Dive Bar – Bringing Back the Ancient Beers
Everyone knows that X marks the spot. Hidden treasure troves that could entice any pirate of the Caribbean lie across and beneath the waves. But what if we could drink the same rum that Captain Jack Sparrow adored so much? Well thanks to the efforts of a single diver off the Scottish coast, we are recreating the flavours of ancient beer. By Andrew Cook Just off the Scottish coast, a ship has lain on the seafloor since 1895. Forgotten along the seabed for almost 100 years, the Wallachia lay untouched and undisturbed in the darkness as the ocean floor gradually moved in to claim it. Layers of silt began to cover the decks and gradually made their way inside through the gigantic tear in the starboard side, until sediment and tiny denizens of the deep made it their home. Now, thanks to an intrepid diver named Steve Hickman – we are redefining the future of brewing. The Lost Cargo The Wallachia is, or rather was, a single crew cargo steamer owned by William Burrel & Son of Glasgow. Among her regular tasks was to make runs between Glasgow and the West Indies. Unfortunately for her, during a foggy morning with little visibility in 1895, she was accidentally rammed by a 1,406 ton Norwegian steamer named Flos speeding out of the mists. Fortunately for us, she was filled to the brim with earthenware jars that survived more or less intact. Among this precious cargo included hundreds of samples filled with beer from McEwans. The British Empire effectively functioned on such brews during this period, after all it was the great Queen Victoria who decreed “Give my people plenty of beer, good beer, and cheap beer, and you will have no revolution among them.” Remember that the next time someone says that the Empire was built on tea! The Recovery Efforts Steve Hickman is a dive technician and amateur diver, and a regular at the site of the Wallachia. Since the 1980’s he has been braving the depths and exploring the near-impenetrable visibility of the silt-filled holds. Using only a small, netted bag, his recoveries that he has brought to the surface include whisky, gin and beer. But the real game-changer has only appeared recently. Despite the cold, dark conditions that make it so ideal for preserving yeast and other bacteria, many items from the depths are damaged, meaning that the original states have not always been maintained. Even under perfect conditions, many bottles have a tendency to explode when brought to the surface due to changing pressures. Recently, however, a team from Brewlab and the University of Sunderland have managed to extract liquid yeast from some samples retrieved from the depths. And they resemble nothing of the beers of today. The New (or Ancient) Kind of Yeast Even the most fervent alcohol aficionado could be forgiven for not understanding the complexities of brewing, so bear with us as we dive right in. As a nation of heavy-drinkers, our breweries have fallen into the habit of using yeasts primarily from the Saccharomyces cerevisiae family. (Don’t ask us to say it out loud – we have no idea how to!) And only a very small minority of sour beers nowadays use strains from the Brettanomyces family. But the treasure trove from the Wallachia not only contains the aforementioned yeast strains, but also from the Debaryomyces strain. This mix of yeast strains, both common and unheard of, mean that ancient beers were filled with vastly varied flavours and notes that we currently do not experience drinking at the pub with our mates nowadays. Of course scientists also discovered tremendous amounts of bacteria within the beers, proving that ancient brewing was incredibly unhygienic, but naturally they are leaving those parts out of the recreation process! The Initial Results Preliminary bottles have been produced in an effort to recreate the bottles of the 7.5% Stout retrieved from the Wallachia. Strong hints of coffee and chocolate wrapped up in a low-carbonated, dark beer that by all accounts goes down far too well. Now Brewlab are undergoing in-depth microbiology experimentation to investigate the possibilities of other yeast strains in brewing processes. Could the same beer be vastly changed via fermentation with a different yeast strain? Could the processes become more efficient? What qualities will be available in the future? This is not limited to only the brewing industry either. The possibilities of recreating ancient bread, of culinary experts inventing vastly different pizza bases – and even the future of pharmaceutical companies creating new compounds in different conditions is at stake. The chemicals being created via different varieties of yeast could possibly lead to incredible breakthroughs in life-saving medicine for future generations. The End of a Legacy All of this and more, from the hands of one diver in a shipwreck off the coast of Scotland. However time is running out for the Wallachia. As the days go by, the incessant ebbs and flows of the tides are wearing down the ancient walls of the Wallachia as the seabed tries to claim her prize and drag it down to Davy Jones’ locker. Within the next 20-30 years, it is more than likely that the remaining pieces of the Wallachia will disappear from memory, and the treasure trove of yeast strains will be scattered and lost forever. Until such time, we must remember that truly, through beer, all things are possible.
Alias names – Scottish genealogy is littered with alias names in court and church records. What was behind the practice in Scotland and when did the tradition die out?
