Category Archives: Edinburgh Beer

The BeerCast’s Edinburgh Festival Guide

Edinburgh likes to brand itself as ‘the festival city’ (although at the moment ‘the city of roadworks’ might be a better option) because of the internationally famous arts events that take place here during August. Theatre, film, comedy, music, art, television, video games all have their own specific festivals – and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors from the UK and beyond. As the home city of the BeerCast, we feel a responsibility to gently prod some of the thirstier individuals in the right direction when it comes to the one subject we can help with – decent beer.

Pubs on the High Street (what us locals call the top bit of the Royal Mile) always do well during August, mainly due to their proximity to the pedestrianised section that contains the crowds. There are plenty of great pubs in the rest of the city however, as we covered in our two-part Edinburgh Pub Guide feature (Part 1 here; Part 2 here). Alongside trusted favourites such as The Bow Bar and the Blue Blazer – both of which are relatively close to several festival venues – we can also add newcomer Holyrood 9a. What used to be the Holyrood Tavern has now been renamed and revitalised with a modern feel, but retaining the large selection of Scottish real ale and good food. It’s also only moments walk downhill from the Pleasance, at 9a Holyrood Road.

Also a newcomer to our pub list – and maybe an indication that we should put out a third BeerCast Edinburgh Pub Guide – is Brauhaus, at 105 Lauriston Place. Handy for Lothian Road venues, the College of Art, and even a ten minute walk from the Teviot Square venues, Brauhaus is a bottled-beer heaven with a Belgian beer-café style menu of over 300 drinks to tempt you. Last time I was in there, I got through an Anchor Steam, Stone Ruination IPA, Kostritzer Schwartzbier, and a memory-filled bottle of Toohey’s New. It’s a pretty small place, so best to get there early and grab a sofa. They do mixed buckets of five bottles for £10, which is great value.

As for the local beers, the only large-scale brewer within the city of Edinburgh is Caledonian – sadly the sole-survivor from over forty (even prior to 1940 there were 25 breweries here). Caley’s major brand is Deuchars IPA, which thanks to their acquisition by Scottish and Newcastle can be found all over the UK. If you fancy the traditional shilling styles of ale, they do an 80/-, as do McEwans, who used to brew here but closed their plant a couple of years ago. Loanhead’s Stewart Brewery produce several tremendous beers such as Pentland IPA, Copper Cascade, and my personal favourite, the zappy citrus flavour of Edinburgh Gold. The Edinburgh Brewing Company have a solitary, but very good beer – Edinburgh Pale Ale, this is currently brewed under licence by Belhaven in Dunbar; and if you’re a fan of oak-aged beers, try Innis & Gunn’s original 6.6% ale, or their stronger 7.7% version.

In an age of official tie-ins and exclusive offerings, it’s pleasing to see the Edinburgh festival’s official beer is produced by the Caledonian Brewery. Fringe Benefit (4.3%) is being sold at many of the major show venues, such as the Gilded Balloon and Teviot Square bars, only for the month of August while the festivities are ongoing. I tried one the other day, it’s a dark malty Scottish ale obviously brewed to be like an old-time heavy. Only slightly hoppy, it’s a lovely burnt sugar colour and goes down really easily. I’m not a fan of 80/- style ales, but I found Fringe Benefit to be really good. Dark and quite strong tasting, with a bit of molasses sweetness, I doubt everybody will like it, but it’s great to see a traditional Scottish product made to support a now global Scottish institution.

The 2009 Edinburgh Festival runs until the 31st of August. Please send us emails for further recommendations (beer-based rather than festival based)…

Stockbridge Tap Mini Beer Festival

We’re rightly proud of our home city when it comes to decent real ale opportunities, and the other night a select band of BeerCast panellists headed out to a new local. Well, not exactly new – the Stockbridge Tap was renamed after Bert’s was sold, and it became a freehouse. There’s another Bert’s in the city, over in the West End (see our second Edinburgh pub guide). So maybe Edinburgh wasn’t big enough for two of them, after all. The Bert’s that went was pretty plain but always had a varying selection of beers on – and it seems the Stockbridge Tap has picked up the baton, with seven pumps proudly on display. Also, they are currently offering a mini beer festival, so that was even more reason for us to pop in on a chilly Thursday night.

