A Life In The Pub Part 2: Pounding Shilling For Pence
One of the things I intended to do with this blog was to explain how I’d got here from there in terms of beer. Specifically, how I gradually started to like interesting beers and real ales from a low base, coming from a drinking culture dominated by kegs of Tennents, Harp, Guinness, Bass and maybe the odd Smithwicks, and with no pubs that I knew of that offered cask beer.
I’ll get back to the Northern Irish beer culture of my youth later, as I want to address the next stage. In 1998, when Kate and Will was still doing their respective GCSEs, I went to St Andrews University to study Modern History, International Relations and Individual Alcohol Tolerances.
As I never really liked lager, I was drinking a lot of Guinness at this stage, but also a lot of nitro kegged/smoothflow beers such as Caffreys. However it must have been in that first year at St Andrews that I started drinking my first real ales.
I started on 70 shilling beer, which I found largely similar to the smoothflow Caffreys. In fact Tennents Velvet seemed to be a smoothflow version of 70/- (someone may correct me here), and filled the same place in the market as the nitrokegged John Smith or Tetleys. It was creamy, easy to drink and unchallenging to my admittedly unsophisticated tastes.
However, over time, Caledonian 80/- became my drink of choice during the four years I spent in the Kingdom of Fife before they reluctantly admitted I was a Master of the Arts (second class). It was available everywhere (see the Beer Monkey’s view on Caley’s ubiquity in the capital here) and just tasted that bit more interesting than the 70/-. I remember deciding that McEwans 80/- tasted horrible in comparison.
Moreover, those of my Scottish friends who liked beer (mainly as something to drink early in the night whilst you discussed whisky) seemed to consider that Caley 80/- was a respectable thing for a man to drink. Whilst I liked 80/-, I think I liked the pubs I drank it in more: Aikman’s; the Whey Pat; the Central. I’ll hopefully deal with them in a future post.
I haven’t had Caley 80/- in what must be about five years, and I don’t recall the parting being unbearable. But in the interest of historical analysis, I’m currently drinking a bottle, which for student authenticity I picked up for a quid. It’s not a fair test because (1) It’s a pasteurised bottle, not a pint from cask and (2) it was cheap because it’s slightly out of date and (3) it wasn’t bought with a quaint Scottish pound note.
Nevertheless, I can report that it’s a pleasant but unexciting drink. It smells and tastes malty and sweetly sour, like raspberries. It might just be the age of this bottle, but as I get towards the bottom (without the benefit of a deep-fried pizza/crunchie/haggis/Englishman to match the taste) it’s beginning to get into the thinner, milder end of fruit beer territory.
I can see why I liked it. I think I preferred it over the 70/- mainly for the maltiness – it took me a while to really like pale ales. It’s not bad at all and a hell of an improvement on Caffreys, but it’s not exciting enough to want to drink it for another four year stretch. My tastes have definitely moved on.