Scotland is still somewhat of a desert for real ale, though it is improving greatly. There are certainly pockets of glory such as Edinburgh, where you can sup as well as anywhere in the UK, but over in the West, this is less so. Where cask isn't king, you may well run into problems in the quality of the beer served, particularly as less busy times.
Sadly my visit last week was a succession of lows with very few highs. I won't bore you with too many details except to say it rarely reached the heights that perfect cask conditioning, combined with quick turnover will give. Bad samples were encountered over four days in the Drum and Monkey, the Counting House, Camperdown Place, the Captain James Lang, the Henry Bell, the State Bar, Hengstler's Circus and the Horseshoe Bar. None of the beer in these places was undrinkable. In CAMRA National Beer Scoring Scheme parlance, it varied for between and 1 and a 2:
1. Poor. Beer that is anything from barely drinkable to drinkable with considerable resentment. 2. Average. Competently kept, drinkable pint but
doesn't inspire in any way, not worth moving to another pub but you
drink the beer without really noticing.
Now it wouldn't be fair not to mention the honourable exceptions. The Bon Accord in keeping with its venerable tradition of serving real ale* provided beer in excellent condition and a special mention must go to the Dunbartonshire CAMRA Pub of the Year, the Ashton in Helensburgh which, on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, supplied top notch beer from the nearby Loch Lomond Brewery despite me being the only customer drinking it. Top marks too for friendliness, though you could add that praise to quite a few of the Glasgow pubs. The beer might have let me down but the customers certainly didn't. People DO make Glasgow.
So, what's the cause? Lack of turnover in the midweek most likely and Tennents Lager. In every pub, even the two I praised, everyone (more or less) was scooping the old TL down for fun. And it looked fun too. You'll struggle to keep real ale well where the demand is so slack. In addition, too many of the pubs had too many beers on and not enough people drinking them. I don't envy the job the Campaign has to do in Scotland. They've made great inroads, but it is a bit of an uphill task you know. They've been drinking lager there for more years than most. The history of lager drinking in Scotland goes back a very long way indeed.
It seems to have a bright present too.
* I had my first ever pint of cask beer in here in 1974 and no apologies for banging on about beer quality yet again. I will continue to do so. It is an obsession of mine.
In JDW pubs the beer was cheap. As low as £1.49 in Dumbarton, £1.79 in Helensburgh and just above £2 in Glasgow. And it still wasn't shifting.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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