When researching your Scottish ancestry, particularly if you can trace your routes back to the Highlands, you may hit a brick wall around the turn of the 18th century.This could be due to common research limitations, such as lack documentation or records gone amiss, however, it could also be down to the peculiar case of alias surnames that became a particularly popular trend throughout the middle ages. Although not exclusive to Scotland, as research has uncovered a plethora of examples in English ancestral records, alias surnames were particularly prevalent, and used for reasons more interesting, throughout the Scottish Highlands, where last names were, at the time, already commonly interchangeable between the respective Gaelic and anglicised versions. So, what gave rise to this trend in Scotland? By James McKean Alias Names Origins in Britain The history of alias surnames in Britain runs almost concurrently to the developments of surnames themselves, with examples of which dating back to the 1460s. Alias surnames became more prominent at the start of the 16th century, when they were seen to become frequently documented throughout English, and later Scottish court documents, wills, and registers. When examining such records from this period, reasons for surname aliases can be inferred as being mainly a return in popularity of patronymic surnames, whereby members of the gentry would replace their surname with an alias in tribute to one of their forefathers. This may have been done so to retain family wealth and prestige, or as a means of keeping topographical ownership over land passed down through the generations. Alias names were, otherwise, used at this time to cover up illegitimate births. This trend started around London, and gradually moved north, with it being heavily documented in the north of England around the middle of the 17th century, and then further on towards Scotland. The Battle of Culloden The most prevalent reason for the rise of alias names in Scotland, on the other hand, had a lot more to do with evading persecution by the British government. Following the final defeat of the Jacobite cause at the Battle of Culloden in 1745, highland clans were prosecuted, and many Gaelic last names were essentially blacklisted in the eyes of the British government through former association to the Jacobite cause. A series of acts, which included the outright banning of tartan, were imposed in the Highlands which were essentially aimed at vanquishing Scottish culture altogether. Gaelic had originally been outlawed in 1616 but was enforced a whole lot harder following the defeat of the Jacobite movement. It was in this era of repression of Scottish culture that many Scottish clans adopted alias surnames to distance themselves from the Jacobite cause and avoid punishment at the hands of the British government. Luckily for some clans, there were direct Anglicised versions of their Gaelic surname. For example, MacGhilledhuinn became Brown/Broun. Other times, seemingly unrelated English surnames replaced Gaelic ones, for example, Mac na Ceardaich commonly became Sinclair for a lot of clansmen. Phonetic rendering was also implemented for the likes of such surnames as McKay and Davidson, which were both phonetic renderings of the Gaelic name MacDhabhaidh, which translates to son of David. Although the Anglican replacements became the official title for many, the remained as merely an ‘alias’ to many, who still referred to themselves in their Gaelic title when in safe company. Rob Roy MacGregor Scottish folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor was a noteworthy early documented user of alias names in Scotland. Following the the outlawing of the Gaelic language in 1603, many Scottish clans either adopted a moniker or alias. Rob Roy was often referred to as Robert Campbell, however his son, Duncan Macgregor, opted instead to become Duncan Drummond. The reason for this was that the Gaelic clans took refuge under the surnames of their next of kin, or otherwise, another clan altogether. Many MacGregors at the time had adopted the names Drummond, Buchanan, Campbell, and Graham. Conclusion Although research into aliases in Scottish genealogy continues today, historians are far off uncovering all the intricate connections between seemingly unrelated surnames. For that reason, it may be impossible for some to ever trace their Scottish ancestry past the battle of Culloden.
