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Scotland #3: Tennent’s Lager

Tennent’s has been producing lager since the 1880s and Scotland became a lager drinking nation long before England.

We knew we wanted to drink at least one pint of Tennent’s on our trip to Scotland but didn’t expect to like it quite as much as we did.

Despite the ubiquity of Tennent’s branding around Glasgow – big red Ts jut out from pub fascias all over the place –it actually took us a little while to find the opportunity: either the pubs we found ourselves in had something else we wanted to try, or they had no Tennent’s tap at all, replacing it with something more upmarket from breweries such as Innis & Gunn or Williams Bros.

We had our first taste at The Pot Still in central Glasgow, served in tall, branded glassware with a whip of shaving-cream foam, and bubbling furiously.

What were our expectations? Low, if we’re honest. We’d noticed a couple of other fussy buggers expressing affection for it but wondered how much that might be down to contrariness or sentimentality.

But we liked it.

Now, we choose our words carefully: liked, not loved. It’s good, not great. We enjoyed it but it didn’t make our toes curl with delight.

Isn’t that enough, though? To be able to go into almost any pub and order a pint of 4% lager for a reasonable price and enjoy drinking it?

We asked our Twitter followers what they thought and their collective judgement, though it falls on the wrong side of the middle line to ours, feels fair:

Especially compared to Foster’s:

Tasting notes feel redundant as it’s hardly a deep or complex beer, but we’ll try: it’s more sweet than bitter but in a wholesome way that suggests grain, not sugar; the high carbonation stops it feeling sticky; and there’s sometimes a wisp of lemon zest about it.

After our initial encounter, we found ourselves ordering it even when there were other options. After a long day walking in the sun, it was perfect – gets to your thirst, fast. In a questionable pub which looked like it needed hosing down, it was a safe option, and tasted just as good. It certainly suited watching Scotland v. England on a big screen in a pub in Fort William. In Spoons, it beat Carlsberg’s relaunched ‘Danish Pilsner’ hands down, though the latter was just fine.

Of course this positive reaction is partly down to us taking pleasure in drinking a local product on holiday but, look, you know us by now – these days, we don’t force ourselves to drink things that aren’t actually giving us pleasure.

And Tennent’s Lager did.

6 replies on “Scotland #3: Tennent’s Lager”

>>After a long day walking in the sun
If anyone needs additional proof as to how deluded this is 🙂

Tennent’s – if you’re English – is the lager you ‘discover’ one hot day, a couple of years into your drinking career, when you’re looking for something to drink away from your usual haunts. You think it’s the best thing ever, but don’t see it again until two years later, when you grab it with a yell and discover it’s… OK. It’s fine. In style terms it’s a bit different from Heineken, say, and in quality terms it’s… fine.

(But it is OK, which is more than you could say of Foster’s.)

(As distinct from Red Stripe, which you discover one hot day (etc) & drink regularly for several years, before trying it again ten years later and… etc.)

Back in the days of Bass ownership there was absolutely no discernible difference between Carling and Tennents although I suppose the taste has probably diverged since, but a mate of mine who loves the stuff occasionally gets a pint of Carling substituted for Tennents in a round and he never complains until the giggling starts!

Most of my Tennent’s drinking was done on the sly, cans swiped from a party and drunk in a friend’s garden, usually huddled in the lee of a garden wall, sheltering from the inevitable Hebridean wind and rain (only in later years did I discover that rain was supposed to be a vertical not horizontal thing). Showing my vintage, but the cans had lassies in their skimpies on them, the Tennent’s Lovelies if I recall correctly, which to a teenage boy was as erotic as life got. I can’t remember ever having it on tap, by the time I was legal to drink, I was taken into the mythos of Guinness and derided lager as chemical laden crap (jeez, how the hell do we ever grow up?). This time next week, I’ll be home again for a month, so I guess I’ll treat myself to a Tennent’s or two and see what’s going on.

I’m reasonably sure that there were three versions of Tennent’s Lager in my youth. The continental-style tie of Northern Irish pubs meant it was one of the two lagers on the draught market: when there was no Harp tap there was Tennent’s, brewed at the Bass brewery in Belfast. Tennent’s was too bitter for my liking, which I realise now probably meant it was a better beer. When I moved to Scotland we got Tennent’s from Well Park, and I recall this as an immensely superior product, without the jagged bitterness. But then there was an odd substance sold as Tennent’s in the Republic. It must have come from Belfast too because Bass would have come from there with it, but it was visibly darker, almost amber, and tasted thick and more malt-heavy, like a bock.

Having drank oodles and oodles of Tennent’s in my youth, I hadn’t had a pint of it in years, having moved to Guinness and then getting in to craft/real ale (as many of us have).

I had a pint of it last year at the brewery after the tour (and a good tour it is), and was very pleasantly surprised. Very refreshing, and better than pretty much any other mass market lager I remember drinking in recent years.

Miles ahead of Carling, and your Fosters, Kronenbourgs etc etc.

Carling is horrendous. I feel like I should state once more how bad Carling is. It’s very, very bad.

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