So, the Edinburgh Independents’ Beer Festival wound up yesterday in
star hangover-studded party at Holyrood 9A. The day before, I attempted to get round all eight pubs participating in the festival, taking photos on the way. Something of the homage to the excellent Walking and Crawling blog – which you really should follow, if you don’t already. So, first picture – the Water of Leith in Stockbridge, where all the trouble was last week during the floods. Thankfully, not as high as a few days ago.
From there, a short walk along St Bernard’s Row – surely one of the prettiest streets in Edinburgh – to pub 1 of the day, the Stockbridge Tap, which looked as inviting as ever. The man in front of me at the bar asked for a pint of Tennent’s, only to be told it was off as there was a beer festival on, but they had the imported lager Furstenburg and the domestic lager Black Isle Blonde. “Oh, Ok.” he replied “I’ll have a pint of cider then.”
Each boozer was showcasing one English brewery during the festival – and the Tap was featuring Somerset’s Moor Beer Company. The distribution team behind the event – Craft Centric – pride themselves on getting the rarities direct from the brewers, which is fantastic for the people turning up, but it makes it bloody hard to choose if you’re only having a single beer in each stop (as was, initially, the intention).
In the end, I plumped for JJJ, a 9% double IPA. I interviewed Moor’s Justin Hawke back in October as part of our High-Strength Beer Duty month. He told me that 90-95% of JJJ goes to Scandinavia (as they don’t pay duty on export) – making it incredibly rare to see here in the UK. But it’s lovely – sweet, sticky caramel and resinous.
Time to ping to the next pub – with only four hours to do all eight, that meant I had…half an hour (I think) to devote to each – including getting from A to B. En route to the second watering hole, the near-vertical ascent of Gloucester Street, complete with hand-rail and etched pavements (nearer the top) to prevent the well-heeled Stockbrigians coming a cropper in the icy weather.
At the top of the hill, after standing with hands on knees for a while, regretting bolting that 9% beer – it’s past the ornate splendour of Queen Street towards Charlotte Square. Most of these buildings are now used for solicitors’ offices or recruitment consultants. Nice day, incidentally – makes a change, up here.
So the next place on the list was the Cambridge Bar on Young Street, just round the corner from Charlotte Square. Long renowned for it’s burgers – and also for being the slightly more upmarket (dare I say) neighbour to Rebus’s Oxford Bar down the street. It used to always be heaving in here, although I hadn’t been in for a while. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, it was nicely busy inside.
The Cambridge were concentrating on Macclesfield’s RedWillow Brewery, and had their monstrous black IPA Soulless on both cask and keg, plus their chipotle-infused Smokeless. It was only last month that we stumbled along to the Caley Sample Room for the RedWillow takeover, so it was good to see their beers on offer in the city again.
It was also good to bump into the man inspiring this post, Adam from Walking and Crawling, who was just at the bar wondering what to get for himself. Perfect timing, so we caught up over a Kernel Pale Ale Amarillo and Tempest Pale Ale – plus a reviving packet of crisps (having drunk my fill of RedWillow at the Caley, hopefully Toby will understand). The Tempest was a cracker – soft, sweet kiwi and peach on the flavour. Anyway, with two beers there, it meant I’d fallen behind, so it was swiftly on to the next stop.
Here’s Adam fair striding into the next pub on the circuit, the Red Squirrel on Lothian Road. One of the BeerCast’s regular haunts, it’s always good to head away from the fumey busyness of the street outside into the bar. This time was no exception, as the Squirrel had pretty much one of everything, although they were featuring London-area breweries such as Lovibonds and Redchurch. Again, another tough choice.
Well, not really. Buxton Tsar on cask – a walloping 9.5% imperial stout, crying out to be tried. It’s one of the most-coveted beers in Britain, I think – certainly all the buzz on the blogs has really built it up (such as we have any real influence). Looking all innocent in the glass, it really is wonderful. If this came from the States we’d all be going nuts about it, and paying £15 a bottle. But it’s a domestic beer from Buxton, and it’s spellbinding (and hopefully not going up to £15 a bottle).
