“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;
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…