Shebeens – Scotland’s secret drinking dens
Shebeens are a phenomena that have lasted centuries. These illegal, secretive places were kept under wraps. Knowledge passed on by word of mouth, friend to friend. Yet where did these Shebeens come from? And are they still around today? By Andrew Cook It’s typical of humanity. We created alcohol, we set restrictions around drinking alcohol, then we kept drinking anyway, regardless of the laws put in place. Yet who better to personify humanity’s obsession with alcohol than the Scots? We’ve worked hard to give an international reputation as a nation of heavy drinkers. After all, we perfected whisky – why shouldn’t we perfect drinking it!? Which is probably part of the reason Shebeens were so common in Scotland! Shebeen Shebeen comes from the Irish Gaelic word ‘síbín’ which means ‘illicit whisky’, which probably didn’t help our obsession with them. After all, everything tastes better when it’s forbidden to us! This word has been used as far back as the 1700s, across both Ireland, Scotland, and even South Africa! In simplest terms, a Shebeen is comparable to an American ‘speakeasy’. They are privately set-up, illegal places for drinking. The attraction was immediate for numerous reasons. Home-brew alcohol was one reason for many. Home-brew alcohol is not only cheap in production, but with no need to add on tax – it’s even cheaper! Whereas pubs and ale houses had staff, tax, and purchases to cover, many drank at Shebeens because every copper went a little further to getting that warm glow in the stomach. The History of Shebeens on Scotland The Old Town in Glasgow had a rather notorious reputation for Shebeens. The North British Daily Mail published a report labelled ‘The Dark Side of Glasgow’ claiming that in the Old Town alone, there were over 200 brothels and 150 shebeens. Although it’s best to take anything from that publication with a pinch of salt. Accurate numbers were of course impossible. After all, these establishments were designed to be a secret, or at the very least the knowledge was kept within small drinking circles. But drinking at these shebeens didn’t necessarily mean good whisky and company. World War Two brought dark times to Scotland. Not just for the sacrifices made by Scotland’s sons during the war effort, but also for the lack of whisky throughout the land! This era brought a low point to all drinking premises in Scotland, but most of all to the shebeens which prided themselves on cheap alcohol – leading to years of drinking Australian wine! No, probably not a bold Shiraz, or vibrant Cabernet Sauvignon, but the worst of the worst. As was the custom, they mixed with various methylated spirits known as ‘Red Biddy’ or ‘Jake’. It’s a miracle we didn’t have a generation gone blind from drinking in these shebeens. Locations An impossible task to narrow down. Due to their highly discretionary nature, many shebeens will be unreported to this date. There are, however, a fair few that live in infamy. Eppie ‘lucky’ Thane was one such canny shebeen operator. Living around Glen Nochty in Aberdeenshire, she not only defied eviction by trickery and fast talking, but also set-up a thriving shebeen for the locals. Producing bread and cheese was not going to cut it as a business plan. So she began to sell own illicit whisky from Glen Nochty’s many illicit stills to go with the bread and cheese on offer. Which sounds like heaven after a hard day’s work. While serving the bread and cheese she would ask ‘a half gill, or a gill?’. Or in other words – ‘a dram, or a big dram?’. On the occasion that she was caught by those authorities investigating, she merely claimed that the whisky was a gift of hospitality! Customers only paid for the bread and cheese! In Glasgow, shebeens were reported to avoid being caught in other ways. Alcohol bottles were deliberately mis-labelled as containing vinegar, or lime juice. Probably best not to put on your fish supper though! Shebeens were a national phenomenon, yet one more notorious than others was situated on Orkney. Now known for its tranquility and scenery, back in the 1940’s it was the home of The Golden Slipper. A house of ill-repute on the outskirts of Stenness, it catered for youths and the numerous servicemen across the isles. The Golden Slipper was quite literally the front room of the house of Willie Farquhar, also known as ‘The Al Capone of Orkney’ ‘By all accounts, it was dark and filthy, with an old bus-seat in place of a sofa. But, like any place where people gather on the islands, it was absolutely alive with music’ Dark and filthy maybe, but it filled its patrons’ desires, and stayed open for twenty years. Serving illicit whisky in teacups, it was only shut down in the 1960s. Orkney’s illegal party days were over. Shebeens Today It is the catch, that truly successful shebeens will rarely be well-known. After all, fame isn’t necessarily a good idea for an illicit business. However there are certainly shebeens that have been discovered to this day. During this era of Covid, shebeens have popped up in Counties Kerry and Monaghan in Ireland. While pubs have been shut down, opening times restricted, and distance laws applied, some have rebelled at these rules. In protest at these laws, shebeens have popped up and promptly been raided by the Guardaí. Some of these were equipped with hundreds of pints of beers in kegs, and dozens of bottles of spirits ready to serve – one even had a pool table available for patrons! For those who prefer a legal imitation of shebeens, one company is making their money by providing replica shebeens for events. By using custom-made, pop-up shebeens, they allow weddings and parties to create the atmosphere of a shebeen while they drink and celebrate whatever they choose. They also don’t have to fear the police knocking down their doors! Perhaps shebeens are still around today. Maybe you even frequent one. But for the vast majority of us, they are a thing of the past. A small fragment of our underground history. The legacy of generations of rebellious alcoholism. They definitely sounded like a lot of fun though.
