6.2 Drink

In this section, you will become familiar with all kinds of traditional Scottish drinks, from water to whisky. From learning new words and studying some quotations about drinking, you will be able to form an opinion on the attitude of the Scots towards various beverages.

The water of life

In 2017, ‘Whisky accounted for over 20% of all UK food and drink exports. There was further growth in exports of Single Malt Scotch Whisky, growing by 14.2% in 2017 to £1.17bn’ (Scotch Whisky Association, 2018).

Single malt whisky, mostly made in the Highlands, has to be made at one distillery, from malted barley, and matured for at least three years in traditional casks. ‘Malted’ means the barley is steeped in water then spread out until it germinates, after which the barley is dried out in a kiln.

In the western islands, the kilns are fired with peat. This along with the peaty water gives island malts a peaty, smoky flavour. Malt whiskies from Speyside are not smoky. Ordinary whisky is sometimes called grain whisky as it is made from a mixture of barley and other cereals, like wheat or maize.

Whisky has always played an important role in Scottish life and culture; a dram (an informal name for a small amount of an alcoholic drink, especially whisky) will be taken to calm a troubled spirit, seal a bargain, make a toast, cure a cold, steady the nerves, or celebrate special events. For this reason, it is hugely celebrated in Scottish literature and song.

Again, the national bard, Robert Burns, produced poetry that even finds Biblical justification for alcohol. For example, he began his poem Scotch Drink [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] with a poetic rendering of Proverbs Ch 31, verses 6 and 7 from the Bible:

Verse 6: Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish; and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.

Verse 7: Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

(Solomon's Proverbs, xxxi. 6, 7.)

This is Burns’ adaptation in his 1785 poem:

   
Gie him strong drink until he wink, That's sinking in despair; An' liquor guid to fire his bluid, That's prest wi' grief an' care: There let him bouse, and deep carouse, Wi' bumpers flowing o'er, Till he forgets his loves or debts, An' minds his griefs no more.
(Robert Burns Country)

Activity 7

In this activity you will be working with Burn’s poem ‘Scotch Drink’ in some more detail and practise speaking Scots again.

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Part 2

Now listen to the first verse of 'Scotch Drink' and record yourself reading it out loud. Then compare your own version with our model.

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Transcript

Listen

Gie him strong drink until he wink,

That's sinking in despair;

An' liquor guid to fire his bluid,

That's prest wi' grief an' care:

There let him bouse, and deep carouse,

Wi' bumpers flowing o'er,

Till he forgets his loves or debts,

An' minds his griefs no more.

Model

Gie him strong drink until he wink,

That's sinking in despair;

An' liquor guid to fire his bluid,

That's prest wi' grief an' care:

There let him bouse, and deep carouse,

Wi' bumpers flowing o'er,

Till he forgets his loves or debts,

An' minds his griefs no more.

End transcript
 
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Uisge-beatha is the Gaelic word from which the word whisky is derived, usquabae the Scots equivalent of the Gaelic. It means literally ‘water of life’. Here is an extract from Tam o’ Shanter (1790), another famous Robert Burns poem where drinking alcohol features strongly. It personifies barley as ‘John Barleycorn’ and extolls its ability (when made into beer or whisky) to give you courage. Here an extract outlining how whisky changes people’s perception of reality.

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi' tippeny, we fear nae evil;
Wi' usquabae, we'll face the devil!

Please note: tippeny is a thin beer

Single malt whisky, mostly made in the Highlands, has to be made at one distillery, from malted barley, and matured for at least three years in traditional casks. ‘Malted’ means the barley is steeped in water then spread out until it germinates, after which the barley is dried out in a kiln.

In the western islands, the kilns are fired with peat. This along with the peaty water gives island malts a peaty, smoky flavour. Malt whiskies from Speyside are not smoky. Ordinary whisky is sometimes called grain whisky as it is made from a mixture of barley and other cereals, like wheat or maize.

Activity 8

In this activity you will practise speaking Scots once more and also compare the attitude towards drinking alcohol expressed in Burns’ ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ with that articulated in a traditional Scottish toast.

Part 1

Listen to the first four lines of verse 13 of the poem and record yourself reading it out loud. Then compare your own version with our model.

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Transcript

Listen

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!

What dangers thou canst make us scorn!

Wi' tippeny, we fear nae evil;

Wi' usquabae, we'll face the devil!

Model

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!

What dangers thou canst make us scorn!

Wi' tippeny, we fear nae evil;

Wi' usquabae, we'll face the devil!

End transcript
 
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Part 2

Here you see a traditional humorous Scottish toast that touches upon the health risks that come with drinking too much alcohol.

You might want to memorise and practise speaking this toast in Scots.

Here’s tae us! Wha’s like us?
Damn few an they’re aw deid!

English Translation:

Here’s to us! Who is like us?
Damn few and they are all dead!

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Transcript

Listen

Here’s tae us! Wha’s like us?

Damn few an they’re aw deid!

Model

Here’s tae us! Wha’s like us?

Damn few an they’re aw deid!

End transcript
 
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Do you think the attitudes towards drinking alcohol expressed in the two examples here are the same as or different from those voiced in ‘Scotch Drink’? Why?

A hauf an a hauf

You may hear someone asking for this in the pub. It literally means a half and a half. A hauf o whisky means a half gill and a wee hauf a quarter gill; the other hauf refers to a half pint of beer as a chaser. And do note - no Scot would ever ask for a ‘Scotch’!

This folk song, often played when people part company, mentions many haufs! This is the second verse of We're No' Awa' Tae Bide Awa’.

So we had a hauf an' anither hauf,
   And then we had anither,
When he got fou' he shouted “Hoo!
   It's Carnwath Mill for ever."

To listen to this song being performed, access this recording here.

Activity 9

And finally, you will find out about some Scots words used to describe that someone is drunk. Overindulgence in alcohol can result in a person getting fou (fu) (drunk). Not surprisingly, there are many words and phrases which mean ‘drunk’ in Scots. Here are a few:

  • blootert
  • steamin
  • oot the game
  • fou as a puggie / fu as a coo / roarin fu

Two of these words are particularly interesting in terms of their origins.

Research the roots of the words steamin and fou and come up with a short summary of where these words originated.

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Answer

  • a.steamin – ‘noticable reduction in common sense and decision making capacity’; this word has an interesting origin... by the turn of the 20th century, many Glaswegians spent the Glasgow Fair weekend going doon the watter – going down the river Clyde from Glasgow. Many families who could not afford an overnight stay would buy a day trip to Rothesay or the Kyles of Bute. Therefore, the term steamin was used to describe people who had a little too much to drink on the paddle steamer.

    Please note: steamin can also be used to express the degree of being drunk, and for that purpose it is combined with other words for being drunk as this example illustrates: ‘his lordship gets them fou, steamin' fou’.

  • b.fou or fu – can have two meanings:
    • a.is derived from the French word for crazy ‘fou’, in Scots it means a person shows irrational, wild and outlandish behaviour because of having drunk too much alcohol
    • b.being full of alcohol

Please note: It is interesting to see that the Oxford Dictionary provides the translation as ‘crazy’ derived from French, whereas the Dictionary of the Scots Language states in the third meaning listed that fou means being ‘full of liquor, drunk, intoxicated’, stating as the origin of the word the English ‘full’.

Where the Oxford Dictionary explains that steamin is one adjective to use in connection with fou to highlight the degree of intoxication, the DSL lists the following adjectives for this purpose: bitch, blin, greetin, roarin, stottin, and tumbling.

6.1 Traditional foods

6.3 Scran, piece and jeelie piece