First on the list was Valhalla Brewery’s Simmer Dim (4.0%). We featured Britain’s Northernmost producer on our Northern Isles special back in January last year, and commented that they certainly impart an unusual flavour into their beers. Simmer Dim – although it was almost totally flat – was a pretty decent malty bitter, even if it did smell like a football stadium toilets, according to an un-named BeerCaster. Fireside (4.7%) is one of the lesser-known of Arran’s ales, one of the few that missed our Arran Special. As it happens, that was probably a good thing as it weighed uncomfortably towards the 80 shilling end of the spectrum.

After that, we sampled Homecoming Ale (4.2%) from the Perth-based Inveralmond Brewery. Begun in 1997, they bottle classics such as Ossian and Lia Fail, and cask Thrappledouser that the Hopmeister is so fond of. However, Homecoming was a new one to us, and after a bit of Googling (it’s not referred to at all on their website) we discover that it is practically brand new, having been released to co-incide with Homecoming Scotland 2009, an events programme of Scottishness. Given the brewing history in this country, it makes sense to have an offical beer – an Homecoming Ale is fantastic. All were in total agreement, it was dry and biscuity with an almost raw oat taste. Similar to the nuttiness of Ossian, it got nicer the more it went down – whoever decided to get Inverlamond to brew the celebration beer for Homecoming 2009 should be congratulated.

Next up we moved on to Derventio’s Cupid (4.1%), a beer for the romantics in time for Valentine’s Day perhaps – although nothing says romance quite like portly men in pubs. Derventio began in 2005 in Trusley Brook Farm in Derbyshire, midway between Derby and Burton on Trent. I can’t say we know too much about them, but Cupid was also biscuity, but a bit too watery and with less body than the Homecoming. After checking online, apparently it’s a honey ale – although we were hard-pressed to find any. Finally we plumped for a bottle of something imported – Denver’s Flying Dog Old Scratch (5.3%), a strong amber lager that reminded me of Old Peculier without the dark body, almost like tree sap. Nice, though.

And with that we staggered out into the Edinburgh night – having not even tried some of the beers on offer. We’re all massive fans of the Stewart Brewery, but not particularly their 80/-, and likewise the Black Isle Brewery and their Organic Wheatbeer. I attempted a pint of Little Valley’s Stoodley Stout, but it tasted badly of vinegar (I’ve had it before and was looking forward to it). Full marks to the Stockbridge Tap’s staff though, they took it back without protest and gave me a refund, plus a free pint of something else (Homecoming Ale), and then immediately changed the barrel. Later on when our last round drained Inveralmond’s final cask we had a pint that was a finger short given free, with a free pint to make up for the missing centimetre of ale. If they keep this level of customer service up, they might need more than seven pumps, but we’ll keep coming back…

The BeerCast’s Pub Guide – Edinburgh Part2

The Halfway House 24 Fleshmarket Close (off Market St) Map
Open: 11am-12am (1am Fri-Sat); 12.30pm-12am (Sun)
Link: Official Website
Good Beer Guide entry: Yes
The Halfway House is the littlest pub in Edinburgh, and probably one of the smallest in the UK. Hidden near the bottom of a flight of steps that lead from Cockburn Street down to Market Street, it’s about a minute from Waverley Station – so is a great place to wait for a train (if you can find it). There are railway prints on the walls and old pump clips behind the bar, but of course it’s the beer that brings the punters in. Four guest ales change regularly, and often all four are from the same brewery. Each week in August they showcase a different Scottish brewer – we climbed their steps to sample Orcadian ales back in September.

Bert’s Bar 29-31 William Street, West End Map
Open: 11am-11pm (1am Thu-Sat); 12.30pm-12am (Sun)
Good Beer Guide entry: No
William Street is tucked away in Edinburgh’s West End, and is one of the many quiet cobbled streets over there with a strange mix of shops. Bert’s Bar sits at the end, with a sign on the outside advertising the ‘Best Mince Pies in Town’ (being in Scotland we’re talking the meat variety, not the Christmas treats). Bert’s is renowned for two things – pies and rugby, as the shirts on the walls testify. It’s a good, honest Scottish boozer, with plenty of room and some decent beers on cask. What more do you want?

