Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Pub sells real ale for the first time in 54 years – and here's why it stopped

I’ve written a little about the Imperial Bar just off St Enoch Square before. I rather like it there, and have often wished that it sold cask beer.

The Imperial a couple of years ago

Well, sometimes wishes come true, but not exactly as you wanted them to.

For a couple of months ago, hand pumps appeared on the bar. But when I first tentatively asked for a pint from the unlabelled pump, it was vinegary and unpleasant, and it was only because I’d recently returned from Belgium that I was able to force it down. On my second visit the cask was equally poor and I had to content myself with a bottle of Old Peculier from the fridge. When I went in for the third time I finally got an acceptable glass of beer.

The Imperial since its recent refurb. The leaded glass panels have been
safely relocated inside the pub.
But here’s the sad part: I’m not sure the beer will ever get better than acceptable, because it comes from the Caledonian Brewery. Normally I wouldn’t cross the street for their beer, because the quality has declined so much. It’s a terrible shame, because Deuchars IPA was once a marvellous beer and one I was happy to drink anywhere.

I can’t fault the pub: it’s a brave step but they are tied to Heineken and have to sell what the Heineken-owned Caley produces. Indeed, the pub has been in the hands of Heineken, and Scottish & Newcastle before them, as far back as I can trace. And that’s what makes this particular story interesting: because we can state with an unusual degree of confidence exactly when the Imperial last sold real ale.

It was the autumn of 1960 — 54 years ago! – and Maitland’s Bar, as the pub was then, belonged to Edinburgh brewer T & J Bernard. In that year Bernard and its Edinburgh Brewery was taken over – and closed down – by Scottish Brewers of McEwan’s and Younger’s fame (the merger that formed S&N was still to come).

There was none of the nonsense you see today about continuing to brew the brands at another location. The first thing the new management did was send their sales reps round all their pubs to tell their tenants that in future they were going to get McEwan’s or Younger’s beer, as this memo to the reps shows:

Strictly Private and Confidential.

Instructions to Representatives of T. & J. Bernard, Ltd.

The following instructions are to be complied with on and after 22nd August, 1960 and not before that date.


Each representative will be given a list of his present customers and will notice that against each bulk customer is marked in ink a Y or an M or M/Y or Y/M.

Y denotes Wm. Younger & Co’s Bulk
M     " Wm. McEwan’s Bulk
M/Y or Y/M  " either brand

On and after 22nd August, 1960 each representative will visit his customers and advise them that production will cease at the Edinburgh Brewery shortly. He will then tentatively suggest the proposed new beer, Y or M as marked on his list. If the customer agrees to the suggestion, the change can take place immediately. If, however, the customer objects and insists on the opposite beer:–

(a) In the case of free customers, the customer should be allowed his choice.

(b) In the case of loan customers, the representative should hedge and report back for further instructions.

(c) In the case of tenanted properties, the customer must accept the beer offered.

When the beers have been substituted the representative will require to state the shades when giving orders and, if necessary, he may submit samples to the Abbey or Fountain Brewery.

The following table is for reference when suggesting the substitution of beers.

No. 3XXP 60/–
No. 2XXPS70/–

Only filtered and carbonated beer is supplied by Y and M in 11 gallon containers with the above qualities.


No discount is to be given to any customer in cash. Discounts will be deducted from accounts except in certain cases when six-monthly cheques will be sent. Discount is limited to 3/–d. per barrel. In certain cases which will be specified to each representative concerned only 1/6d. per barrel is allowed.


(1) The retention by Scottish Brewers of the maximum possible proportion of existing Bernard’s Bottled Beer trade is just as important as the retention of draught beer trade.

(2) There is here no question of any particular emphasis on Y brands. The applicable ruling is that where there are duplicate qualities (e.g. Export, Strong Ale, Pale Ale, etc.,) the emphasis and preference is M qualities, since these are in all cases the better sellers. Every effort should also be made to substitute Younger’s Sweet Stout for Bernard’s Stout.

(Source: Scottish Brewing Archive, document TJB 6/1/2/4)

A very revealing document which gets down to the nitty gritty of how Scottish Brewers worked to push their own beers to publicans, complete with details of how to tackle reluctant customers and how much leeway the sales reps were allowed to give them.

In the last paragraph we see that there was a policy of pushing the McEwan’s brands rather than Younger’s – I don’t know exactly why.

The curt note “Only filtered and carbonated beer is supplied by Y and M in 11 gallon containers with the above qualities.” is the key. “Container beer” – or keg as it later became known – was all that was going to be offered to Scottish Brewers’ involuntary new customers. This implies that Bernard must have still been supplying cask-conditioned beer – or “beer” as it was known then — to at least some of its customers.

Instructive is the table of what the brewery regarded as equivalent beers:

No. 3XXP60/–
No. 2XXPS70/–

Note the use of the word “quality” to distinguish different strengths of beer — I’m not sure if this is a particularly Scottish usage, but it is common in old documents, and I know of at least one brewery where it is still used today.

More details on the actual beers to follow.


  1. Great post - thanks for that

  2. Good stuff. Great to see how the mechanics of a takeover worked.

    I was struck by this section:

    "When the beers have been substituted the representative will require to state the shades when giving orders and, if necessary, he may submit samples to the Abbey or Fountain Brewery. "

    Surely a refernce to colouring the same beer all sorts of different colours.

  3. You'll like the next post then Ron.

  4. Looking forward to it.

    One small point: shouldn't it be cask beer rather than real ale? The Imperial surely sold bottled Guinness.

  5. Hadn’t thought of that. Yes, probably.