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How to order a beer in Scotland!

Last updated: Apr 26, 2018

Isn’t it funny how the most mundane activities can seem totally overwhelming when you’re in a different country? Take ordering a beer, for instance. Wherever you live, it’s a pretty simple activity, but when you’re in a country like Scotland, where pub culture is a way of life, it can become really intimidating. Fear not, though! You are not alone as you’ll see from this question on Trippy.com:

Q:

Can someone from Scotland give me some pointers on how to order a drink in a Scottish pub? I would like to sample different local ales and lagers while in Scotland next summer, but I don't want to look like an idiot when I order at the bar. With all the differences from Canada (stout, bitter, halfs, pints, 60/-, 70/-, etc., etc) I don't know what to ask for and I'm afraid I'll chicken out and go with the easy "half a lager" or "a pint of bitter". If a Scot were visiting a pub away from home (still in Scotland) what would be the proper etiquette for ordering something good and local without dithering at the bar or looking a fool? I have to confess, stupid as it sounds, I don't want to look like a total tourist, even if that's what I am.

A:

Types of Beers in Scotland

For starters, here are some of the different types of beers you should know:

  • Stouts
  • Lagers
  • Real beers
  • Pales
  • Ales
  • Bitters (amber coloured and slight bitter taste)
  • Milds (darker colour and sweeter taste)
  • Dark beers

That said, a stout can be a real ale and some dark beers can be “milds” or “porters” and a light beer can be a lager and a dark beer can be a heavy. Also, some lagers can be real beers as well.

Got that? Great! Now...

How to Order a Beer in Scotland

So, when you arrive at say, The Sheep Heide Inn in Edinburgh or The Stein Inn on the Isle of Skye, go right up to the barkeep (who, according to our members will most likely be named “Jimmy,”) and have a look at what he has on tap. While you’re at it, ask what bottled beers they have as well. Trust us, this won’t make you look like an outsider as this Trippy member assures us:

“Just go to the bar and ask what local draught or bottled beers they have. You won't look an idiot...it's what anyone in the UK does if they aren't familiar with the area, especially now it is so very common for pubs and bars to have 'guest' beers for a short period of time. The bar staff will tell you about the beers they have available.”

How to Tell the Alcohol Percentage in Scottish Beers

And by the way, if you’re concerned about your alcohol consumption, the percentages will be right on the tap. If you have a low tolerance level, you might want to steer clear of ales as they can have a 6%+ alcohol level.

How to Decide Which Beer to Have in Scotland

If you’re not sure what you want, ask for a sip! As one Trippy.com member points out:

“no barman has ever turned me down or laughed at me for doing so.”

If you want to really play it safe, go for one of the more common labels like Fosters, Heineken, Kronenburg, or Carling. More in the mood for a local brand? Try Tennants or McEwans and be sure to pay with Scottish currency, not British notes (although they’re really the same thing—the Scottish money is just printed in Scotland!).

Also, keep in mind, if the goal is to blend in like a local, that’s not going to happen anyway so you might as well just give that idea up.

“The moment you open your mouth people will know you are a visitor (and they may well know beforehand, simply from the way you are dressed or the way you look). But no-one will care, so don't worry about it.”

Now, if all of that is too confusing, this Trippy member has put together some simple steps to follow:

“ . . . simply demand upon arrival at the bar, "Giesa pint". You will immediately be taken for a local and served a glass of the most popular refreshment. Place a SCOTTISH £10 note on the bar - an English bank note will immediately generate suspicion - do not pick up the change. When your glass is empty follow up with "haw Jimmy" - (all Scottish bar men are called Jimmy) "Giesa hauff". Your anonymity is assured and the change from the Scottish £10 will cover the costs. Later when challenged by barman with "’Nother?" Simply shake your head and leave!! But remember to pick up the change as leaving a tip would blow your cover. Go the next pub (it will be next door) and repeat the routine!’

Cheers (or Air do shlàinte!) and let us know how it goes!

