First Impressions From The North

“Can I please have a pint of the Moor Hoppiness?”

“You realise that’s served on tap, so it’ll be fizzy?”

This interaction with one of the bartenders at my new local pub in Edinburgh was a unique one for me. Having spent many an hour at bars across New Zealand, I’d often hear the staff warn customers the beers served on handpump wouldn’t be as carbonated, or as cold, as they might be used to when drinking tap beer. But at the Cask and Barrel Southside in Edinburgh, it’s the opposite.

Since moving north, it’s been interesting to see the differences between the beer scene in Scotland and in New Zealand. I’ve been living here only for a couple of months so this is very much my first impressions.

While the majority of bars serve beer from both cask and keg, (and most have at least some craft beer in bottles and cans even if they have nothing on draught), in some pubs the only tap beer they have is Tennent’s and perhaps a European lager. I have only come across one bar that serves solely tap beer.

But there is still a major tension between cask and tap drinkers — though this isn’t a craft beer war. The tension seems to be one of new versus old, or progress versus tradition.

It seems a good number of cask beer drinkers believe the growing number of taps at their local bars, and the number of breweries choosing to serve their beer on tap over cask, is a threat to the cask beer movement. Some refuse to believe any tap beer can taste as good as a beer served from a cask, without actually giving tap beer a chance.

Then there are the tap beer lovers, who believe cask beer is for older generations and that beer served from a cask cannot reach the clean flavour profile that tap beer can. And the vehement opposition to tap beer by many cask beer lovers appears to be driving the younger, more tap-friendly crowd away from even really giving cask beer a go.

I find it quite disheartening that there is such a divide between beer drinkers, when the beer quality – both tap and cask – is pretty great. Better than I was expecting, actually. Being in the land of “some diacetyl is ok” according to certain English style judging guidelines, I’ve had far fewer diacetyl bombs in two months in Edinburgh than I did in one week in Berlin.

Scottish craft breweries are – thanks to the influence of the American beer movement – experimenting with, and embracing, hop-forward and sour styles. While the overall quality is not quite at the level of New Zealand and the knowledge of how to use certain hop varieties is still limited, Scotland’s craft breweries – particularly in the south of the country – will soon begin to catch up to the English heroes in Beavertown, Magic Rock and The Kernel.

The major difference I’ve noticed however, is the price! An English pint of craft IPA is no more than NZ$8, and at some bars a pint costs less than NZ$6. At the more trendy bars, beer is usually served in schooners (378ml) for about NZ$8-10. It doesn’t stop the locals from complaining though.

However, it is very difficult to find a dark mild, which was one of the things I was most excited about when moving to this part of the world. It appears to be a style that’s beginning to die out, even with CAMRA declaring “Mild May” in an attempt to drum up support and awareness for the style.
It’ll be interesting to see how things might change here over the next few years, but the Scottish craft beer scene – or at least “good beer” scene – is already in great shape.

Back to The Pursuit of Hoppiness June 2017

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