What Coca Cola executives have in common with a dying English king; the finest gin known to humanity and making a German beer in a Venetian carpet palace.
1) Irn Bru: ‘Scotland’s other National Drink’
Scots have built, pioneered, innovated and invented and some of their finest achievements include medicine (insulin and penicillin), household (television and telephone) and football (introducing the game to Brazilians and founding Millwall Football Club).However, this is nothing to the achievement of being one of the few remaining countries on the planet, the others being Peru and India, to stick two fingers to the mono-cultural hegemony of Coca-Cola and have its own number one soft drink. The Scotland problem is the kiss of death for Coca-Cola directors, advertisers and executives. Want to get rid of someone? Want to let them know they are not wanted anymore? Lay a hand on their shoulder and say “Bob, now about those troublesome Scots. You’re the man for this one. We put our faith in you so don’t let us down.”
Watch Bob’s face struggle for composure, his legs wobble and sweat glisten on his forehead. Like the English King’s soldiers facing a Highlander charge Bob is practically wetting himself in terror. Maybe, just maybe he might be the one to crack the Scottish curse and become an instant legend in the corporate and advertising world. In reality it is a career death sentence. Bob can look to history to define his next move. What’s the point of dying of dysentery in a sodden field on the way to fight the Scots (again) and haranguing your men to take your heart to the Holy Land and boil the flesh from your body so that your bones can lead your soldiers to battle? Once he died even Edward I’s lackeys ignored his demands. Faced with a similar Scottish problem and his Coca Cola corporate army no match for the belligerence full sugar Irn Bru chugging Saltire-clad hordes Bob learns from history, resigns and goes for a long peaceful walk with his previously neglected family.
Irn Bru is known for its distinctive orange colour, controversial and humorous advertising campaigns and for being ‘Made in Scotland from girders’. It first originated in Falkirk but for most of its history it has been produced in Glasgow.
It can be mixed with Scotland first national drink although purists will be most upset if you waste a good quality malt.
2) Tennents (T) lager
Brewed in East Glasgow Tennants is Scotland’s ubiquitous lager and sponsor of key music festivals and the Old Firm football teams. Tennents lager cans were once famous for featuring the ‘lager lovelies’ which were photos of various female models and are now collector items. Tennent’s Super was once known as one of the choice strong beers for alcoholics and homeless although the beer is no longer produced in Scotland under the Tennent’s colours.
Scotland produces some excellent beers. Tennant’s lager is not one of them.
3) Sweetheart Stout
Stout or porter beers are dark beers that trace their origins back to London in the early 1720s. There are many different kinds of stouts, the most famous being Guinness. Sweetheart Stout, produced by Tennents, is a milk or sweet stout and is most definitely a specialised and acquired taste.
Historically milk stout was claimed to be nutritious, and was given to nursing mothers, along with other stouts. The popularity of sweet milk stouts declined towards the end of the 20th century but you still see it on sale in Glasgow.
4) WEST beers: where Glasgow meets Germany and Italy
WEST produce a range of lagers, wheat and darker beers in accordance with strict ancient German beer-making laws in the old Templeton Building, an iconic building on the edge of Glasgow Green. It was designed by Victorian architect William Leiper in the late 19th century who modeled it on the Doge’s Palace in Venice. It was a carpet factory until the 1950s supplying the Whitehouse, the Taj Mahal and the Houses of Parliament.
The building hosts the brewer, bar and restaurant which, in a city devoid of good quality outdoor drinking areas, has a courtyard overlooking Glasgow Green. WEST beers are widely available in Glasgow and are excellent, start with the St Mungo named after Glasgow’s patron saint.
5) Malt whisky: Auchentoshan
Glasgow has a long historical association with the scotch whisky industry but these days there are only grain whisky distilleries within its limits which are not open to the public.
One the few remaining lowland malt distilleries is the Auchentoshan distillery in Clydebank, outer Glasgow. Auchentoshan is considered Glasgow’s malt and is triple-distilled to give a light, smooth and a subtle alternative to the heavy peat whiskies from the highlands.
6) Hendrick’s gin
Gin is historically associated with London but Scotland produces perhaps the finest gin known to humanity. Hendrick’s gin is actually produced in Girvan on the Ayrshire coast some 50 miles outside Glasgow. However, the city provided the launch pad before it conquered the UK and was widely acclaimed by international spirits awards and media.
Hendrick’s visual branding and identity is a brilliant mix of surreal Victoriana and illustration featuring a twisted collage of pocket-watches, gin tea cups, strange machines emerging from blank-eyed gentlemen, hot air balloons, roses and circus ladies strong in the thigh and revealing of the ankle. The bottle itself is a beautifully designed apothecary-style bottle that refers to gin’s medicinal past where juniper berries were used for plague masks and quinine was used to prevent malaria in the colonies.
Hendrick’s also cannily eschewed the marketing cliches prevalent in the alcohol industry of suspiciously beautiful trendy models partying in aspirational locations, faux-sophistication or lad culture. It chimes much more with The Chap, dandyism and the renewed interest in Britain’s more unconventional history and culture. It cleverly evokes the modes and values that the British love to fondly admire about themselves and hope that the rest of the world agrees: gin time, rose gardens, cucumber sandwiches, eccentricity, conservative anarchism, style and humour.
However, Hendrick’s success is not just down to marketing and design. It uses Bulgarian rose and cucumber, amongst other botanicals, to add to the traditional juniper infusion and it really is a sublime gin and tonic. It should be served with cucumber, in itself a clever suggestion that instantly captured the interest of gin drinkers more used to serving with lemon.
Coming next: curious points and incidents from the age of the empire.
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