I visited as part of an international Blues Dancing event. You can only begin to imagine how the thought of dancing in a brewery made friends jealous. We were lucky enough to have an amazing private function room to dance in, and to have a tour of the brewery outside of the normal hours.
WEST is the only brewery in the UK currently producing all it's beers according to the traditional German Beer Purity Laws, or "Reinheitsgebot" for the uninitiated. This law has been around for just 3 short of 500 years and I've heard claims that the purity of beers brewed in this tradition mean there is less likelihood of hangovers. I'm sure that all depends on how much you drink, though!
The tour was well worth the money and provided all sorts of inspirational chants for the blues dancers across the weekend to follow. Yeast! Flocculate! (Look it up, I dare you!)
West's philosophy is to create premium craft beer's in Glasgow filling a gap in the market identified back in 1994 on a visit to some of Glasgow's nice restaurants. Several other exciting new breweries have also come into existence in Scotland including Strathaven Ales, whose Bramble infused beer I had the great pleasure to sample the night after the trip to West. In any case, it's great to see some amazing beers being produced in Scotland after many years where the choice seemed to come down to a laughing cavalier or a busty girl on a can of mass-produced chemical slosh.
Next up was the Munich Red. Essentially this is also a 4.9% abv lager, but one which is darker in colour with a bit more in the way of caramel flavours deriving from the toast of the malted barley. I enjoyed it, but expected a touch stronger flavour, considering the colour. I'd have liked a bit more oomph. My favourite was surely the West Black or Dunkel - the stout style (also 4.9% abv). It's lighter and fruitier than many stouts, making it very easy to drink compared to say a Guinness and contains 5 different malts. A pint or two of this may not have improved my blues dancing... I'll leave the leaders to judge on that score!
Finally we tasted the Hefeweizen, an unfiltered wheat beer in true German style at 5.2% abv.. It's cloudy because the wine contains the dead yeast cells and these, plus the hop selection, are thought to impart flavours of banana, clove, or nutmeg. I really like this style of beer, though it's probably an acquired taste. For summertime, assuming we get one, I'd probably choose this ahead of the stout, simply as it's more refreshing.
What do hops do? Well, they add the flavour, adding bitterness if added early in the process or aromatic notes if added late, and having a number of different varieties of hops, there are a large number of flavour choices to be made.
What's the difference between ale or lager? It's all to do with the type of yeast. Those which ferment at the top of the vat produce ale and those which are bottom fermenters produce beer/lager. There's a whole world of beer out there, and much as I love wine, I'm not averse to a high quality craft beer. Why not try some yourself?