Related Links



Here's the original discussion:



a VirtualTourist member from Brandon asked on Dec 5, 2012

Scotland

Ordering a drink in a Scottish pub

Can someone from Scotland give me some pointers on how to order a drink in a Scottish pub? I would like to sample different local ales and lagers while in Scotland next summer, but I don't want to look like an idiot when I order at the bar. With all the differences from Canada (stout, bitter, halfs, pints, 60/-, 70/-, etc etc) I don't know what to ask for and I'm afraid I'll chicken out and go with the easy "half a lager" or "a pint of bitter". If a Scot were visiting a pub away from home (still in Scotland) what would be the proper etiquette for ordering something good and local without dithering at the bar or looking a fool? I have to confess, stupid as it sounds,, I don't want to look like a total tourist, even if that's what I am.



17 Answers


answered on 12/5/12 by
a VT member from Chula Vista

Hmmm... I may have been out of order but I've always started with a bitter but then asked a local "pull" and if there was, then I changed. My wife on the other hand only would drink a Guiness .




answered on 12/5/12 by
Mary Smith from Leicester

It's not an exclusively Scottish thing..it's a UK-wide thing.

Just go to the bar and ask what local draught or bottled beers they have. You won't look an idiot...it's what anyone in the UK does if they aren't familiar with the area, especially now it is so very common for pubs and bars to have 'guest' beers for a short period of time.. The bar staff will tell you about the beers they have available.

Or, if you don't want to ask, just read the labels on the beer pump handles before you order. I often read and ask as well: it's not a 'total tourist' thing, it's an 'interested in different beers but don't know about the ones on offer' thing.

The moment you open your mouth people will know you are a visitor (and they may well know beforehand, simply from the way you are dressed or the way you look). But no-one will care, so don't worry about it.




answered on 12/6/12 by
a VT member from Calabasas

Fortunately almost every pub has its favorite and/or local ale. Your biggest decision will be to ask to pull a pint of pale or stout. Some of the ales will be a wee heavy and kick your butt with a 6%+ alcohol level. Most keeps will have their favorite and I never was guided wrong. I tend to go with stouts and only had pulled pints, never from a bottle. Whatever you do, don't order a teen girl beer like a Stella. ;-) ps...don't worry if you can't understand a word they say after 9 PM, even my Scot friends can't understand another Scot after 3-4 rounds. Karl




answered on 12/6/12 by
a VT member from Puerto Princesa

No sweat, when i go to a pub i always ask what type of lager they have, the barman answers and i choose which one i want. Just ask what is the local ale or if they have anything special.
"I don't want to look like a total tourist, even if that's what I am" and i am sorry to tell you everyone will know you are a tourist as soon as you walk through the door!!!
Especially when you open your mouth!!! or are you gonna take a quick course in Scottish accents which vary from place to place..




answered on 12/6/12 by
a VT member from Solihull

Bookmark.
I know in Scotland they have a "pint of heavy" or a "pint of light".

I have never worked-out the English equivalents - here we used to favour a "pint of bitter" or a "pint of mild" (amber coloured and slight bitter taste vs darker colour and sweeter taste) - You don't get Mild very often nowadays.
Also, so many people now drink lager which will probably be more like the generic beer types in so many countries of the world.
In Scotland you may see some common ones - Fosters, Heineken, Kronenburg, Carling, Stella (aka Wifebeater) and I think a local one - McCewans? (check)




answered on 12/6/12 by
a VT member from Hong Kong

Light beers are lagers. Darker beers are called heavy. You can ask for a pint of lager or a pint of heavy or you can just say the name on the beer tap. Local Scottish brews are Tennants and McEwans, but you can get many imported ones, too. We are used to visitors and generally treat them kindly. Don't worry.




answered on 12/6/12 by
a VT member from Melbourne

Funny thread - bookmark




answered on 12/6/12 by
a VT member

First of all you need to blend in - take a look at the following you tube clip to get the rythmn of the Scots language

youtube.com/watch?v=T_Lk7qiv...

then you can't go wrong

My own suggestion is that you simply demand upon arrival at the bar

"Giesa pint" - using the same accent and intonation as at the start of the youtube clip

you will immediatly be taken for a local and served a glass of the most popular refreshment

Place a SCOTTISH £10 note on the bar - an English bank note will immediatly generate suspicion - do not pick up the change

when your glass is empty follow up with

"haw Jimmy" - (all Scottish bar men are called Jimmy) "Giesa hauff"

