This year is already shaping up to be a big one for Innis & Gunn. Having launched their Beer Bond back in May with a view to raising £3m to fund the construction of a new brewery – a figure they were very close to, as of a month ago – they have also now added another branch to their tree in the form of their first bar – the Innis & Gunn Beer Kitchen, right bang in the middle of Lothian Road, Edinburgh. It’s a sign of two things – firstly, the continued development of that particular street (the Kitchen occupies a former pole-dancing bar) – and secondly, that I&G are becoming ever more confident in moving away from the behemoth-sized shadow thrown by the Wellpark in Glasgow, and more directly towards their customers.
And this is great, it really is. The one consistency that Innis & Gunn have had over the years is a loyal customer fanbase. I can’t count myself amongst them (in terms of the beer), but there are so many people who appreciate their output, it’s a major surprise why it’s taken them this long to venture into their own premises. But then, this is I&G we’re talking about, I guess. From their Edinburgh office, tucked away in a New Town crescent, to their corner of the Tennent’s facility in Glasgow – until now it’s as if they have been satisfied with the arm’s length approach of sales, export and PR to get their message across. First the brewery, and now the Beer Kitchen; 2015 is the year I&G have put boots on the ground.
The Innis & Gunn Beer Kitchen is going to be huge – I’ve absolutely no doubt about that. I mean, it looks great, has lots of neat touches and cool seating areas – but its success will undoubtedly be down to what it represents, as well as where it is. Firstly, the latter – the location is perfect for the flights of after-workers from the financial centres across the road, who now have an alternative to the West End or George Street. It also adds another point of difference to Lothian Road, as the Hanging Bat did when it opened a couple of years ago (albeit, you would imagine, for a slightly different clientèle).
I think the real story here, though, is the fact that the Beer Kitchen is now a focal point for Brand I&G, much the same way as similar bars are for other breweries who have launched premises away from their brewery taps. And it makes perfect sense – I&G are a high-street name, so having a beer and food-based bar with their neat branding on it is a natural progression. I’ve never been to an Innis & Gunn event that is anything other than packed, so they clearly have the potential to fill their new bar on a regular basis.
So what is it like, then? Well – it’s laid out very intuitively, with an open-fronted area at the doors complete with London-style streetside drinking shelves. Interesting fold up and padded seats abound, that will likely lead short and interesting lives. There’s an odd little espresso bar thing on the left, before the bar opens up into booths and comfy seats, with areas to eat and – a rarity for Edinburgh – a stand-up perching table with room for people to get past or queue for the bar and not elbow you at the same time. At the back, casks yet to be racked are kept in full view.
In terms of the beer, the full home range is on, including an unfiltered lager (which I asked for twice, and twice was given a beer as clear as a bell, so it might not be connected yet). They have a hugely impressive range of guest bottles and cans, and on draught guests from Drygate (of course!) plus Lagunitas IPA, Camden Pale and Pilot Mochaccino Stout. Wine is served in frozen glasses, which is odd – the staff are eager and extremely helpful, as you’d expect. The Innis & Gunn Beer Kitchen is a confident, on-message place – and as such, the perfect vehicle as they continue to branch out.