With what seems to be more bars than all other businesses combined, it seems natural that this Scottish city would be a den of good drink. To be certain, there is good drink to be had, but mindful drinkers will have to work a bit to discover the regions craft beers. It is, however, understood that the job of finding good whisky is a much simpler task. One thing to know is that the thought that goes into ordering and consuming a drink in Glasgow is much the same as anywhere else in the world – people have their favorites for whatever reasons, and little (if any) thought is put forth in the ordering of a drink. It is also noteworthy that there are several Scottish brands that most Americans don’t know that aren’t necessarily top-quality products. This should be of no surprise, the same is true anywhere. There are a handful of well-known American craft brands that suffer of boredom on the palate. Here, too, you’ll easily discover beers that are worth trying, but not worthy of a second pint.
For the most part you can assume you won’t find a decent pint in a swanky night club-type establishment teeming with hipsters. If you’re looking for a night out on the town that includes dancing or mingling with the young crowd of Glasgow, there are plenty of places to accomodate – and they’re not hard to find. On Sachiehall Street you’ll find a lively night life with clubs that have lines of people waiting to get in. These are your safest bet for a rockin’ good time and you’ll do well to avoid the less savory joints noticable by a general lack of revelers. Just remember basic rules of travel safety in Glasgow. If you’re out late on a weekend, there will be a hefty police presence on the streets.
It seems good whisky and good beer ought to go hand in hand, but this is not the case. When hitting up some of the better whisky joints in town you’ll likely run across the usual suspects on tap. If there is a hand-pull in the bar, it will likely be taken by a trendy craft. If you find this is the case, by all means order a pint of the real ale, you’ll find it much more satisfying than the overly-chilled macros (Guinness & Fosters are both served ice cold) and more full-bodied than the McEwans or other Scottish taps. Of course, I strongly recommend finding a good whisky bar, pulling up a seat and spending the better part of an evening talking with the locals and bar keeps about the goodness of their country’s whisky. A gentlemens pub like Pot Still is a fantastic establishment for this sort of conversation – and some of the finest single malts you’ll find in the city. For a slightly younger crowd check out Uisge Beatha (pronounced Ish-Ka-Bay) on a Thursday night – there are few better moments than sitting on the leather couches in the back room as classical Scottish music is played live in front of you. Between the two locales you’ll likely be happier with the beers at Uisge Beatha, where you’ll want to order from the front bar for one of three real ale options.
The Beer Joints
Good beer selection is available in the city, but you’ll need to be quite picky about where to go. In the Merchants Square there is a bar call “Beer Bar”, which is true only in that is sells a lot of crappy beer. If you’re hoping to get something local, something real, you will do well to simply walk the extra block for something truly memorable – Blackfriars. Blackfriars is a slightly trendy bar that is incredibly popular with the locals. Go on a Tuesday night for live music and regional beer. Friday evenings are a bit crowded, but well worth it if you’re looking for a quality meal to go with your beer. You will want to ask your server about what’s fresh for fish, and be sure to check out their specials menu – you really can’t go wrong if you’re ordering from there. Blackfriars is also a good destination for the homesick beer lover, as you’ll find some imports like Flying Dog in bottles behind the bar. The crowd in the evenings is primarily made up of young to middle-aged professionals, many still wearing their slacks and button downs from work. There is a refreshing lack of the rough-and-tumble you’ll find on the West Side, but in all the place will feel a little sterile for a beer bar.
No matter where you’re staying in Glasgow you’ll need to plan an evening at Bon Accord, on the west side on North Street (just off St. Vincent). If you’re staying in the city center a cab ride will only set you back five pounds. Without a doubt this is the place to go for a great pint of real ale, a dram of whisky and long conversations with the locals – who will likely tell you how much they love this place early into the conversation. If you’re lucky enough to spot a bar seat, grab it and take advantage of the view to help select your evening’s pints. If you’re with a group, head to the back in and find a comfortable cushioned seat and carry on as much as you can. The front area is sort of a manly area where you’ll likely find men coming from the football match, or talking about the one coming up. Don’t be alarmed, however, as the crowd here is very welcoming and easy to talk to – and ladies won’t find it feels like a meat market. Bon Accord does close at midnight, even on a Friday, so try to get there with plent of time to appreciate all they have to offer. Like Blackfriar, the pub offers a welcome selection of hot, well-prepared food. In all, you won’t find a much better pub anywhere in Scotland, certainly not in Glasgow.
Understanding the Beer
American craft beer is something of an oddity in Scotland. Where the US beers are full bodied and often a showcase of strength (be it alcohol or hops or both), Scottish beers tend to be more delicate. There is a bit of a misnomer that Scottish beers are not “hoppy”, but if you dig around you’ll find this isn’t entirely the case. It is true, however, that the beers of Scotland are typically very light bodied when compared to America’s crafted ales, as well as low in alcohol – often well under 5% ABV.
The style you’ll run across most frequently is the Scottish 80, also known as Export. While technically not a “heavy” (which is the common term for the Strong Scotch Ale style), many locals will order a heavy and be more than happy with this. The beer is dark, varying shades of brown and red, with a pretty husky, dry malt aroma. Exports are generally malty, but not sweet like many “malty” brews in The States – no caramel or toffee notes to speak of. Hops are pretty docile in these beers too, lending just a touch of bitterness and no real hop flavors. If you’re a die-hard hop head, or think malty beers should be around 7% ABV, you may think these beers are light and uninteresting at first. Of course, this is not the case at all! The beers show a satisfying flavor that is oh-so-easy to enjoy throughout the night.
Apart from the Export/80 style there’s a popular beer in Glasgow called Deuchars IPA, often found on cask. This, too, needs to be understood a bit more before you order. Where American IPAs tend to kick you in the teeth with hops and bitterness (and alcohol) this beer is a bit of a friendly handshake. Thankfully, it is a true pale hue – very light. Its aroma is faint, but the grassy notes of the hops will come out and play if you give them a chance. Its flavor runs fairly thin in the malt, but does have an assertive bitterness. In all, it just isn’t that interesting, but may well be the most hoppy beer in the bar. If you’re in desperate need of hops, don’t expect full satisfaction from a pint of this ale.
Finding real ales that go beyond these two popular beers is a challenge in Glasgow, your best bet is to get to Blackfriars, Three Judges or Bon Accord.
Bars by Attraction
Uisge Beatha & Bon Accord are near:
– The University of Glasgow, which has stunning architecture
– Kelvingrove Art Gallery – a must see
The Pot Still
– Will Tea Room – be sure to go up to the THIRD floor to truly appreciate
– Closest beer bar to the Cathedral & Necropolis (follow High Street south, the head west on Wilson St.)
– There’s a lot to see around here