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18-08-2010, 18:01
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There was an unusual request (http://forum.camra.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=926) 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 (http://www.nonbeardybeer.co.uk/about/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 (http://www.nonbeardybeer.co.uk/2009/mckewans-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.

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