CAMRA members must be high-fiving down to the bone these days, such is the continued rise of real ale and craft beer. No longer are the pumps of pubs across the land dedicated solely to tasteless, mass-produced lager, with craft beer and real ale muscling in to show just how divergent hoppy drops can be. And Glasgow's certainly not short of pubs and bars doing both very well indeed, from boozers getting in on the act to breweries setting up shop to showcase their wares, we've got plenty to sup, sip, sample and swig. Here are our favourites spots to do just that. Cheers.
Glasgow craft beer bars
This isn't the most obvious venue in the West End, tucked a short way up Kelvinhaugh Street, but it is unique. Since 2007 it has been serving up a winning formula of craft beer, decent vegan cooking and shabby chic. People come here for the food of course but you can just as easily plonk yourself on an armchair by the open fire with your Joker IPA or Harvest Sun from the Williams Brothers and enjoy a pint.
One of the longest-established bars in the Merchant City area, Blackfriars looks far from new or plush these days but it has good beer, a bar menu and a multifunctional basement that is used for everything from dance classes to music nights. The main bar on the ground floor has mismatched wooden chairs, wooden tables, a wooden floor and some booth seating where you can sit with your burger, steak and ale pie or fish and chips. This is also where you come to try one of the five ever-changing cask ales on tap which might include Scottish varieties like Orkney IPA from Highland Brewing, Simcoe Burst from Alechemy or Cart Noir, a porter from Kelburn. In addition, Blackfriars has other draught beers and a rotating selection in bottles from near and far – Siren Craft Brew of Berkshire for example, or the Redchurch Brewery of London.
The proposition here is simple: a traditional bar with truly great beer, an excellent whisky selection and good bar food. Its location may work against it slightly, close to the Mitchell Library but overlooking the M8 motorway, although this probably deters city centre fashionistas and West End hipsters which can only be a good thing. Once inside however you just rejoice at the ever-changing selection of well-kept cask ale and ask yourself if you can justify clootie dumpling and custard to follow the chilli con carne.
Brewdog's original Glasgow operation could hardly be handier for Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum as its sits literally opposite on Argyle Street. If overwhelmed by the paintings of John Duncan Fergusson, or insights into the creativity of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, you can walk across the road and be in surroundings of signature deconstructed décor drinking a pint of Punk IPA – or a bottle of something lambic from Belgium – in the time it takes to say 'aesthetic overload'. Their Merchant City DogHouse outpost is worth a gander too.
South Glasgow is enormous and given that there are so many attractions in the city centre and West End jaunts south of the river by tourists tend to be strategic rather than random. As a result, most of the city beyond the Clyde remains a mystery to visitors. If you're anywhere near the National Stadium at Hampden however – for a football match or the Scottish Football Museum – it's worth diverting to the Clockwork Beer Co on Cathcart Road. Originally an independent microbrewery and bar, it is now owned by Maclay Inns but the venue does basic bar food and beer is still brewed on-site: Original Amber, Cartside Red, Oregon IPA, Hampden Roar and others. There are also guest beers on tap and a decent range in bottles.
The Williams Brothers' collaboration with C&C Group, owners of Tennent's Lager, the Drygate project has a craft brewery, the Vintage at Drygate Bar and Kitchen plus an attached beer hall and terrace – all technically on the site of the Wellpark Brewery where Tennent's is made. In this Drygate wonderland – opened in 2014 – you can eat something as elaborate as a ribeye steak aged for 60 days, snack on charcuterie, sample cask ale or craft keg beer brewed on the premises or even just watch the football on a huge screen.
Inn Deep has many things going for it. For one, it's run by the craft brewing company the Williams Brothers who know a bit about good beer. Then there's the location, overlooking the River Kelvin right by the Great Western Bridge on Great Western Road. Third, the structure of the bar itself is characterful with a subterranean feel and arched ceiling thanks to the space it occupies under Caledonian Crescent; as a bonus it has seating outside for watching the river flow. There is a decent bar menu (pizza, mac cheese, burgers, fish and chips, wonderful deep-fried pepper rings as a side dish) and then there is the stuff you drink: a dozen cask and craft keg beers on draught with six Williams Brothers and other regulars, six ever-rotating guests from the likes of Brass Castle in Yorkshire, Cromarty Brewing on the Black Isle or Firebrand in Cornwall. It's also located just across the river from Kelvinbridge subway station, making it easily accessible from the city centre.
The Campaign for Real Ale recognises a good pub when it sees one so it's worth noting that its Glasgow & West of Scotland branch named State as Glasgow Pub of the Year 2014, the third time in eight years State has earned this accolade. It has a traditional off-trend look, bar food, football on the telly and comedy and music nights, but what really sets it apart is the exemplary choice of draught and bottled beers at decent prices.
West End novelties come and go – the Three Judges endures. Sitting opposite the bottom of Byres Road, it's an old fashioned pub in the best sense of that phrase with eight cask ales on tap, plus one craft cider. Here you will find an ever-changing choice of beers like Ilkley Black from Ilkley in Yorkshire, Witches Cauldron from Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands or the smoked Red Herring from Green Jack Brewery in Suffolk. There's live jazz on Sunday afternoons too.
A German-style microbrewery in an old carpet factory in the East End? It didn't sound promising but it's actually a very grand, Venetian-style building while the beer – like the popular St Mungo lager and malty Munich Red – is made in accordance with the renowned 16th century German beer purity law, the Reinheitsgebot. A spacious bier halle with a tempting German-influenced menu, West is not even that far from the city centre, just on the east side of Glasgow Green. In 2014 the business expanded, taking over the old Halt Bar on Woodlands Road in the West End to create West On The Corner. This is closing temporarily in early 2015 for a major refurbishment – see the West website for details.