Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Non beardy beer

There was an unusual request recently on the CAMRA forum from someone (whom I actually know from another forum) asking for any suggestions as to where he could get McEwan’s Best Scotch in the Derby area (you might have to register on the forum to read the link). Once the discussion had progressed beyond the usual “why would you want to drink that anyway?” it was established that it wasn’t available outside its traditional North-East heartland and even there it was confined to a dwindling number of working men’s clubs and “old men’s pubs”.

If you go in those kinds of establishment around here you may still find from time to time obscure keg brands that you thought had died the death or had never heard of in the first place, such as John Smith’s Chestnut Mild and Walkers Bitter. Some independent brewers produce keg beers for the club trade that do not exist in cask form – for example, Robinson’s own and brew the Wards brand, once very popular in Sheffield.

On my recent trip to Scotland it was noticeable that pretty much all the keg ales on offer on the bar were “zombie brands” that you never see anywhere else. Anyone fancy a Younger’s Tartan or a Calders 70/-? The only keg ale you would see south of the border was John Smith’s Extra Smooth. There were also “zombie lagers” such as McEwan’s Lager – indeed it could be argued that the best-selling but largely Scotland-only Tennent’s Lager is itself something of a zombie brand.

While there’s a wealth of information available about the availability and taste profile of cask beers, there’s effectively no equivalent for their keg counterparts, which often continue to reflect interesting facets of beer’s social history. So there might be some interesting stuff in the book that is mentioned in the forum thread – the Non Beardy Beer Book, although a glance at a few entries on their website suggests a rather jokey approach light on hard facts. This is what they have to say about McEwan’s Best Scotch (they can’t spell it correctly either). Even so, I might see if I can find a copy going cheap on eBay.

“Best Scotch” was (and to a limited extent still is) the staple ale of the North-East, a dark, lightly-hopped, malty brew that occupied the same place as bitter in the marketplace, but in reality was more akin to a strong mild. The other well-known brand was Lorimer’s, marketed by Vaux but produced for decades at the Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh which they owned. This was transferred to Vaux’s own plant in Sunderland in the mid-1980s, but I don’t know whether it’s still brewed at all or, if it is, where.


  1. Scotch is available in my new old local, and indeed is what I used to drink in there when the cask was grim. It's not that bad.

    The Stock Dove in Romiley used to sell keg Mann's Chestnut Mild before its recent refurb.

    As for Wards - the cask version that was briefly brought back by Robinsons is now brewed by Double Maxim in Sunderland.

  2. Tennent's Lager is commonly available in Northern Ireland too, both in keg form at the pub and in cans from the supermarket.

  3. Caledonian own the Lorimers name and have brewed a few beers in the last couple of years under the Lorimer re-badge brand. cheers

  4. It could also be argued that Tennent's lager is fizzy piss in a tin. It certainly tastes like it.

    You haven't found any remnants of Watney's Red Barrel on your travels, perchance? Satan is the only one stocking that now, I think. In his non-smoking bar.

    In Cardiff, in my youth, there was something called 'Welsh Bitter' which we drunken bums tried once. Two pints, we left the pub and had to sit on a wall until the gas had escaped. There was more global warming in one glass of that stuff than in a week's output from a steelworks.

    Fortunately we had Brains. A few pubs had the SA on the barrel too, but we could never remember where they were in the morning...

  5. Another example of malty glop's last stand in the face of the pale 'n hoppy onslaught :-)

  6. I've covered this subject occasionally too, as my quiz league takes me to odd spots that sell these obscurities.

    Is Allbright still strutting its stuff in Wales?

  7. Given that Tennent's is still brewed in its own enormous brewery and has some ridiculously high share of the Scottish lager market, I don't think zombie brand is at all accurate. Geographically limited, sure. Zombie brand? No way. McEwans's, that's a zombie brand — brewery closed, marketing outsourced, just treading water until the old men who still drink it die.

  8. No, I don't really think it is a zombie brand, which why I rather hedged my statement. But it does occupy a rather unusual status as a high-volume beer than is only regionally distributed and doesn't even touch the cask/craft category. Hard to think of anything else similar in the UK, really. Allbright in its heyday, perhaps, but not now.


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