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.

The thrill of the new

For ages, we’ve thought the trick to showing Ray’s parents a good time was taking them to proper pubs. It turns out we should have been going to craft beer bars.

Now, we’ve had some bloody good fun with them in places like the Merchant’s Arms and the Annexe, play­ing euchre and shar­ing bags of pork scratch­ings over pints of But­combe or Lon­don Pride.

The oth­er week­end, though, as we crawled around cen­tral Bris­tol with them, we were inspired to take them to Small Bar.

The spe­cif­ic trig­ger was a round of awful, but­tery Sam Smith’s Old Brew­ery Bit­ter at the William IV – a pub which rarely has any atmos­phere at all but does at least usu­al­ly have cheap, decent beer.

We left feel­ing down in the dumps, the ses­sion in jeop­ardy, and Small Bar, Bristol’s craft beer cen­tral, seemed as if it might be the anti­dote – a short, sharp shock to jolt us all back to life.

You might not like it,” we got in, pre­emp­tive­ly.

Ray tried to iden­ti­fy some­thing vague­ly like Dad’s usu­al bit­ter and the staff react­ed rather weari­ly, as if they get asked this all the time. In the end, it was two-thirds of Lost & Ground­ed Keller­pils that did the job. Ray’s Mum, who drinks lager when she’s not on whisky, got a murky pale ale – the kind of thing we don’t real­ly enjoy, as a rule. And do you know what? She loved it.

In fact, they both thought Small Bar was great. It had a vibe, a bit of a crowd, and despite being the old­est peo­ple there by some stretch, they didn’t get looked at twice.

After that we thought we’d try them on Brew­Dog, which they also liked a lot: Punk IPA, it turns out, is a decent sub­sti­tute for But­combe. (Not sure Brew­Dog will be pleased to hear this, mind.)

They’re now plan­ning to bring a cou­ple of friends up for a craft beer crawl lat­er in the sum­mer.

For our part, we’ve learned a les­son: don’t make assump­tions about what peo­ple will enjoy based on what they’ve enjoyed in the past, or based on their age.

Next time, we might take them on a tap­room crawl – they’re prob­a­bly cool enough to enjoy it, unlike us.

Scotland #2: A tiny taster of Edinburgh

We spent a day in Edinburgh – just enough time to be intrigued but not enough to claim that we’ve even begun to understand it. But, anyway, here a few impressions.

First, Edinburgh’s pubs, based on the two we drank in and a few more we peered at, feel more like Eng­lish pubs than those in Glas­gow.

The Stock­bridge Tap, with two reformed vikings behind the bar, could have been in Bris­tol, not least because of the pres­ence of Tiny Rebel, Elec­tric Bear and oth­er famil­iar names on draught.

The Stockbridge Tap.

There were some Scot­tish beers – Swan­nay Island Hop­ping on cask, for exam­ple, and Cross­bor­ders Heavy on keg – but we got the impres­sion those were for the ben­e­fit of vis­i­tors like us. The Heavy was our favourite beer of the day, though, bundling cher­ry with choco­late with the dark crust of a day-old rye loaf.

Crash­ing a get-togeth­er of local beer geeks we heard Eng­lish, Aus­tralian, Amer­i­can and French accents, and con­tributed our own chat about the West Coun­try and Waltham­stow to this off-brand blend.

The Guildford Arms.

On the way back to the sta­tion, tanks dan­ger­ous­ly full, we stopped at the Guild­ford Arms which had caught our eye as we rushed past it ear­li­er in the day. It’s at the junc­tion of a pas­sage­way and a back­street, like many of the best pubs, and projects a dis­tinct gin palace ener­gy. A handy board out­side tells the sto­ry:

In the peri­od 1880–1910 a unique breed of lux­u­ri­ous pubs were built. This coin­cid­ed with major changes to the city includ­ing the demo­li­tion of old build­ings like The Turf Hotel and The Bridge Hotel… Curi­ous­ly, and per­haps as a reac­tion to it, pubs like The Guild­ford Arms were built dur­ing the height of the tem­per­ance move­ment: their opu­lent char­ac­ter was in marked con­trast to the dark and dingy bars of Edin­burgh where the ceil­ings were not often beyond the reach of a man’s arm.

Though we chick­ened out of try­ing to cov­er Scot­land in the 80,000 words of 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub that real­ly does seem a famil­iar nar­ra­tive.

Inside, it felt like a Lon­don pub: a bar at the back, not horse­shoe­ing through the cen­tre, as we gath­er is the stan­dard in Scot­land; large win­dows with ornate detail­ing rather than frost­ed slits; with all the car­pet and brown wood you could wish for.

And Fyne Ales Jarl in fine con­di­tion. This is what lured us through the door, if we’re hon­est, and we stopped for a cou­ple of rounds, watch­ing locals and Ger­man tourists nav­i­gate around each oth­er at the bar and bar­gain over table space.

Shame you didn’t make it to…”

Well, here’s the thing: we’re at peace with the idea that we can’t get to every pub in every city on every vis­it.

Cram­ming ten pubs into a sin­gle day just isn’t much fun for us any­more; we’d rather than spend two hours in one pub and three in anoth­er than just 20 min­utes each in every stop on a crawl.