The next interval photo is the world-famous Grassmarket – a brisk stroll along Kings Stables Road from the Red Squirrel. From the 15th Century it was the site of the main horse and cattle market in the city – and, also, where they executed people. These days, the pubs do a roaring trade, and large groups of Spanish schoolkids loiter about, slouching on the old stone gibbet where they used to string people up hundreds of years ago.
Anyway, next on the route was one of the city’s best pubs – if not the best – the Bow Bar. Does it not look like exactly the type of pub you would want to go in? I challenge any beer fan to walk past without going in, it’s practically impossible. The Bow is a fixture, and it looks the business.
Inside, a somewhat blurry shot of the bar (Look! Return Trays!!). The festival operated a clever system of staggered timed launches of the rarer, stronger beers (such as the Buxton Tsar). That gave a great chance for people to wander around, following the announcements. At my arrival, Tempest’s World of Pain had just gone on – a 7% rye IPA. At the risk of sounding predictable, I loved this one too – it tasted like a toffee apple wrapped in candyfloss. Anyway, no time for dallying – so I bade farewell to Adam, and headed on (his blog post on the day is here, by the way.
Now, at this point, the plan was to head along the Cowgate to the Holyrood 9A – but as I had a dinner engagement at the Caley Sample Room (no, really) I was seriously running out of time. The end of festival party was due to be held on Sunday – at Holyrood 9A – so I would be going there anyway (and indeed I stayed there for most of Sunday afternoon, as it turned out). So, regrettably, I jumped on a bus and had to bypass the Holyrood. It’s tough to take photos on buses, by the way.
Sorry Holyrood 9A! Down the end of the road, but not forgotten!
Ah, the Southern. Penultimate stop on the whirlwind trip (I also had to miss out Cloisters Bar – another fantastic pub I’d been in the day before). The Southern is the newest of the eight watering holes on the circuit, but under the Fuller Thomson umbrella you know there’s going to be beerage and burgerage inside (burgerage being a word you need to type very carefully). So, after getting off the bus, I looked both ways, and went inside.
The Southern were highlighting the beers of Magic Rock – another cracking new(ish) producer from England beloved by the online beer community. With so many of their beers on offer – most of which, to be honest, I’d had before – I went for a brand new offering. Magic Rock Clown Juice is what they term an IWA (India Wit Ale) – a dry-hopped Belgian style witbier. It tastes like juice, it’s that drinkable. Also 7%, so I fair bounced out of the Southern to my final rendezvous.
A nice evening for a stroll across the Meadows. Spot that squirrel! I remember, back in the day, the old Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (since converted to housing) had no helicopter pad, so they used to use the Meadows. A police car would come screaming along and clear a large open section of lads playing football, and then thirty seconds later a Sea King rescue helicopter would land and churn someone out to be taken away for treatment. The footballers would then put back their goalposts and carry on.
It’s quite a clip from the Southern to the Caley Sample Room, and you need to pass over the Union canal en route. It runs about 30 miles from Edinburgh to Falkirk, and then onwards to Glasgow. Just at the far end of the picture is the terminus at Lochrin Basin, where there’s a longboat that moors up and sells hot breakfasts to commuters walking and cycling along the towpath. We call it the ‘bacon barge’, although we’ve never tried it out.
Ah, the final beer. This one – in a rather neat piece of entirely unplanned symmetry – is also a Moor Beer Co offering, and another spectacularly rare one. Grockle Grog is apparently a barrel-aged version of their Old Freddy Walker, and rocks up at 8%. Woody and chocolatey, it was fantastically smooth and mellow. I think they only brew this on request, so massive kudos to Craft Centric for getting hold of some.
In fact, massive kudos to them all round. Over the course of the weekend I spoke with many people – bloggers, real people, landlords, brewers. All agreed it was a great advertisement for British brewing and for our local pubs. Standard ‘church-hall’ beer festivals are great, but this type of event gets people drinking in the pubs, supporting them in these tricky financial times. So aside from the great beer on offer, that has to be something worth celebrating, surely?