You anonimity is assured and the change from the Scottish £10 will cover the costs

Later when challenged by barman with " Nother?"

simply shake you head and leave !! but remember to pick up the change as leaving a tip would blow your cover

Go the next pub (it will be next door) and repeat the routine

Enjoy




answered on 12/6/12 by
a VT member from Glasgow

The previous advice contains all you need but some of that advice wouldn`t be very helpful. :-)
The last thing you need to worry about is dithering and looking a fool. You won`t, you are the customer!
I don`t drink very often (aye right!) but I was in a pub in Clydebank last week and asked for two pints of lager. I was then asked ` Tennents or Fosters?` after passing that test it was `Ice Cold or ordinary`?
I can`t remember if I paid with a Scottish or an English tenner. :-)
See, locals don`t have a clue either!




answered on 12/6/12 by
a VT member from Paignton

Being both Scottish and a beer drinker I can safely assure you that a little dithering will not go amiss. Basically there are three types of beer - stouts, lagers and real beers: But then some stouts are in fact real ales and other dark beers may be milds or porters. There are several lagers which are in fact real beers too, as opposed to the pasturised, pressurised common varieties. Some pubs offer imported continental (and from elsewhere) lagers which us beer drinkers enjoy and then of course there are the fizzy beers on tap such as McEwans Export and then the nitro-fizz stuff which you may come across such as Kilkenny.

Confused??

So basically whatever bar you go into just check out whether they have hand pumps if you want a real beer/lager/stout/porter/ale/mild (unless of course the beer is gravity-fed....HA! You didn't think the complications were over did you?) and ask the staff what's what - most decent pubs will happily let you have a taster, or two.

BTW the 60/-, 70/- & etc. refers to the relative stregnths (this was the old tax system for the beers).




answered on 12/6/12 by
Mary Smith from Leicester

You will also see % alcohol by volume displayed on the pump labels and on the bottles.

Be aware that UK beers are not weak..especially not real ales (those which are 'live' in the cask and not factory-produced fizzy stuff).

You might like to ponder the list of Scottish real ales (etc) from the Camra (Campaign for Real Ale) 2012 festival:

scottishbeerfestival.org.uk/...

You'l notice that most are 4-5ABV, although there are some stonkers of 6 and 7ABV.

Here are the Camra champion Scots beers over the past decade or so:

http://www.camra.org.uk/cbos




answered on 12/6/12 by
a VT member from Delaware

This is a funny thread. Having spent many, many hours drinking beer in pubs in Scotland, and not being Scottish myself, I can tell you that it's really not a big deal to stand there for a couple of minutes reading the names on the taps. I very often ask for tastes of a few beers if I don't know what they are, and no barman has ever turned me down or laughed at me for doing so. The selection has gotten much broader over the years, as the craft beer/real ale juggernaut has spread across more of the globe, so it's no embarrassment to find yourself in front of a bar with not a single beer that you recognize!

Here is another helping hand: http://www.brewgene.com/ Download the smartphone app, which has an astonishing number of beers in the library, all with reviews, tasting notes, etc. from users. There are almost 400 made-in-Scotland beers listed on the site, and you can add new ones, too. (travelmad478 is a member there too!)




answered on 12/6/12 by
a VT member from Calabasas

Good info Ian/John and all... methinks we need a VT Scottish Ale Meet, although I don't remember being asked if I wanted it ice cold. Certianly not in the Highlands or on Skye.




answered on 12/6/12 by
Mary Smith from Leicester

Just an anywhere-in-the-UK ale meet would be good....although ice-cold? Absolutely no chance, mate! :-)




answered on 12/6/12 by
a VT member from Melbourne

Slightly off topic, but maybe similar to what the OP is dreading.

We walked into a pub in Bath, UK and I ordered a gin squash for my wife and a cold larger for myself (being Australian that is the ONLY way to drink beer). With a very thick UK accent the guy behind the bar replied, "Just stepped off the bl**dy plane have we?"




answered on 12/6/12 by
Mary Smith from Leicester

That was extremely rude. Rudeness is not something to be expected from UK bar staff, nor is it commonplace in my experience. You must have hit on a very unusual barperson.....or possibly one trying (unsuccessfully) to be funny.

