The History of Scottish Pub Culture

To visitors and those who move to Scotland, there is often one question that comes to mind after being in the country for a while. Why is it that the pub is so central to Scottish life? Has it always been that way? Is it simply because there is a higher than normal affection for a good lager or a great scotch? Or is there another reason?

This article attempts to answer that question, by looking at all the things that could contribute to the place of the pub as the epicenter of Scottish culture.


The pub has existed in one form or another in Scotland for literally millennia. The romans introduced their ‘drinking houses’ or tabernae, during the time of their occupation of the British Isles, and despite the fact they never quite made it as far as the northernmost reaches their influence remains. In addition, the frequent Viking raids and their raucous drinking culture were also imported to a degree to the highlands and lowlands of Scotland. As the centuries rolled on, there were many pubs founded in the middle ages and the following years as peasants looked for a place to gather and share news, and to quench their thirsts, and later, as the new working class of the industrial revolution looked for ways to spend their newly found wages. In almost every corner of Scotland, there is a pub which predates a lot of modern countries, and almost all wear this history as a badge of honor, drawing visitors attention to the historical fittings, the original paintings on the walls and the heritage of their beloved drinking houses.


It is a running joke among the Scots that it rains for 300 days of the year and is cloudy for the rest, and this is certainly a reason the pub is favored as a meeting place. While the Scots are a tough and hardy people, turning out in their thousands to cheer on their local football team in the depths of winters snow and sleet, the inclement weather creates a real need for local pubs to be central to gatherings and social occasions. It also feeds into the incredibly friendly and communal nature of the Scottish people to have a meeting place that draws together not only family, but friends, work colleagues and teammates alike, and the pub has served this function for generations.


The generally accepted wisdom is that to challenge a Scot to a drinking contest is to engage in a futile endeavor. However, despite this reputation, statistics show that the level of alcohol consumption in Scotland is not the highest in the world. But inextricably linked with the pub culture of Scotland is the rich and proud history of brewing that the nation has. Beer is localized in the extreme, often with each town having a favored lager or ale that is preferred in its pubs. There are literally thousands of breweries and microbreweries across this tiny nation. But the real national drink is undoubtedly scotch. Also known as scotch whisky, this amber liquid is a source of tradition and history that stretches back as far back as Scotland itself. There are even laws protecting what may be deemed as scotch, and there are thousands of examples of the drink to be sampled, with many being international brands, such as Johnnie Walker.

These factors all play a part in the history of the pub culture in Scotland, and combine to create a thriving pub scene that is unmatched throughout the world.