One of my favourite quotes comes from American Founding Father and all-round genius Benjamin Franklin who said: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Although, according to current thinking he didn’t actually say it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
And I’ve been rather happy for 40-odd years now. It would have been more but my first attempt to buy a pint in the lounge bar of a city centre hotel was brought to an abrupt halt with a withering look from the barmaid who was clearly a better judge of age than I’d hoped. That and the fact I had asked for: “A beer, please?”
My life as a pre-cursor to The Inbetweeners.
I can’t have been the only one whose first clandestine can of beer round at a friend’s house involved taking a hearty swig, nearly gagging on the harsh taste, then (while grimacing) saying to your mates: “That’s good, that”.
But, once nicely of legal drinking age, I did embrace the beer scene in the time-honoured tradition of any young Scot.
I’ve just been reminded of the ‘lager lovelies’ who used to appear on cans of Tennent’s lager in the 60s, 70s, and quite possibly into the 80s. I used to collect them as they were washed up onto the beach. It seems utterly ridiculous now. #blatantsexism pic.twitter.com/zg7nx5V36U
— Callum Collins (@callumcollins) May 18, 2020
No, I wasn’t drawn to the Tennent’s Lager Lovelies, thanks for asking. To be honest, I thought it was a weird concept even back then, let alone with 2020 vision. So, you’re going to encourage people to drink your product by slapping scantily-clad women on the side of the can? Right oh, then.
Mind you, I was concentrating more on trying to get the lager out of the tin than the dodgy packaging. Now, some of you might need to sit down for a second to get your head round this. Back in the day, beer cans didn’t have ring-pulls. No, seriously, they didn’t.
Instead you had to use the special tool on the other end of a bottle-opener to punch a hole in the can. Not just once, mind – as I discovered on my first go at this grown-up skill – you had to do it twice. Two holes, opposite each other, otherwise the beer would stay put in the tin. Something to do with air pressure, although Benjamin Franklin would have known that.
And once you had the beer flowing it didn’t go near a glass (at least not with my mates otherwise you ran the risk of being called “posh” or words to that effect). You swigged it out the wee hole in the tin, usually as it was frothing up into your nose.
Out in the world of pubs I discovered a, well, wasteland.
Billy Connolly drinking a can of McEwan's Export. pic.twitter.com/qpmF8VoNpK
— PictureThis Scotland (@74frankfurt) February 13, 2019
This was the tail-end of the era when you went to pubs to drink, not enjoy yourself. If you wanted a pint, it was either Tennent’s or McEwan’s or get out. If the bar staff were feeling fruity you might get a dash of lime or a lager tops. Places with Guinness were viewed with suspicion as being too fancy.
For a wee while, interlopers like Kestrel tried to muscle in, but were soon dispatched to the land of distant memory, despite the cool cinema ad.
Thankfully, though, an evolution happened. We can thank CAMRA for that, railing as they were against the global conglomerates hoovering up the independent breweries across the land.
The spark they lit led to the arrival in hostelries of such exotic creatures as pints of 80/- (that’s 80 shilling for those who are not remnants of a pre-decimalisation civilisation).
Various breweries had various iterations of this – which also included outre outings like 60/- and 70/-.
And this, gentle reader, was when pretentiousness entered my beer drinking bubble – pints with a story behind them.
You see, said the thinking of the day, pubs used to pay in shillings per barrel.
The more shillings, the stronger the beer. And you could intone this to your mates, standing in a bar, in a learned sort of way, as they nodded and drank their lager tops.
This while you gagged down something you were determined to enjoy for all it was more bitter than Margaret Thatcher at a miners’ gala.
And with one mighty bound, I was free to dive into the world of real ale. Caledonian’s Deuchars was my go-to pint of choice for many a year. But that was a gateway to the likes of Dark Island, then Bitter and Twisted, then all sorts of brews from all around the UK with weird and wonderful names – and a rather remarkable tendency towards saucy seaside postcard euphemism with a dash of outright sexism thrown in.
But I embraced them all, while wearing a stripey jumper and growing a beard. Oh, I remember the heady days of the Aberdeen CAMRA’s beer festival at the McClymont Hall on Holburn Street, where you had to queue for ages to get in – one in, one out. It was an evening which ended with me sitting at the back of the bus home to Stonehaven with a plastic bottle of take-out ale. In my defence, I never swigged out of it on the journey. But it was close. C’mon, if you came away from a beer festival sober, you weren’t doing it right.
I even got asked to be a judge for the beers on some CAMRA occasions, trotting out my observations while stroking my beard and nodding.
“I’m getting notes of wood and shoe-leather…”
“You can get off the floor now, Scott.”
I enjoyed beer festivals so much I even got involved with one in Stonehaven. The rather splendid event that started in the Town Hall 10 years ago and has over time grown into the magnificent thing which is the Midsummer Beer Happening (sadly a victim of coronavirus this year).
As it changed, so did my beer tastes. Mainly that was down to Robert Lindsay, who runs the Stoney fest and the town’s Six Degrees North brewery, introducing me to the wonderful world of Belgian beers. Where had they been all my life? Trappists, Dubbels, Tripels, golden devils, Scotch ales, all of them even further proof of what Benjamin Franklin said. Mind you, the ABV on some would fear you, which is why I now always know the strength of what I’m imbibing.
In the middle of my own evolution another revolution arrived. Craft beer, What’s that when it’s at home? BrewDog was the short answer in our neck of the woods. Right, time for a true confession. The first outings of Punk IPA were rank. No, seriously, they were.
They smelt of cat pee and didn’t taste much better. I never throw beer away. Except for the Punks that went down the sink back in the day.
Over time Punk got much better. Or my tastebuds adjusted to super-hoppy beers. Or a bit of both.
Which brings us bang up to date with where we are today, in a true golden age for lovers of beer.
There are almost too many breweries to count around the globe, the range of beer is truly astonishing, from fruit concoctions to stuff made with milk, Earl Grey Tea infused IPA’s and Imperial Stouts (yum, but loopy juice). Some it is a bit mental, but the vast majority is so fine.
But sometimes, I still like to go back to where it all started. After all, Tennent’s is our national drink and a perfectly pleasing pils it is, too. Even without the lovelies.