The Scottish Vodka Boom Coming to a Bar Near You
Scotland may be best known for whisky, gin and Irn Bru. But there is a new drink in town – Scottish vodka. Its popularity is rising and there is a surprising variety of flavours and brands to try. By James McKean With the craft beer market long since saturated, and the craft gin scene gradually abating, distilleries the world over have been experimenting with alternative spirits in order to get ahead of the curve: to secure a stake in the next phase of the craft alcohol movement. The rest of the world has turned to whisky, rum, and mezcal; while Scotland’s distilleries, on the other hand, have focused their energies on a spirit that has never, unlike gin, experienced a lull in its popularity; a spirit that remains, in big brand form, as ubiquitous as ever: vodka. An unusual direction to take when considering that over £204 million worth of vodka is sold annually in Scottish pubs. It’s a wonder that anyone could even consider re-selling the mainstay of every bar speed rail, and yet, the last few years has seen a serious uptake in distilleries throughout Scotland opening with the purpose of producing vodka, and other, already established companies in the drinks game, such as the world famous Brewdog, trying their hand at making the traditionally potato-based spirit. So, what has been the impetus for this unforeseen fascination, what ingredients are the distillers experimenting with, and to which global markets are these brands selling to? Why has the artisan Scottish vodka business grown so much in recent years? Forgoing Scotland’s already established national drink, whiskey, craft distillers have turned their attention to vodka – a drink more commonly associated with, and championed by, such nations as Russia, Poland, and Sweden. Even in 2019, the three top vodka brands sold in Scotland were Smirnoff, Absolute, and Glen’s. So, what has given Scotland the Dutch courage to challenge such a well-defined market? Following on from other U.K-wide craft alcohol scenes, namely, the recent craft gin boom, which made £612m in export in 2018, many distilleries and breweries have been since looking for new, unique ways to profit off the craft alcohol movement. One trend that is noticeable in the typically capricious craft market is that quirky, out-there products tend to work, and sell, best – whether that be unusual craft beer flavours, or unexpected botanicals used in gins. It is within this line of thinking that the emerging Scottish craft vodka distilleries – including the likes of Ogilvy Vodka and Arbikie – are thinking, with vodka being a particularly unusual and quirky choice to fit within the ‘craft alcohol’ bracket. The more unique, the better – and with the market being bereft of any major ‘craft’ vodkas, the desire to fill that gap is obviously strong amongst craft distillers. Although the craft movement is happening the world over, Scotland has contributed greatly towards the development thereof – Brewdog, for example, now operate nearly 80 bars worldwide – which puts the nation in a good position for developing the scene further – now, with vodka. What ingredients are they using? The ethos of many of the new-age vodka distilleries in Scotland is to re-establish in the public’s eye what makes a vodka; vodka, taken for granted by many, is often disregarded as lacking in variety, flavour, substance, and is oftentimes drowned heavily with mixer, taken as a shot, or considered to be merely the alcoholic element of a cocktail – but never enjoyed simply for taste. The key players in the Scottish craft vodka scene have been looking to, of course, put taste first, but also experiment with a variety of different ingredients during the fermentation process, in order to give the spirit a new flavoursome edge. The Arbikie Highland Estate Distillery opened in 2013 and, prior to experimenting with vodka, found a name for themselves with their popular craft gin, Kirsty’s Gin. They started off with a traditional potato-based vodka, but later introduced their unique Haar Wheat Vodka in late 2017. Made from Zulu wheat- grown and harvested onsite – this vodka is described as being smooth with pastry and caramel notes. The Strathleven Distillers, on the other hand, have given a distinctly Scottish characteristic to their product, the Valt Single Malt Vodka. Like single malt whiskeys, this vodka is distilled exclusively using single malt barley, giving the spirit a richness, and making it totally unique from all other vodkas in the world! Ogilvy’s Scottish Potato Vodka have put a unique spin on the traditional vodka recipe, by using only wonky potatoes that have been rejected by supermarkets. Whether or not this potato selection adds any additional flavour to the vodka, it certainly helps with food waste surplus. Nonetheless, this vodka is described as having earthy, fruity, and creamy notes. Brewdog’s Lone Wolf Vodka focuses less on ingredients and more on the distilling process itself, filtering the spirit only once, and by purportedly using the biggest still in the whole of Europe! The end product is described as being sweet and spicy, and is served with ice. To which markets are they selling? Given how easily the rest of the world caught on to Scotland’s craft beer and gin produce, it won’t be long before many of the country’s craft vodka offerings are available further afield- and some already are! In the summer of 2020, Arbikie signed a deal with a Canadian drinks company, allowing for the Scottish firm’s vodka to be sold in Canadian supermarkets! This deal is indicative that the Scottish craft vodka scene is moving in the right direction, and, like the success of the country’s craft beer, will hopefully continue to grow notoriety on a global scale.
The end of Runrig in Scotland – a sad loss?
