Younger’s No. 3

History by the Glass by | Feb 2014 | Issue #85

One of the most poignant experiences when flicking through dusty brewing records is recognizing a beer. There’s a tug on the heart when I spot a beer I once drank. Younger’s No. 3 tugged especially hard, because it’s a beer I not only drank, but also brewed. (Or at least a clone of it.)

William Younger’s was an odd brewery. In the 19th century, the Edinburgh brewery usually had four or five beers with a gravity over 1100º in their range. Before the 1860s, these were Shilling Ales, strong Mild Ales. 100/-, 120/-, 140/- and sometimes 160/-. But then in the 1860s, they introduced a range of numbered Strong Ales: 1, 2, 3 and 4. They look very much like the numbered Burton Ales of Bass and may have been inspired by them.

The initial set had gravities of 1068º, 1077º, 1088º and 1099º for numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 respectively. No. 4 didn’t last long, and No. 2 was a victim of World War I, but No. 1 and No. 3 soldiered on well past the middle of the 20th century. No. 3 is actually still with us, though there have been periods when it was discontinued (for example, the mid-1970s). Which is why my brother and I brewed a clone of it in 1974: It was the only way we could get to drink it.

Younger brought the beer back in the late 1970s, and it’s been in production most of the time since then, though it’s moved around breweries a few times. Younger’s Abbey brewery, where it was first brewed, is now the site of the Scottish Parliament.

Like all beers that have been brewed for a long period, No. 3 has undergone many changes. And not just to its gravity, though after World War II, that did fall to 1043º. The 19th-century version was a pale beer, made from 100 percent pale malt and quite heavily hopped. When I plugged the 1879 recipe into, it came out over 100 IBU. Don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you that historically Scottish beers used minimal amounts of hops. It’s just not true.

You can see from the illustration that Younger couldn’t decide what to call No. 3. It’s described as both a Strong Ale and a Scotch Ale on the label. In the 20th century, No. 3 became darker and sweeter, resembling a Strong Dark Mild Ale:

“The visitor to Scotland will need to know that mild and bitter are not locally used terms. Heavy beer is the equivalent to best bitter; there is very little mild sold outside England. Heavy is also IPA, and below this strength are No.3 Scotch Ale, XX and X. No.3 is a sweet, full-flavoured beer, stronger than most English best milds, and is available on draught and in bottle in London and elsewhere in England.”
The Book of Beer by Andrew Campbell, 1956, page 207.

In Younger’s London pubs in the 1950s, No. 3 took the slot occupied by Burton in local brewers’ boozers. In many ways, it was quite close to a London-brewed Burton, though with a lower level of hopping. When Scottish & Newcastle disappeared in a puff of smoke and all their breweries were closed, No. 3 was left homeless. Since then, Wells & Young have picked up most of the old S & N brands, including No. 3. They even brew it in Scotland at one of the country’s handful of old-established breweries, Caledonian in Edinburgh.

You have to admire No. 3’s tenacity. It’s a beer that’s refused to die, no matter what history has thrown at it. If you’re ever in Scotland, you should give it a try.