RUMINATING ON SCOTTISH BEER QUALITY

Of all the beer you had in Scotland, what proportion of it came up to the standard you would expect in the Good Beer Guide? And how does that compare with south of the Border ? ” asks Pub Curmudgeon.

What a good question. Let’s see the evidence;

BEER SCORING

I scored 28 beers (a mix of pints & halves) over the week in Scotland, and half were NBSS 3 or better i.e. GBG standard.

The average beer score (NBSS) was 2.5, ranging from 1 (in Wishaw) to 3.5+ (in the Oban Inn). That pint of Jarl in Oban was the ONLY one I might have handed to Mrs RM and boringly proclaimed “This, is what real ale should taste like !”.

And you can’t tell by looking; this half in the gorgeous Kilmelford inn looked the part, but…

You might argue that an average of 2.5 suggests competently kept beer, but if you had to survive on 2.6 beer you’d swiftly switch to Neck Oil, or Punk, or Dark Fruits. Or just stick to Tennent’s.

Mrs RM lasted till Kilmartin, which is pretty much what she wanted to do after I’d subjected her to a succession of unsatisfying beer, and promptly switched to large glasses of Sauvignon Blanc.

ARE THINGS GETTING WORSE ?

Things ARE getting worse. I recall trips to Scotland 20 years ago full of fresh pints of Arran, Deuchars and Houston. As I just said to Graeme in the comments;

Look through the blog and you’ll see eulogies to the beer quality in Edinburgh (a lot of pubs), Musselburgh, Glasgow (Bon Accord and State), Aberdeen and Inverness among other. But appreciation of cask tends to focus on a few specialist pubs and many of the recent new Beer Guide entries have been chain pubs (Spoons, Marston, Greene King, Amber) which put on real ale and then take it off.

HOW DOES SCOTLAND COMPARE WITH ENGLAND ?

Interestingly (?), my average NBSS in the 107 pubs where I drank real ale in since the April 12th reopening is only 3.2, though that includes plenty of pubs outside the GBG.

But only eight of those 107 were below my minimum GBG standard (NBSS 3), and many more pints in Kelham Island regularly meeting that “Oooh, taste this !” criteria.

And seasoned drinkers like Mudgie will know the difference between a 2.5 and 3.5 is the difference between enjoyment and reseentment.

In fairness, Scotland fares no worse than Lincolnshire, where outside the county town and hotbeds like Louth and Cleethorpes you’ll get served a fetid Bateman XB and be thankful.

THE MAIN CULPRITS

The only two undrinkable pints on Scotland were served in Wetherspoons, which may surprise you giving their reputation for dull efficiency. But the Deuchars in Wishaw (cheerfully replaced) was vile, and the beer in Blairgowrie the night before little better.

That mirrors my experience in Northern Ireland where Spoons in Ballymena served a vile slop and really did tell me “It’s real ale; it’s supposed to taste like that“.

But, of course, the main culprits are us, for not drinking enough of the stuff. Apart from the Oban Inn, I never saw a pint pulled apart from my own.

ON THE OTHER HAND…

At least Scottish pubs have pared back the number of hand pumps. One or two was typical. That might upset the beer tickers, the pump counters, the CAMRA branches who measure success by how many varying beers are on offer, but it reduces your risk of soup.

And, to be fair, beer temperature wasn’t a problem, just lack of freshness.

Still, if the beer disappoints, you can always lust after the fonts…

18 thoughts on “RUMINATING ON SCOTTISH BEER QUALITY

  1. Interesting post. However everything is subjective and dependent on your pallet.
    Some of your words of wisdom may be correct as beer is as heavily dependent on the water supply as is a good whisky. For example the Stoke on Trent and Burton were area selected due to the water supply because it was naturally filtered through gypsum. Other breweries also try to replicate this filtering their water through gypsum.
    So each area where county wide or local micro brewery will have its own distinctive properties and taste. So Scottish beers will be different from those brewed in the midlands, or Yorkshire and then again different from those brewed in Suffolk or Essex.

    But what best about beer…….. is the challenge of the discovery of beers you like personally.

    Keep enjoying your journey.

    Like

    1. Thanks Brian. The point I always make that it’s not the beer, it’s what’s in the glass in the pub that matters.

      So my comments are nothing to do with the beer itself. Scotland has fantastic breweries. But the most common beer in Scottish pubs outside the big cities comes from Bury St Edmunds (Greene King) or Cornwall (Doom Bar) or Wolverhampton !

      A pint of Bass from Burton can taste completely different in Plymouth or Stoke or Dumfries depending on how many pints of it get sold, cellarmanship and the use of the sparkler.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. You do make very good points about palate, Brian. Personally I’ll drink ANYTHING as long as it’s cool and fresh, but a lot of folk seem obsessed with particular styles even as they call for more variety !

        Liked by 1 person

    2. *Palate*. I always get confused so I try to remember to check before posting.

      But a beer that has not been kept properly, or has gone off because no one is drinking it is another matter. As Martin has dealt in detail with in his reply.

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  2. A key point is that, in most of Scotland, the indigenous tradition of cask drinking died out, so there’s no established population of cask drinkers. Therefore it struggles to find a market and turnover is often poor. Plus there’s often a feeling that it’s something put on for the tourists.

    On the other hand, in the big towns and cities there are some hugely atmospheric pubs where cask shifts in large volumes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exactly. As mentioned, Edinburgh in particular and Glasgow to a lesser extent contain a number of pubs to rival Manchester’s City Arms or Crown & Kettle for beer sales.

      I can’t see Spoons selling pubs like they’ve done in Northern Ireland but they could ditch cask, I guess.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think cask is in trouble in parts of Scotland but the problem with trying to generalise about a whole country is that there is inevitably a lot of variation. There are still plenty of cask drinkers in some places but the best quality cask beer is found in the cities and there are large areas where it is inconsistent / poor or non-existent. It becomes a vicious circle. England has geographical variation of course but cask can be found everywhere and pretty much every town has a ‘specialist’ beer bar. Parts of England have sustained cask beer and local breweries through the emergence of micropubs but that hasn’t happened here, in part probably because of approaches to licensing laws. There’s a PhD in this.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. In quite a number of places in Scotland, towns are very small and the idea of anyone drinking 72 pints of cask beer before it goes off in just one pub, never mind four or five, is a forlorn hope. I’d be willing to give it a go, given the support of ten or more friends. Do I have that many friends?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s the spirit! Good point about geography and population distribution. There used to be a fair bit of Light (60/-) in some areas where cask has now disappeared along with the industries where it was drunk.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Good observational research of the state of play in Auld Scotia…I think you’ve been very fair and measured Martin
    Sadly all I can think of is a quote from the Fast Show..
    “I’ll get me coat”….😄

    Like

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