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)…