The Runrig farming system was once common system of land tenure across Scotland, especially in the Highlands. It was a fair system that sustained large populations in an adverse climate. So why did it end? By James McKean Runrig, sometimes referred to as rig-a-rendal, was a form of rotational land tenure that once dominated farmlands in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, from the late-medieval period to the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries. Its rotational aspect allowed for each member of minor settlements and townships to get a shot at the best land available, instead of one farmer having continual use of the best, or most fruitful soil, while another was forced to work upon unfertile land. Prior to the Highland Clearances, the Scottish farms were split up into small, 100-acre lands, which were divided up between the tenants, or the population of the small township that relied on the farm’s produce. Runrig was a fair system suited to the people of the Highlands, and certainly worked for a long time – so why did it stop, and what consequences did its gradual decline and replacement have on the farmers of Scotland? What was the runrig system? The exact origins of the runrig system are unknown, with evidence of its usage dating back to as early as the 14th century. Although generally considered a successful way to share the land, what defined a runrig system differed greatly from farm to farm, mainly apropos to the dividing of the workload, and the methods of ploughing implemented. Essentially, a standard runrig system involved two elements: the ‘rigs’ which were fertile strips of land -on average, about 20 feet wide – and the ‘runs’ which were strips of unfertile land – the assignment of ‘rigs’ and ‘runs’ alternated every year, so that all fertile strips had lain fallow for a season prior to being used. The farm tenants – who, at this time, consisted of roughly 6-8 farmers – were each allocated their own strips of fertile land each season. The strips they were allocated were were often scattered throughout the field at the benefit of the farmer, so to avoid contiguous strips, and so that each farmer got a mix of both sun-heavy strips and areas that were mostly shadowed. The strips allocated would also be reassigned each year, so that each farmer had a season with the best land, and each farmer had a season with the worst land. Some farms stuck by the strict principle of giving everyone an equal share, others did not. A rental report from Roxburghshire, dated 1701, conveys the disparities in land division: ‘William Robison pays for a Quarter & halfe a Quarter Robert Brewhouse pays for a Quarter John Turner for halfe a Quarter James Waddell pays for a Quarter’ Which suggests that although the runrig system looks good one paper, some farmers were cheated out of land. The Scottish Agricultural Revolution The union of Scotland and England in 1707 spelled the begging of the end of runrig-based farming in Scotland, as an earnest effort was made to modernise agriculture in both the lowlands and the highlands. In the previous centuries, the country had been bereft of appropriate roads for the transportation of goods through the country, so typical diet was limited to whatever could be grown on the farm – thus, during this time, runrig-based farming systems made complete sense. However, at the advent of the building of roads, and the introduction of new farming methods and techniques, such as crop rotation, sowing, and drilling, and new grains being introduced such as clover and rye grass, runrig-styled farming faced a stark decline in the lowlands, in what became known as the ‘Scottish Agricultural Revolution’. Small, former runrig farms were joined to form bigger enclosures in order to conduct large scale farming; notably, the Borders became notable for sheep farming, the Lothians for grain, and Ayrshire for cattle breeding. The Highland Clearances The effect of the so called ‘Agricultural Revolution’ extended to the Highlands in the latter period of the 18th century, as the Dukes of Sutherland, Buccleuch, Argyll, and Atholl looked to profit off the rich farmlands of the north. The tenants of the runrig farms were evicted and their lands were turned into enclosures, mainly for the farming of sheep. The Highland Clearances reached Skye in 1811, and North Uist in 1814. By the 1840s, Scotland was, besides some areas in the Outer Hebrides, totally bereft of runrig farms – the system that had, for centuries, defined the Highlander’s way of life. What societal changes did that bring? The Highland Clearances proved to cause long-term trauma for the Gaelic communities who were essentially uprooted from their ancestral homes, where they too had intended to live out their lives. Having only known how to farm – and even then, only runrig-based farming – the victims of the Highland Clearances were totally displaced, with no real chance of finding work in the post-Agricultural Revolution Scotland. New Highland townships and settlements were formed in the face of the uptake in homelessness in the area, including Ullapool, Dufftown, and Grantown-on-Spey. Some emigrated to the cities in the hope of finding new industrial work, while others emigrated abroad; 1792 became known as ‘the Year of the Sheep’, when many Gaelic-speaking communities’ mass-migrated to New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and America. Many migrants never had any say in the matter, as forced emigration became normalised, and was, in the eyes of the social class, the only way to solve the growing social ills that had been caused by the Highland Clearances. It is estimated that 10,000 were forced to emigrate to Canada, while 5000 were sent to Australia.