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Beer to stay

May 23, 2011

Five years ago, Petra Wetzel spotted a gap in the Scottish beer market. She opened up a traditional-style German brewery, bar and restaurant in the city of Glasgow and hasn't looked back since.

Bar staff pour beers in a pub
A German seeking a good beer in Glasgow got West startedImage: Fotolia/Nikola Bilic

The heart of Scotland's biggest city isn't where you would expect to find a traditional German-style brewery, serving authentic fare. But that's exactly what Bavarian businesswoman Petra Wetzel set up in a corner of Glasgow's east end five years ago.

Getting the West brewery, bar and restaurant up and running wasn't easy. Wetzel had never brewed before and was in a city better known for its traditional strong lagers than Hefeweizen wheat beers.

But after seeking advice from a number of experts, her products quickly caught on. West is now generating impressive profits with award-winning beers and changing the way Scots think about beer.

"I think I have had the biggest advantage because I am a woman and I am a foreigner," Wetzel explained. "I knew very little about beer when I started, so people didn't take me that seriously, or see me as a threat."

Success story

Wetzel set up the West brewery and beer hall in large premises overlooking Glasgow Green, one of the city's large parks. Its beers are now sold in a clutch of top bars and restaurants across Britain.

Petra Wetzel holds a beer in West's brewery
West keeps its ingredients list down to the three listed in an old German lawImage: West

West is the only brewery in Britain that adheres to the strict German purity law of 1516, the Reinheitsgebot, which dictates that only water, barley and hops may be used in the production of beer. Wetzel first came up with the idea when she was studying at Glasgow University.

"I'm from Franconia in the south of Germany and my dad came to visit and we sat in a bar in the west end Glasgow and he said, 'What's the lager darling?'" she said. "He had tried all the beers on draught and there was nothing he thought was drinkable.

"He couldn't believe a city like Glasgow, with 850,000 people, didn't have a decent brewery that produced the kind of beer that he liked drinking."

Educating taste buds

Turning the idea from a dream drawn up on the back of a beer mat into reality has been difficult, but the business has been supported by enthusiastic Glaswegians with an ever-growing wanderlust.

Facade of the West brewery
Scots returned to Glasgow looking for good beer and found it at WestImage: West

"It was very much about educating people in Glasgow that what we were doing was right," Wetzel said. "Because people go travelling these days ... skiing in Austria or Bavaria, or to Oktoberfest in Munich. They discover all these other beers in Europe. They then come back and ask 'why we don't have a brewery that produces this kind of beer in Glasgow?' Well now they do, and that's the reason why West exists."

Award-winning beer

West has won a clutch of awards. Its Hefeweizen was named supreme champion keg beer by the UK Society of Independent Brewers in March.

"The smaller brewery movement in Britain has predominantly been in ales, so West bucks the trend in craft beer production," said SIBA chief executive Julian Growcock.

"What people like Petra are proving is that lagers don't have to be bland and bitter - they can truly be something to be enjoyed."

Expansion plans

The growing popularity of West beers means the brewery is currently operating at full capacity, but Wetzel said she still sees plenty of room for growth.

A tap at the West brewery
West is currently available only in the United KingdomImage: West

"We are building a second brewery in Glasgow so we are increasing capacity times 20," she said. "That's what we need in order to grow to the level of business that we want to reach."

West currently only sells its beers in the UK, but Wetzel said the brewery has had a lot of interest from bars as far afield as New York.

"I think we are seen as a niche product," Wetzel explained. "When we started, no one in Glasgow bought our beer apart from people in our own beer hall. We now have 80 draught customers in Glasgow alone.

"Although we are still very small, we are growing all the time," she added. "I think we are somewhat becoming a force that the big boys are taking seriously."

Author: Lillian McDowall, Glasgow

Editor: Sam Edmonds