The Cambridge Bar&Grill 20 Young Street, West End Map
Open: 12pm-11pm; (12am Thu); (1am Fri-Sat)
Link: Official Website
Good Beer Guide entry: No
The Cambridge doesn’t do pies – recently renamed the Cambridge Bar&Grill it specialises in colossal burgers. Don’t let that put you off, it’s a small decent pub with a couple of cask ales on (one of which is always Deuchars IPA) that’s just as good without the food. Having said that, a couple of pints and a chilliburger are a pretty good way to spend an afternoon. The Cambridge’s management only have five tables bookable for eating, so although it gets busy you can usually squeeze in and get a beer or two. As their website says – “The bar oozes character in comparison to to many of the anonymous style bars in the New Town”. This means you, George Street!

The Guildford Arms 1 West Register Street, East End Map
Open: 11am-11pm (12am Fri-Sat); 12.30pm-11pm (Sun)
Link: Official Website
Good Beer Guide entry: No
If it’s character you’re after, the 19th Century Guildford Arms is accessed through a revolving door and has seven arched windows with etched glass. Directly behind is the staggeringly ornate Cafe Royal – but although impressive it only has two cask ales on offer. The Guildford Arms has at least twelve at any one time – it really is a beer haven. Every time we’re been in almost all of them have been different, apart from their regular offerings from the Caley brewery, and two of my favourite beers of all time – Orkney Dark Island, and Highland Orkney Blast. Oh, and they also do BOGOF deals on pints.

Bennets Bar 8 Leven Street, Tollcross Map
Open: 11am-12:30am (1am Thu-Sat); 12pm-11:30pm (Sun)
Good Beer Guide entry: No
Another grand Scottish interior awaits inside the apostrophe-less Bennets Bar (not to be confused with Bennet’s Bar in Morningside). This historical boozer sits just between Tollcross and Bruntsfield, next door to the King’s Theatre. It’s another great surprise on the eye, as through the dark entrance is a stunning Victorian drinking room with mirrors and windows celebrating Edinburgh’s brewing history. The Taylor McLeod mirror is apparently the last trace of that producer, who used to brew on the site of the theatre next door. There’s a back room if the front gets too busy, but it pales by comparison.

Malt & Hops 45 The Shore, Leith Map
Open: 12pm-11pm (12am Wed-Thu); (1am Fri-Sat)
Link: Beer in the Evening
Good Beer Guide entry: Yes
Not strictly in Edinburgh, but there are some great pubs on the Shore in Leith – one of them being the Malt & Hops. Handy for public transport as the number 22 stops exactly outside, there are a couple of tables on the pavement to soak up the Leith rays. The M&H dates from 1749, and is a great example of a traditional Scottish one-roomed bar. There are six guest pumps on offer with a regularly changing selection of producers – this is the kind of place where even BeerCasters get to drink things they’ve never heard of.

Dalriada 77 Promenade, Portobello/Joppa Map
Open: 12pm-11pm (12am Fri-Sat); closed Mon (Jan-Feb)
Link: The List
Good Beer Guide entry: Yes
It may look more like a haunted house, but the Dalriada is CAMRA’s 2008 Edinburgh pub of the year runner-up, and is even better for soaking up sunshine as it’s on the seaside. Found at the far end of Portobello promenade, there are three bar rooms inside with live music on weekends and a very good pub menu. They have three cask ales on offer, all of which are usually worth trying – BeerCast favourites the Stewart Brewery are usually represented. It can be a bit cold, but there can’t be many real-ale pubs where you can sit and watch seals frolic in the water out the front (not that I’ve ever seen any in Portobello, mind).

Other BeerCast Pub Guides

The BeerCast’s Pub Guide to Edinburgh, Part 1
The Baillie
The Blue Blazer
The Bow Bar
Cask and Barrel
The Cumberland
Kays Bar

The BeerCast’s Pub Guide to York
The Maltings
The Blue Bell
The Swan Inn
The Last Drop
The York Brewery
Suddaby’s Crown Hotel

(although my Dad was recently shouted at by the landlord of the Maltings, so consider it removed from our guide)

