how that imperial stout could be scaled up to the full-size kit for a proper release, he shares some of the other exciting plans that are rattling around in his head. “I want to do a double IPA at some point, something strong. A wheat beer would be good,” he says. “We’re looking at kettle sours as well, so hopefully we can scale that up to the big kit if it turns out quite nice, which would be interesting. There aren’t too many Scottish breweries doing sours.”
With plans to open an adventurous new venue in its namesake location, it’s plain to see that Merchant City Brewing are looking to expand, innovate and take the beer scene by storm in Glasgow and beyond. All of this would be moot, however, were the beers anything less than great. But as they would say in Glasgow: they’re pure, dead brilliant!
Originally published in Issue 11 of Flavourly Magazine. Written by Kevin O’Donnell.