An ode to the Hauf an' Hauf: some combinations are classics for a reason

The name may be uniquely Scottish but the experience is not, writes Cara Devine.

If you hear ‘Hauf an’ Hauf’ and think of a wolf blowing your house down, think again. It’s a drink order which gets a nod of recognition across Scotland but nowhere else. So what does it mean?

Well, a half and a half of course. A half measure of whisky, and a half measure of beer. A gill is a historical measurement, used often in Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders’ Guide — you may have heard of it — which sits at around 120ml or 4oz in modern measurements. The usual spirits pour in Scotland (before the Weights and Measures Act of 1824) was a quarter gill, and the usual quantity for a small beer is, even still, a half pint. These small measures are to be ruminated on, side by side.

A half pint and a whisky, thanks. Photo: Boothby
A half pint and a whisky, thanks. Photo: Boothby

Ah, you say. A Boilermaker? Where you match flavour profiles across the beer and the whisky to increase your enjoyment of each? An Islay whisky and a stout, perhaps, or a sherry bomb and a NEIPA? Well, actually, no. As much as I enjoy the modern Boilermaker, the Hauf an’ Hauf is a different thing. As people involved in the drinks industry, we love to challenge our palates. The most hops, the highest ABV, the ‘funkiest’. That’s not what the Hauf an’ Hauf is about — just ask my Grandpa and his peers.

It is to be sat on for a few hours. It’s shaking out a newspaper, giving a nod to Wullie as he comes in and takes his seat, and it’s asking the bartender to pop on the radio because you have a punt on the three o’clock races. It’s companionable silence and understated community. It’s mellow, and easy, and we need more like it these days.

It’s a half pint of commercial lager (Tennents is preferable) alongside a standard UK shot of blended whisky — White Label, Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark, it doesn’t matter too much (but if you insisted, Grandpa was a Chivas man). If you get a round in, you don’t have to ask what anyone is having. No-one wants a double hazy IPA or single barrel cask strength whisky. When my Grandpa died, he had an untouched cupboard full of single malts — it’s what people got him as a nice present, but it’s not what he drank. After his funeral we went straight across the road to The Hagg Bar and the bartender poured out hauf an’ haufs all round, no questions asked.

As drinks industry professionals, I think we have to remember that not everybody wants to be challenged every time they lift a glass to their lips, and that’s OK. Especially in these turbulent times, it’s nice to relax into some unchallenging but undoubtedly delicious flavours. The name may be uniquely Scottish but the experience is not.

Holidaying in Queensland recently, I only wanted to drink XXXX Gold and OTT tropical cocktails (preferably from a swim up bar), damn your refinement to hell. My favourite dining experience in Thailand was longneck Tigers and boat noodles at the side of a 7/11; in Spain it was €1 white wine and baked fish on the beach.

Drinks should challenge boundaries and excite the senses, but they can be comforting and safe too. Some combinations are classics for a reason. So, the second I can get back home to Scotland — I’ll have a Hauf an’ Hauf, hen.

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