The Doors Open Day events are great - you get access inside fantastic, interesting buildings that you would never normally be allowed into, but the problem is that the really popular ones sell out very, very quickly. Last year I'd missed the sign-up for Tennents Wellpark Brewery (but Rob hadn't - see here) and then Rob (again - damn!) had managed to get a more in-depth visit arranged as part of Glasgow Beer Week which I couldn't make. Thankfully I did manage to book the last tour on the Open Doors Saturday and arranged to meet Glasgow Pub and Bar Photographer extraordinaire @borrachoeneldia and his brother-in-law for the tour.
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The tour was being led by the lovely Linda and after the standard Health & Safety briefing we started at the main entrance where the outside mural depicts the pictorial story/history of Tennents though the ages (very loosely!).
Linda told us that beer (real ale back then!) was originally brewed by the Monks using water from the Molendinar burn which still flows under the site of the brewery but that now water from Loch Katerine in The Trossachs is used (as per the rest of us in the Glasgow area). After a bit more of the history of Tennents through the ages we then entered the main plant in which some of the larger buildings are covered with huge scale Tennents 'slogans'.
We took several flights of stairs up to the large room where the Mash Conversion Vessel (MCV) and Control Room are located. Here the basic brewing process was explained by one of the engineers, Colin (I'd met him before at one of the Glasgow Beer Week events). Some malted barley was passed around and we were told that almost all the malt for the beers brewed at Wellpark comes from the Scottish Borders (for Caledonian Best 100% of the malt is Scottish) but that a mixture of Lager & Munich malt is used for Tennents lager. This is then kilned (heated to a specific extent) before being transferred into the MCV. Some hops were passed around as well - these were all pellet hops, not whole or flower ones, simply due to the scale of the brewing process but they still gave off some decent aromatic & citrus aromas. The MCV didn't actually seem too big, but that was before the lights were turned on inside it - then I realised it spanned 3 of the 4 floors of the building - and that's pretty big!
This is the outside of the building that the MCV is in - very high and narrow to say the least!
In the same room as the MCV is a large shaker/filter 'contraption' which is used to perform some separation/filtration of the hot wort to remove as much of the solid material as possible. Finally the somewhat clearer hot wort goes through a heat exchanger (which is up to 85% efficient) to cool it down before the fermentation process.
The mashing, separation and cooling processes are controlled by a single person in the Control Room on the same level as the MCV.
There are lots and lots of huge Fermenting Vessels (I'm really not sure how many) on the Wellpark site. 4 are now used used for the Innis & Gunn products, and these are not used for anything else in case of any cross-contamination.
After the fermentation Tennents is then 'lagered' - i.e. chilled in the maturation tanks for anything between 3 & 7 days. It is then passed through more filters and finally water is added to reduce the concentrated lager to its correct abv.
All through this process samples are taken from the beer and processed in the Quality Control laboratory.
The beer samples are measured against abv (not og), and colour.
The huge bottling and canning plant is new and was only opened in April 2012 (this includes a system for pressure sensitive labelling). This was a £4-Million investment by parent group C&C and it's great to see this type of investment in Scotland.
Unfortunately the bottling line wasn't running today, although since there are 168 heads on the bottling machine I dread to think of the noise that it must make in full flow.
In a (very) small part of the bottling hall was a display of cans, old & new. The newer cans are in the 330ml format as per a soft drink can and I don't think are being marketed yet in the UK.
The last stage of the production process is the shipment of the finished, packaged product from the numerous loading bays (to virtually everywhere I guess). There's actually an on-site repair station for the sheer number of fork lift trucks that are used on the premises.
On a far side of the plant we spied a skip full of bottles that had failed the quality control - some of these were full of beer, some weren't.
We then headed to the Tennents Training Academy, opened a couple of years ago. I expected this to be full of classrooms (and there were a few) and mock bars, but there were also a number of fully equipped kitchens for the food courses...
and also a modern, bright bar/cafe.
In amongst the brewing paraphernalia I spied a whole lot of Arran Ales bottles (some of these are very nice indeed).
There were also Arran bottles in the fridge and also (hooray!) a hand-pull (though not in use - boo!). I guess there are occasions when Training Academy attendees must be trained in the art of pulling a real ale pint (though obviously not a pint of Tennents).
And that was pretty well it. Linda took us back through the maze of paths and past an old Tennents delivery truck...
... to the Molendinar Bar - the in-house bar used by Staff and which can also be hired out for functions.
This is a really nice bar - if you could transplant this to the Glasgow West End I'm guessing it be totally mobbed every night. Lots of dark wood panelling, stained & coloured glass, a semi-circular bar with lots of bar seats (I like bar seats) and plenty of tables further away on the outside of the room and up on a raised level.
It was a free tour but we still given a token for the bar - a free drink, almost unheard of nowadays! I asked about the possibility of trying a 9% Tennents Italian Export but to no avail, and so settled instead for a 'normal' Tennents Export. This was quite OK, crisp, refreshing and not too fizzy.
They obviously have lots of Tennents exhibits and memorabilia (including those Lager Lovlies cans), it was amazing how much I could vaguely remember - all great stuff. Hopefully they'll keep all of this and not go down the 'hi-tech multimedia & iPad' route for the proposed new Visitor Centre.
Also see @borrachoeneldia's page here.