The BeerCast’s Pub Guide – Edinburgh

The Bailie 2-4 St Stephen Street, Stockbridge Map
Open: 11am-12am (1am Fri-Sat); 12.30pm-11pm (Sun)
Good Beer Guide entry: No
On the corner of St Stephen Street in Stockbridge, The Bailie is a classic Scottish pub. A large central bar with small tables all around leads on to a darker back room with bigger tables for dining. The food here is particularly good, and as a result weekend lunchtimes are some of the busiest. Papers are stacked by the entrance, encouraging the patrons to stay longer, and the ever-changing range of cask beers make sure they want to return. Just a short walk down the hill from town, if you’re exploring Stockbridge it would be criminal not to stop here for a pint – and if you can’t stay for the food, just over the road is the world’s best-named baked potato place – ‘Take it away, Spud’

Blue Blazer corner of Spittal St and Bread St Map
Open: 11am-12am (1am Fri-Sat); 12.30pm-12am (Sun)
Good Beer Guide entry: Yes
Edinburgh Pub of the Year 2004, the Blazer also occupies a corner spot, this time near to the Castle. Just down the way from Edinburgh’s ‘pubic triangle’ the two-roomed pub has several guest ales from around Scotland, and a wide selection of whisky and rum. It even caters well for the lager drinker, serving all cold beers in frosty glasses straight from a freezer (or at least it did last time I had one in there). The Blazer also hosts a live music night courtesy of the local legend Peter Michael Schumacher, but woe betide anybody who turns up and speaks during the live acts. His ‘ssshhhhhes’ can strip paint at 30yds.

The Bow Bar 80 West Bow, nr Grassmarket Map
Open: 12pm-11:30pm (Mon-Sat); 12.30pm-11pm (Sun)
Good Beer Guide entry: Yes
I confess I’ve only ever been here once, but blimey if it isn’t the best pub in Edinburgh – it won the award from the Blue Blazer and has (to my knowledge) kept it ever since. On the downside, it’s tiny – but on the upside, the beer is brilliant, it has about 100 whiskys (as such it is also Edinburgh’s Whisky pub of the year), the staff are friendly, and they are one of the only pubs in the world that still use a traditional air pressure system to serve the beer. It’s also bang in the centre of Victoria Street (the colourful hilly one on all the postcards) – if you call yourself a beer lover and visit Edinburgh, and don’t visit the Bow Bar, we will hunt you down. Don’t believe me? Check out their comprehensive website.

Cask and Barrel 115 Broughton Street Map
Open: 11am-1am (Mon-Sun)
Good Beer Guide entry: Yes
Over on the other side of the city centre – and occupying yet another corner location – is the Cask & Barrel. At the bottom of Broughton Street in the east end of Edinburgh it’s very handy for thirsty shoppers, and the large curving bar is often useful in itself (it can get very busy, especially on football days). Fortunately there’s plenty of space to prop yourself up, and large barrels to rest the beer on if the seats are taken. You can even sit outside, which is a treat in a city criminally short of beer gardens. Every time I’ve been there, I’ve managed to sample at least one cask beer I’ve never heard of. Every time BeerCast panellist The Hopmeister has been there, he’s been thrown out. You can draw your own conclusions.

The Cumberland 1 Cumberland St, New Town Map
Open: 11am-1am (Fri-Sat); 12.30pm-1am (Sun)
Good Beer Guide entry: No
Did I just say Edinburgh was short of beer gardens? Well trundle down the substantial hill of Dundas Street and come to the Cumberland (turn right onto the street of the same name, and head for the large green tree at the end). There are a few tables directly outside, and a large sunken beer garden to the right. Inside, small rooms and alcoves are decorated with old adverts for beer and medical ointments. If you come at the right time, you can almost have the place to yourself. If you come after work on a Friday, you’ll be squeezing your way in. The beers here are also very good and change often, and if you like observing New Town yuppies in their natural habitat, bring your spotter’s book.

Kay’s Bar 39 Jamaica Street West, New Town Map
Open: 11am-12am (1am Fri-Sat); 12.30pm-11pm (Sun)
Good Beer Guide entry: No
John Kay was an Edinburgh wine merchant, and his family traded in the city for 150yrs. When the company went out of business in the 1970’s, the corner cottage was turned into a pub. Kay’s is another classic tiny boozer – you open the door and instantly you’re halfway along the bar having passed several people. The current landlord sports a cracking moustache, and recently caught us looking at an old photo of the street and gave us a ten minute history talk of the area. The real ale and decor here are superb, when you come here it really feels like a pub you don’t want to leave. It’s a beggar to find, although that makes it feel like you’ve found somewhere extra special.