Monday, 20 July 2020

I went for a pint again

The day came when the pubs in Glasgow re-opened, and I was curiously unexcited.

Mostly it was because I had a limited number of options. Some of the best pubs such as the Pot Still and Blackfriars hadn’t re-opened yet; others like the Three Judges or the Thornwood are a bit further away than I wanted to cycle – seeing as we’re still supposed to be using public transport for essential journeys only.

Nonetheless I headed into town for a look around, expecting that if somewhere good was open, I wouldn’t be able to get in.

You could do worse than choosing the Horse Shoe for your first pint of proper cask in four months. But it was not for me.

“Any walk-ins, pal?” I enquire from behind my mask.

“Only upstairs,” says the genial doorman.

“Is there cask ale upstairs?”

“No, I only have one cask ale on anyway,” is the response.

I promise to return again soon.

Some of the pubs are positively bouncing – well, as close as you can get to bouncing given the restrictions. The Tolbooth at Glasgow Cross looks very nearly as busy as ever.

Some quite unexpected places have been trading as “beer gardens” since last week when those were allowed to open. I had thought that Britain had a low bar for what can be called a beer garden: usually a few picnic tables in the car park, next to the wheelie bins. But it turns out that these days even some white plastic garden furniture on the pavement will count.

Whatever you call them, these popped-up pavement arrangements are a nice addition to working-class locals’ bars in the East End.

I am about to head home when I glance in passing down Blackfriars Street. Unexpectedly, Babbity Bowster is open. I say unexpectedly because it had been closed for refurbishment before lockdown, but apparently they have taken advantage of enforced closure to finish the job.

Babbity Bowster dates from the mid-1980s when legendary publican Fraser Laurie took on the then-derelict eighteenth-century building and turned it into something quite new for Glasgow. Though decried at the time as a yuppie pub, it has developed into an institution with a formidable reputation. Laurie retired at the beginning of the year and sold the pub to pub company Caledonian Heritable.

It seems much the same on entering, less regimented than some pubco establishments and I just have to fill in a slip of paper and put it in a plastic tub, then sanitise my hands. I choose to sit outside and my pint is brought out to me. I pay in cash because the machine isn’t working yet; I think this is the first time I have used cash since March.

And the first pint of proper cask since March too.


Before lockdown they had regularly served Fyne Ales Jarl, but apparently couldn’t get any in time for re-opening. Judging by the amount of mini-casks that people have been ordering from Fyne, this is not entirely surprising.

With over 200 small breweries now operating in Scotland, I think pubs should feature local beer – especially in Glasgow where there seem to be a score of small brewers all fighting to get into the same dozen pubs. I am glad they will get Jarl back in when it is available. However, I am not complaining about having to drink Landlord.

Landlord is a beer that changes quite a lot as it ages. This pint seems particularly fresh, perhaps even a little green. There is bitterness first, then sweetness, and a notably floral hop bouquet – so floral, in fact, that I have to check I’m not sitting in front of some geraniums.

I actually had two pints. The first seemed to mysteriously disappear. There must be some thirsty blackbirds in the trees in this beer garden or something. 

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