We also know we’ll go back to Edin­burgh some­time and have anoth­er go.

That’s what we have to tell our­selves, any­way, or these kind of dri­ve-bys would break our hearts.

News, nuggets and longreads 22 June 2019: Birmingham, Bottle Shares, Books

Here’s everything that struck us as interesting, amusing or eye-opening in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from Burning Soul to the future of CAMRA.

First, some sad news: Mor­due Brew­ery has gone into admin­is­tra­tion. Found­ed in North Shields in 1995, Mor­due was best known for its Workie Tick­et real ale. The New­cas­tle Chron­i­cle includes some telling lines from co-founder Gar­ry Faw­son:

We have been look­ing to get invest­ment over the last 12 months but with no luck. We then put the brew­ery up for sale and again no seri­ous inter­est, which was par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­ap­point­ing to Matt and I… If you have won the amount of awards that we have and still no inter­est in buy­ing the busi­ness then we are just lost for words, to be hon­est… [The] mar­ket has changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly. It has shrunk whilst at the same time there are now more brew­eries than there ever have been before.”

(Via @robsterowski.)

Old sign: B'HAM (Birmingham).

For Pel­li­cle Nic­ci Peet has pro­duced a pro­file of Birmingham’s Burn­ing Soul brew­ery with side notes on the city’s beer scene. You may think you’ve read enough of these ori­gin sto­ry pieces to last a life­time but, seri­ous­ly, this is a good one:

Chris Small: I used to work for the NHS. The job was fine and I was pret­ty good at it. It was mon­ey and I had a lit­tle place in Edg­bas­ton but I had quite a bit of debt and I didn’t real­ly have any sav­ings to make this work, so I sold close to every­thing. I sold the flat, all the fur­ni­ture, every­thing that I had at the time. I had four things: a van, my clothes, my mobile and I had…I’m not sure what else, there was def­i­nite­ly a fourth thing…

Nic­ci Peet: A brew­ery?

Chris Small: Half of a brew­ery!

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, nuggets and lon­greads 22 June 2019: Birm­ing­ham, Bot­tle Shares, Books”

Wetherspoons as public forum

We think about Wetherspoon pubs a lot. You can’t be British and do otherwise, really – they’re an institution, on almost every high street.

Late­ly, we’ve been con­sis­tent­ly dis­ap­point­ed by the expe­ri­ence of drink­ing in them. They seem tat­ty, the qual­i­ty of the offer declin­ing, pre­sum­ably as they strug­gle to retain the all impor­tant bar­gain prices as the cost of prod­ucts go up.

But every now and then we’re remind­ed why they’re so pop­u­lar: as tru­ly pub­lic spaces, ordi­nary pubs and work­ing class cafés dis­ap­pear, Spoons fills the gap.

A week to so ago we found our­selves in a branch in east Lon­don with a few hours to kill, begin­ning at break­fast time.

It was qui­et, you might almost say tran­quil, full of nat­ur­al light and the smell of ground cof­fee.

One man was there before us, and left after, lean­ing on a pos­ing table, steadi­ly down­ing pints of lager, con­duct­ing busi­ness on his phone: “I got a box of them Fred Perry’s com­ing in next week, and anoth­er load of them sum­mer shirts – yeah, yeah, per­fect for out and about in the day, nice fit for an old­er bloke.”

Anoth­er man came in, ordered cof­fee and a bacon roll, and then worked his way around the pub show­ing off a watch in cel­lo­phane, part of a new line. We couldn’t hear his pat­ter, just the respons­es: “Love­ly. How much? How many can you do? Alright, mate, I’ll give you a call Tues­day.”

An elder­ly man ordered his break­fast and a mug of tea using the phone app and when a mem­ber of staff brought it over, adopt­ed a mock-posh accent to say, “I say, what what, jol­ly good, Jeeves! Any mes­sages for me with the porter?” The wait­er-bar­man laughed polite­ly.

A gang of con­struc­tion work­ers arrived, head to toe in orange, and appar­ent­ly exhaust­ed. They ordered full Eng­lish break­fasts, teas and ener­gy drinks, and colonised a cor­ner.

A stu­dent bought a fruit tea and took an hour to drink it as she worked on her lap­top.

A par­ty in suits came in just before lunch, ordered lagers and wines, and rehearsed a sales pitch com­plete with slide deck.

Peo­ple charged their phones, read news­pa­pers and books, used the toi­let, and gen­er­al­ly treat­ed the place as if it were a library or com­mu­ni­ty cen­tre.

The man­ag­er didn’t seem to object to the rel­a­tive­ly small amount of mon­ey going over the counter. In fact, they made a point of remind­ing us that a £1.60 cup of cof­fee was bot­tom­less.

What’s the idea here? To send a mes­sage, we sup­pose: if in doubt, go to Spoons. What­ev­er the occa­sion, what­ev­er you want to eat or drink, what­ev­er the time of day, wher­ev­er in the coun­try you are, go to Spoons. You won’t be has­sled or judged or, indeed, paid much atten­tion at all.

It’s clever, that. Oth­er pubs – prop­er pubs – might learn some­thing from that.