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The Rising Burgh: 1560 to 1770s

Everyday Life


By Rudolph Kenna

In 1574 Glasgow's magistrates fixed the maximum price of strong ale - "King's Ale" - at 6d per Scots pint. North of the Border, the "pint" was the equivalent of an English quart, while the "mutchkin" held an English pint. The pound Scots was one twelfth of a pound Sterling. As a quality control measure, twelve ale tasters were employed to go round the town sampling the brews. Tavern-keepers were permitted to sell their wares only in authorised containers such as mutchkins. When hopped "beer" was first sold in Glasgow at the end of the 16th century it cost 1s 8d a Scots pint. Ale (brewed without hops) was several pence cheaper.

In the 17th century, in addition to local brews, Glaswegians drank "mum bier" - spruce beer imported from Germany. They were also fond of French claret, aqua vitae (whisky) and a mixture of Spanish "sack" (sherry) and hot water. In 1660 strong drink was the undoing of Glasgow's "minstrels". Drummer Robert Spens lost his job for "drinking extraordinarlie", while piper Fergus McClaye was threatened with dismissal. In one of his fiery religious tracts, Zachary Boyd (1585-1653), minister of the Barony Kirk, warned his fellow citizens to "drink soberly".

In the early 18th century most citizens drank "small ale" - known as "tippeny" because it retailed at 2d Sterling a Scots pint - at every meal. By the 1750s better-off citizens had acquired a taste for London porter, a heavily-hopped dark beer. An expensive novelty, it was decanted into crystal jugs and served with cheese at supper parties. By the late 1770s porter was being brewed in Glasgow at the Anderston Brewery.

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