Wee Scottish Indulgence

By Vivienne Corgoova
‘The Last Word’ – a model pub from the Wee Museum’s Collection, made and donated by a volunteer.

They are seen on every street and every corner, a prerequisite of even the smallest Scottish village and an integral part of all Scottish tourist guides. Their popularity persevered even in the modern era connecting modern society with communities in the past. Bars, pubs, inns, ale houses, and taverns. They were all used as the main sites for socialising for centuries and continue to be regarded as places of social connections even today. Scottish pubs have been an intrinsic part of Scottish history since the 1700s. After the Union of Scotland and England in 1707, major political and social changes took place forcing the general Scottish public to engage in political discussions and form protesting groups. Pubs and ale houses at the time were considered public spaces where labourers, merchants, craftsmen, and others could meet and discuss their discontent with the current politics without being noticed by the authorities. No wonder that even Robert Burns, a prominent Scottish poet during the Jacobite Uprisings, wittily refers to such meetings in his poem “The Author’s Earnest Cry and Prayer”: “Freedom and whisky gang thegither” (Burns, stanza 32). Since then, it was often the Presbyterian ministers and clergy criticizing the Scottish public for their drunkenness and rising level of crime. This notion together with constant rioting was one of the reasons why the Scots were regarded as “the swine and rabble of England and Scotland” (Husks for Swine, 1974).

The bar at ‘The Last Word’.

A wee bit of a Gin Craze

Anyone who enjoys a good pub crawl would soon notice the extensive selection of gins in every good bar or pub ranging from London and its notorious London Dry Gin to Scottish numerous craft gins. This notion can be once again traced all the way back to the 18th century´s “Gin Craze” when the consumption of gin skyrocketed among the British public. Gin was particularly popular in working-class environments as it was seen as the cheaper alternative to French brandy. First crates of gin were being imported from the Netherlands meaning that the Port of Leith played a crucial part in distributing gin among Edinburgh citizens. Soon enough, the market opened up to gin distillation after Queen Anne herself approved of the botanical drink which led her to reduce taxes for the distilleries and even allow them to run the business without any license needed. However, the heavenly indulgence did not last for long and in the mid-18th century, the authorities realized that crime had significantly increased after the introduction of gin to the market. By 1743, England was known for drinking almost 10 litres of gin per person per year. Naturally, the taxation on gin was increased in the Gin Act of 1751 as a response to that. Despite the decrease in consumption after the Act was issued, gin remained a popular drink and the established distilleries were getting more recognition.

Bottles, beer mats, souvenir booklets and more make up the Wee Museum’s collection of alcohol-related objects

Gordon’s London Dry Gin was introduced to the market in 1769 by Alexander Gordon who was of Scottish descent. The Wee Museum’s collection holds a miniature book ‘Gordon´s Recipes for Cocktails and Other Mixed Drinks’ which on the very first page highlights that “the name Gordon guarantees purity and quality.” The book contains recipes for the old gin classics. Negronis, dry Martinis or Clover Club. The cocktail more unknown to modern bar-goers would be “Gin Daisy”, which can be made as follows:

Half fill tumbler with chipped ice and add

1 glass Gordon´s Dry Gin

6 dashes of Grenadine

Juice of ½ a Lemon

½ Tablespoonful of Powdered Sugar

Stir well until the glass is frosted, fill with Soda Water adding 2 or 3 sprigs of Mint, and decorate with slices of fruit in season.

All of our alcohol-related objects are handled frequently, but of course the bottles are empty!

Make a wee space for women

Moralising over the consumption of alcohol naturally could not go without a dash of double standards that would demonize women who participated in the “pub culture”. During the First World War, female pub-going significantly increased as a result of growing anxieties surrounding the war continuing in the interwar period too. The public treated female drunkenness as a failure of morality and a total end of femininity and proper womanhood. The reason was simple, the demon drink could only lead to sexual immorality or to the abandonment of maternal responsibilities. The stigma over women in drinking spaces changed after the Second World War when women were widely employed in hospitality, service-based industries, and warehouses. By the mid-1990s in Scotland, there would even be a higher percentage of women in such workplaces than men. A picture from our photo archive depicting the bottling line at Invergordon Whisky Bond in 1990 shows that women made up the majority of such workplaces relating to alcohol. 

A photograph from our archive, showing women working at Invergordon Whisky Bond in 1990.

Burns, Robert. “The Author’s Earnest Cry and Prayer.” 1786

Husks for Swine. Dedicated to the Swine of England, the Rabble of Scotland, and the Wretches of Ireland. 1794. Edinburgh: Edinburgh.

Yeomans, Henry. Alcohol and Moral Regulation: Public Attitudes, Spirited Measures and Victorian Hangovers. Bristol ; Policy Press, 2014.

Cooke, Anthony. A History of Drinking: The Scottish Pub since 1700. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2022.

The History of Gin in Edinburgh: From Old Town to New, 2023 https://secretgardendistillery.co.uk/blogs/secret-garden-blog/the-history-of-gin-in-edinburgh-from-old-town-to-new