Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Cask-conditioned McEwan’s returns – not with a bang but a whimper

It was with no announcement or advertising that the once proud name McEwan’s returned to the world of cask-conditioned beer.

Just a tweet from parent company Wells & Young’s, and a silent website update, alerted me to the news that three new cask ales were on the market in Scotland. What a contrast to the pots of cash spent launching McEwan’s Red last year.

The first two, Amber and Signature, have been available in clear glass bottles for a while now. I’d tried them and they were drinkable but forgettable. But after waiting so long for the promised return of cask McEwan’s, I was more than willing to give them a chance in “real” form.

One revelation which made me chuckle was the news that the third beer in the range is a “brand new brew” McEwan’s IPA. Well, it may be a new recipe, but IPA a new brew?

McEwan’s Export still sells well, and many drinkers are aware of it having the nickname Red Death – possibly more than those who remember that it was once the brewery’s IPA, as the label below shows.

The very same weekend two of the beers were on sale in one of my favourite Glasgow pubs, the Pot Still.

And do you know, I was pleasantly surprised. The Amber is not amber, but golden, full-bodied with some real hop flavour and respectable bitterness, and much tastier than the bottled version. The IPA is golden too, but crisp and clean – maybe slightly too clean – and very drinkable (and nothing at all like Export). I found them good solid beers worth a try, and I’ll drink them again.

Wells & Young’s have bought an iconic Scottish brand, but they still seem slightly afraid of it; the Cavalier is nowhere to be seen on the new pumpclips, and the new cask beers themselves are not much like the McEwan’s of old in flavour either. Not that that’s a bad thing: I have said before that if they want to make a success of the brand in a vastly more competitive market, the beer will have to be better than the stuff described as “thin-bodied with a cloying metallic, caramel flavour” in the Good Beer Guide twenty years ago.


  1. Brewed at Caledonian, do you reckon?

  2. I don’t know. The last I heard was that the draught stuff was being made at Caledonian, but that was a while ago. If it is, Caley are taking more care with this than with their own products.

    1. Heh. The alternative is Bedford, I suppose.

  3. Interesting stuff - passed me by completely. I'll have to keep any eye out!

  4. I'd still like the see the Cavalier on the pump clip.

  5. A McEwan's Scotch Ale, 8% ABV, is now available in export markets and I tried it recently. In my view, it is not as good as the S&N one from 20 years ago and much less so than what was available in North America circa-1980. I am glad Wells Young is brewing this as part (clearly) of a refreshed line of McEwan's beers and it is good to hear that the cask beers you tried were very creditable especially the Amber. We know Wells & Young can make great beer because there are some amongst their large line and the restored Courage IRS is outstanding. I hope the company continues to work with the McEwan's line and will make the beers as good as it can including the Scotch Ale, a beer whose roots here go back (i.e. as a valued import) to the 1800's.