Founding Fathers

October 12, 2015

Scottish Brewing Heritage


Founding fathers

Allan McLean

These labels are part of the collection I retained when I handed over most of those I had to the Scottish Brewing Archive some years ago.

I have been reminded to look them out by the continuing beer history exhibition at Edinburgh’s Central Library, where something of the untold story of Scotland’s brewing heritage is revealed until 29th October.

(Open daily except Sundays from 10am at the Central Library on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, directly opposite the National Library of Scotland. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.)

The exhibition starts to the right not far inside the Central Library front entrance.

In the main display cabinet, upstairs on the big landing outside the board room, information included covers some of the facts surrounding three leading lights of Scottish brewing. Their companies feature among Scottish brewing industry records at the University of Glasgow Archive Services.

William Younger left home at West Linton at the age of 16 in 1749 when he went to the port of Leith. The family name was to be linked prominently with commercial brewing for a long time to come. Two breweries bearing the William Younger name became well established at Holyrood at the foot of the Canongate in the 19th century. Not far off, the William Younger name also appeared at the Moray Park Maltings (later confused in some minds with one of the breweries).

The other great William was William McEwan who was born in the famed brewing town of Alloa in 1827. He moved to learn the brewing trade in Edinburgh at the Heriot Brewery of his uncle John Jeffrey in the Grassmarket in 1851.

Then in 1856, William McEwan started his far-famed brewery at Fountainbridge on Edinburgh’s west side. For years he was a Liberal MP in an era when most Liberal MPs tended to favour temperance.

Our third beer name is Hugh Tennent. Born in 1863, he took over the established family brewing company of J & R Tennent at Wellpark Brewery on the east side of Glasgow as a young man.

Inspired by a German example, he introduced lager brewing at Wellpark in 1885. Then he established a purpose-built lager brewery in 1889, sadly dying as the last family member to head the business.

The William Younger company had previously trialled lager brewing in Edinburgh but decided to stick with ale.

In 1931, the William Younger and William McEwan businesses on opposite sides of Edinburgh formed Scottish Brewers. Then they linked with Newcastle Breweries in 1960 with the creation of Scottish & Newcastle Breweries, S&N.

The McEwan name is still around in the brewing scene.

After 1889, Tennent’s Lager went on to become the established Scottish brand it remains today.

Allan McLean is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers.