Whisky Magazine Issue 3
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inspired in the two Gravediggers, Michael Jackson seeks a provocative pint and a combative ball of malt
The most famously well-kept Scottish ale was for decades the McEwan's 80/- in an Edinburgh pub officially called The Athletic Arms but universally known (because it was between two cemeteries) as ‘The Gravediggers'. Oddly, the publican who kept such a good cellar did not himself drink alcohol.
The place was a shrine to one of Edinburgh's principal soccer teams, Hearts of Midlothian. I always felt vulnerable in The Gravediggers because Hearts is a Protestant team. ‘A you a Proddy or a Catholic?' someone would provocatively demand after a few pints, implying that perhaps I supported Hearts' deadly rivals, Hibernian.
‘I am a Jew,' I would reply, exaggerating slightly. Dissatisfied, he would press the point: ‘A Proddy Jew or a Catholic Jew?'
Had I not acknowledged this particular Gravediggers, some Edinburgher would have tried to start a fight over my quoting another pub of the same nickname, in Dublin.
That Gravediggers, next to Glasnevin Cemetery, is really called Kavanagh's. The publican, Eugene Kavanagh, is another teetotaller. ‘Drink doesn't agree with my family,' he explains. Yet he, too, is famous for serving the best pint in his town. If he does not taste even a drop, how can he tell when it is right? ‘I can see when it isn't,' he explains.
The Guinness at Kavanagh's has a head like clotted cream, and a peaty, sappy, almost woody, acidity. It beats the beer at Mulligan's, famous for well-served Guinness, and at favourites of mine like Doheny and Nesbitt'...