Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Glasgow paradox

Recently I wrote this guest post on Glasgow pubs for Harviestoun’s website, spotlighting some of the pubs I think are worth a visit.

Even though it’s impossible to deny that in terms of beer, Glasgow is in the shadow of its neighbour Edinburgh, the city has plenty to keep the beer-lover occupied, and a list of “best” pubs can only ever scratch the surface. So I left out such well-known pubs as Tennent’s, Blackfriars and the Three Judges – and as was only to be expected, the blog immediately got a deluge of comments along the lines of “What about Blackfriars/the Bon Accord/etc”.

I left them out for two reasons – firstly to skew the selection towards pubs where you might expect to get a Harviestoun beer most of the time, and secondly because I wanted to focus on some other great pubs which get less attention, rather than pubs that are already well-known for their beer.

I’m not sure if I can express this thought without offending the best beer pubs. I don’t mean to imply that they don’t have friendly service or a good atmosphere. But — how should I put this – the Glasgow pubs with the best beer are generally not that spectacular as pubs. With several notable exceptions, our best beer pubs are mostly architecturally undistinguished, renovated in the 1990s and, well, if they didn’t have great beer I probably wouldn’t go there that much.

 On the other hand, off the top of my head I can think of half a dozen excellent pubs with only mediocre or even poor cask ale. And here’s the paradox. In addition to these there are some absolute gems of pubs in Glasgow with no cask at all. But they are great, unique pubs with real character. In similar pubs in Edinburgh, you might have to make do with Deuchars IPA. In Glasgow, it’s often a case of making do with Tennent’s Lager.

I find myself drinking Tennent’s more often than I’d really choose to, because I’m in a terrific pub where that’s what they sell. I have thought of writing a guide to these bars, 40 or so great Glasgow bars that don’t sell real ale, but the title would inevitably be “The Bad Beer Guide”, which seems a bit harsh even by my standards.

I am sure that other cities have their share of fantastic pubs with disappointing beer – I can think of quite a few in London – but this phenomenon seems most extreme in Glasgow.


  1. You can find those everywhere, really. Prague has its fair share of them. The beer itself might not all that bad, as it's always well taken care of, but it's stuff that I wouldn't drink anywhere else. Personally, I prefer to have a so-so beer at a great pub than a great beer at a so-so pub...

  2. "the blog immediately got a deluge of comments along the lines of “What about Blackfriars/the Bon Accord/etc”."

    Oh, blimey, tell me about it. Last year, the Guardian called for nominations for the best pubs and breweries and then, a week later, ran a piece listing those that had got the most votes. Cue 800 comments: 'What about *my* favourite pub?'; 'This is an outrage -- no [FAVOURITE BREWERY]!?'; and so on.

    Your book (?) sounds like a great idea: the Good Atmosphere Guide? The Not About the Beer Guide?

  3. This is so true my local pub in Swindon is a Spirit group pub rarely a decent beer so I tend to drink lager but the atmosphere is a joy. The alternative is get an expensive taxi ride to a place with good beer but I may be among people I have little in common with You pays your money...etc

  4. I'd really like to see that post because I don't know any places like you describe. But maybe that's just because, to me, a pub with shit beer is a shit pub: by definition.