With micro-breweries springing up alongside the long established brands, and pubs offering expanded ale menus, Edinburgh’s reputation for quality beer is gaining ground on its festival city status. Richard Taylor, an award-winning beer writer and blogger, shares his tips for making the most of Edinburgh’s ale offerings
I’ve been writing about beer for seven years, starting the BeerCast because I wanted to learn more about decent drinking options – as opposed to the macro-lager I was committed to at the time. Almost immediately, I discovered there’s so much more out there than Kronenbourg and Fosters, and I was hooked. Not on the alcohol (honest), but on the stories of the people who make the beer, why they do it, and what new things are happening. And that’s what I still cover to this day!
Traditional pubs with good beer menus
[Decisions, decisions…in the Bow Bar – picture: Bernt Rostad / CC]
There are dozens in Edinburgh; being a city with such a history, there is no shortage of traditional pubs with fantastic beer selections. Right at the top of the list you have the Bow Bar, which is unmissable. Also, Cloisters and the Stockbridge Tap have fantastic, ever-changing, beer selections. The Guildford Arms has one of the best-maintained cellars in Edinburgh, and if you’re near Haymarket, check out Thomson’s Bar – which is worth a trip just for the steak pies.
The Bow Bar, 80 W Bow, EH1 2HH, (0131 226 7667)
Cloisters, 26 Brougham St, EH3 9JH, (0131 221 9997)
The Stockbridge Tap, 2-6 Raeburn Pl, EH4 1HN, (0131 343 3000)
The Guildford Arms, 1 W Register St, EH2 2AA, (0131 556 4312)
Thomson’s Bar, 182-184 Morrison St, EH3 8EB, (0131 228 5700)
Bars for beer lovers
The bar scene has changed massively over the last couple of years. The 20-tap Hanging Bat is now the go-to destination for up to the minute British beer. BrewDog‘s bar in the Cowgate has a great selection, particularly imported bottles, and also the Holyrood 9A is a must-visit; they recently ditched a few more imports to concentrate on Scottish beers, especially from those newly kegging their products.
The Hanging Bat, 133 Lothian Rd, EH3 9AB
BrewDog, 143 Cowgate, EH1 1JS, (01358 724924)
Holyrood 9A, 1 Holyrood Rd, Abbeyhill, EH8 8AE
Restaurants that excel with their beer menu
Restaurants still lag behind when it comes to embracing the potential of beer-matching, when compared to wine – but there are some that place equal importance on both. Timberyard serve Kernel beers, and brewed their own house pale ale at Alechemy. Over in Leith, The Vintage holds a magnetic attraction with stunning beer and perfectly-matched charcuterie, and right in the centre of town, Blackfriars has rapidly made a name for itself with regard to beer options, winning awards already.
The Timberyard, Lady Lawson St, EH3 9DS, (0131 221 1222)
The Vintage, 60 Henderson St, Leith EH6 6DE, (0131 563 5293)
Blackfriars, 57-61 Blackfriars Street, EH1 1NB (0131 558 8684)
Breweries you can visit
Depending on your cartography, it may or may not be in Edinburgh, but Stewart Brewing is definitely worth visiting. They expanded into new premises in June 2013, and now have a fully-functioning growler station (as in, takeaway draught beer), plus a fully-stocked shop. Tours are also available at Barney’s Beer in Summerhall, on the Meadows, if you get in touch first, or if there’s an event on. Brewing in an old stable, Barney is one of the most affable characters you’ll ever meet.
Stewart Brewing, Bilston Glen Industrial Estate, 26a Dryden Rd, Loanhead, EH20 9LZ, (0131 440 2442)
Barney’s Beer, Summerhall, (firstname.lastname@example.org, 07512253660)
Shops with the best range of beers
It’s impossible to pick, there are just so many. You only need to go to another city to realise just how lucky we are in Edinburgh for well-run, independent beer-shops. We have (for instance) Appellation Wines, Beets, Beer Hive, Bon Vivant’s Companion, Cornelius, Drinkmonger, Great Grog, Provenance Wines, Vino – and if that trip to Stewart Brewing turned your eye to takeaway draught beer, visit Growler Beers UK in Morningside (you can also get growlers filled at the Beer Hive and Great Grog).