What you choose to drink is irrelevant (pubs serve soft drinks and, often, coffee as well as alcohol): what matters in pubs is profit (oddly, non-alcoholic drinks are the more profitable)




answered on 12/7/12 by
a VT member from Tunbridge Wells

I love a beer and have sampled a decent variety of them over the years. However, as others have said, proper beers have become bigger business recently and pretty often most of the guest beers might be new to me. I've just adopted a method of honesty with the barman and will say "hello, I'm looking for a decent bitter but haven't got a clue about these" and more often than not they will give a sample. You won't look silly, unless you have too many!






Here's a related discussion:



a VirtualTourist member from Rome asked on Dec 26, 2003

Scotland

Visiting Pubs with a 15 year old?

We intend visiting the Highlands in August with our 15 year old son. 2 years ago we visited Edinburgh but could not enter any pubs with him. I would like him to see typical Scottish pubs with darts and folk music etc. If necessary we could book into pub accomodation. Any suggestions?



4 Answers


answered on 12/29/03 by
a VT member from Singapore

I might be mistaken in this, but I don't think that you will have a problem with your son as long as he doesn't drink alcohol. Try to stay away from 'bars' and you should have even less of an issue away from the big centres. If all else fails pop down south of the border into England where I know that they have play area's for children! Enjoy your experience. Kim




answered on 1/2/04 by
a VT member

Hi There, Most pubs allow Children access during the day and at least part of the evening. Children are not really allowed to buy from the bar, and cannot consume alcohol. Many pubs outwith city centres are 'family pubs' and cater for families, and travellers alike. As for particular pubs, it really depends upon where in Scotland you will be travelling? If you are visiting Edinburgh, there is a little traditional pub called the 'Ensign Ewart' which is probably exactly what your looking for, and there are similar places all over Scotland. I do hope this helps. Susan




answered on 1/4/04 by
a VT member from Netherlands

I don't think you should have a problem really if you try family pubs or a pub with a family lounge. Your son of course could not order drinks or drink alcohol. We have stayed in pub accomodation but beware somtimes they can be noisy late at night!




answered on 1/6/04 by
a VT member from Rome

Thank you for your help. We've decided to go again to Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Tatoo. Grateful any tips on pubs with folk music or the like....obviously where our 15 year old son could come too. Also any ideas on pub accomodation in Edinburgh Thanks in advance






Here's a related discussion:



a VirtualTourist member from Kilmarnock asked on Nov 18, 2004

Scotland

pet friendly inns or pubs

my partner and i will be in braemar area next july for 1 week is their any local bars you can take a small dog in as i dont want to leave him at home thanks jm



1 Answer


answered on 11/18/04 by
a VT member from Aberdeen

Cambus 'o May hotel Ballater is a pet friendly hotel






Here's a related discussion:



a VirtualTourist member from Raleigh asked on Sep 8, 2009

Scotland

Oban and Iveraray - Great Places to Eat and Historic Pubs

I am in the final planning stages for our trip to Loch Fyne - Strathlachlan - and planning on driving up to Oban and spending time in Iveraray as well. Would anyone have a recommendation for a good place to eat in either location - and would there be any MUST SEE pubs in either location?

Thanks much - Gen



2 Answers


answered on 9/8/09 by
a VT member from Newark upon Trent

The Creggans Inn was always excellent but things do change!
Loch Fyne, of course, was famous for its kippers but all the traditional kipperies (?) have gone.
The Loch Fyne Restaurant and Oyster Bar is recommended by some and seems to be on everyone's list; however, it is over-rated imho and very expensive for what you get.
In Inveraray there's a hotel on the waterfront which serves good honest pub food.




answered on 9/9/09 by
a VT member from Raleigh

We are actually staying at the Creggans Inn, and have already had several recommendations for the Oyster Bar on Loch Fyne, so have that down for at least appetizers and a 'wee dram' at some point.

Thanks for the heads up on the Oyster Bar, we'll plan on dinner elsewhere and just stop in for appetizers or a snak as we are out and about.

Gen





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