Real ale at Tennent's, 1983

In 1983 Tennent’s launched a new cask beer. Tennent’s Times, the house paper of the company, reported thus on the trials in two pubs in Glasgow and Edinburgh:
Almost 18 months ago the Company re-introduced Draught Bass into a number of selected Managed Houses in Edinburgh as part of a test-marketing campaign in the cask-conditioned ale market. The success of the Edinburgh project brought about the re-introduction of the same product into a number of outlets in Glasgow and again the result has been a success.

Now as part of the overall exercise — and to consider all possible options — a new cask-conditioned ale, known as ‘Heriot Brewery Traditional 80/– Ale’ has appeared in Tennent’s Bar in Glasgow’s Byres Road. Brewed at Heriot, it has already been tasted — under the name of ‘Sheep Heid Inn Ale’ — in Edinburgh’s Sheep Heid Inn and was voted ‘a winner’.

Said Marketing Manager, Andy Lowe, “We recognise that the cask-conditioned sector of the market is very small at less than 2% of the entire Scottish market but we have to look at and consider all options, including brewing our own product in Scotland.

After all, Draught Bass is currently having to be shipped north and we would like to consider something brewed locally too.”
Note how cautious the article is. How the reader is repeatedly assured that this is just a test, just considering all options. They didn’t even want to put the Tennent’s name on it (it’s interesting to note that the same approach has been applied to the recent launch of Caledonia Best). Perhaps the project was not popular within the company. Unsurprising considering that they’d spent the previous twenty years eliminating cask beer from their pubs.

Here’s a young George Howell filling casks at Heriot. George is now Head Brewer at Belhaven.

The reluctance with which Tennent’s did this is palpable even 27 years later; next to the small two-column article reporting on the new beer, there is a larger opinion piece denouncing CAMRA. Relations were apparently less than good:
It’s always a very sad thing when people begin to exercise any kind of blind prejudice and particularly when that group is speaking on behalf of an obvious minority. No one denies anyone the right of protest or the right to try to expand the range of choice available to the consumer.

But what is offensive is when a small body begins to make unwarranted attacks upon a quality product which is already enjoyed by many people and one which has stood the test of almost 100 years of taste.

Yet that is what CAMRA in the West of Scotland has done in the recent weeks. They have made blind attacks on Tennent’s Lager on the basis, purely and simply, that they know best. They — a small group of misguided, albeit well-meaning individuals — have decided that Tennent’s Lager, enjoyed by millions throughout the world is not a top quality product!

And this comes from a group of individuals whose own spokesman was unable to tell Tennent’s Export Ale (brewery conditioned) from one of their so-called ‘real ales’ … and even admitted that he preferred Tennent’s Export!

CAMRA has a role to play and it plays that role very well in many parts of the country. However, it is doing itself no favours by ‘knocking’ other brews in a misguided fashion.

Better by far to promote cask-conditioned ale on its own merits, and let the public decide.


Two per cent of the market. I wonder what it is now after the growth in recent years? It’s probably still substantially lower than in England.

The Heriot Brewery was demolished in the 1990s, but the Sheep Heid Inn, which claims to be Scotland's oldest pub, is still going strong, is now pretty focussed on cask beer and apparently still had Sheep Heid Inn Ale brewed for them until recently.


  1. Sounds a bit like another Scottish brewer's reaction to CAMRA.

  2. They didn't have ‘Sheep Heid Inn Ale’ on the pump clip when it was Tennent's.
    It was `Sheep Heid Inn Traditional’. Yes, you asked for a SHIT!

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