Essential Edinburgh beer events
They all hinge around the festivals. From fixed events such as the Scottish Real Ale Festival (July 10-13) to the Edinburgh Independents’ Beer Festival (usually July), there are stand-alone events and tap takeovers running every month. The Summerhall arts venue throws two hugely-popular beers festivals a year (including one this weekend – 16-17 May), and many pubs hold beer festivals of their own. To keep drinkers up to speed, I put together the Edinburgh Beer Weekly, every Sunday, which lists all the beery events in town over the next seven days!
24 hours in Edinburgh for beer lovers
I’d start off with an early morning brewery tour, to get a better appreciation of the hard work that goes into making the beer we all enjoy. Then, at around lunchtime I’d head down to The Vintage for a sharing board, before having a few pints of Fyne Ales Jarl in the beer garden at Teuchtar’s Landing. A long, restorative walk along the Water of Leith footpath takes you right to the Stockbridge Tap, where if it’s a Wednesday, it’s £6 burger night. Washed down with a few more beers, after that I’d probably head home for a lie down.
Teuchtar’s Landing, 1c Dock Pl, EH6 6LU, (0131 554 7427)
— Barry (@Cloisters_Bar) May 4, 2014
Hidden gems for beer fans
I’d go for the Dalriada, out in Joppa. It might look like a haunted house, but it’s right on the seafront, just at the far end of Portobello promenade. It has a reasonably decent range of cask ales and bottled beers, but when the weather’s nice you can sit outside and you’re pretty much right in front of Porty beach. Apparently (although it’s never happened to me), you can sit in the garden with a beer and watch seals in the water.
Dalriada, 77 Promenade, EH15 2EL, (0131 454 4500)
Beers and breweries to look out for
Cromarty are still at the top of their game; all of the beers Craig Middleton makes are worth trying. Ditto Tempest, in the Borders. There are just so many good Scottish beers around now, when I think back to how it was in 2007, it’s such a difference. Even breweries who were well-established then, like Fyne Ales or Harviestoun, are putting out a huge range of different beers these days. From those two, Landslide and Orach Slie have both hugely impressed me recently.
My all-time favourite beer
I get asked this quite a bit! The official answer? The house tripel at Staminee de Gare in Bruges – hands down the best beer I’ve ever tasted. It was just the perfect combination of circumstances; context being all important – other memorable beers I’ve had aren’t favourites because of how they taste, but where I was, or what I was doing. Beer has that conviviality that lends itself so well to pretty much any occasion (although, you’d probably expect me to say that).
Tips for home brewers
I’ve never actually homebrewed, ever. I just don’t have the patience for it, I think! Plus there are so many great beers out there anyway, there’s more than enough for me to try. But I do know lots of people who do make their own – one of the keys is simply asking for advice. Chances are, someone else will have been in that situation, or wanted to know the answer to that question. Having a network of other homebrewers can be invaluable – there’s no better place to ask for advice than your local ingredients shop, such as Brewstore in Newington.
Brewstore, 61 S Clerk St, EH8 9PP, (0131 667 1296)
— Barney’s Beer (@barneysbeer) August 12, 2013
Craft beer: future or fad?
It’s a future, definitely – but not necessarily the future. Without a recognised definition, at the moment it’s just another word, that can be applied to any beer by any brewer (see also the food industry and ‘gourment’). If by craft beer, you mean forward-thinking, well-made, local beer, brewed by people with integrity and adventurous spirit, then sign me up. But however you want to pigeonhole it, British brewing is in great shape, and the Scottish beer scene currently better than ever. There’s never been a better time to get out and try it. Cheers!
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